Gary Johnson, an avowed animal lover, took hold of the reigns as executive director for the South Coast Humane Society last month.

A former field officer for Haven Humane Society in Redding, Calif., Johnson started as a kennel attendant and worked his way through the ranks.

Johnson gives a simple explanation for his long-time standing with the Humane Society: I love animals.

Sitting on a sofa at The Cat Cove in Harbor, stroking Pepper, a purring gray and white cat, Johnson said he has big plans for the South Coast Humane Society.

His number one goal is to get the shelter up and running by the beginning of the year.

Thats where Im going to spend a lot of energy, he said.

Currently, homeless animals turned over to the Humane Society are taken in by volunteer foster homes.

With a new shelter, Johnson explains, It will be more convenient for a cat or dog shopper to find the right companion animal. We have to put the right pet in the right home.

Johnson feels that matching compatible people with their animals is of the utmost importance.

When someone adopts a pet, they will get a comprehensive package on the ongoing care and treatment of how to take care of the animal. I will personally sign off every adoption; each one will come across my desk. Its like your daughter getting married, you want to know who the husband is.

Like anyone stepping into a new position, Johnson has political issues to deal with, and specific ideas on how to deal with those issues. Because the Humane Society has been operating under many different roofs, there have been varying opinions on how things should be done.

As Johnson says, Weve got to get the cat people talking to the dog people.

Well have regular committee meetings and everyone will get a chance to have their say. We must try to reach a mutual consensus on what is best for the animals.

Getting everyone on the same page is a priority, he said.

If someone has a question and calls five places, he wants all five places to have the same answer.

If I know of a better cat litter than someone else, we all must agree on what is the best cat litter. At the same time, Ill be open to suggestions. If someone has a really good idea, Ill listen.

Johnson laments the number of animals that end up homeless because of human ignorance.

He says people have to understand that taking home a pet is a lifetime commitment.

Some people bring pets in and just say, we dont want this animal, we cant take care of it. Would you do that to your kid?

He believes educating people is the biggest hope they have of reducing the amount of homeless animals that end up on the Humane Societys doorstep.

Im heavily into education, he said. Were trying to stay on the cutting edge of educating people on how to take care of animals and how to train them.

Well be going to the schools and talking to the kids. Maybe theyll do a better job than we did.

Johnson could not stress enough the importance of having pets spayed and neutered.

I had a friend once who had a golden retriever he wanted to breed, he said. And I said, Great, do you have 12 people lined up to adopt the puppies? He just stared at me and said, No, but I have six. You mean shell have 12 puppies?

I said, She might. And if she does, what are you going to do with the other six?

Looking around the room at The Cat Cove, observing the number of homeless cats in the room, Johnson said, My ultimate goal would be to eliminate the Humane Society altogether.

If everyone was responsible, they wouldnt need us.