Sonoma County's next Animal Care and Control Director on Tuesday set an ambitious goal of dramatically reducing the number of animals killed at the county's shelter within a few years, mainly through programs aimed at keeping animals out of the Santa Rosa facility in the first place.

"It can't be damage control after you already have the animals and you have to place them. You have to intervene way before that happens," Brigid Wasson said.

Wasson's hiring was announced Tuesday. The 42-year-old has been manager of Santa Clara County's animal shelter since 2008.

In Sonoma County, Wasson is certain to face scrutiny as she takes the helm of an agency that has undergone major upheaval in recent years and has struggled to maintain consistency at the top. She replaces Amy Cooper, whose sudden resignation in June marked the latest director to depart after a relatively short tenure.

Wasson, who has never held the top job, said she's prepared for what comes next.

"I enjoy being a leader. I enjoy bringing people together. I enjoy the challenge," she said.

Wasson, whose official start date is next Wednesday, will oversee 26 non-management employees at Animal Care and Control and a budget of about $4.5 million.

County officials would not provide a salary for Wasson, saying it was still being negotiated. The range for the position is from $88,000 to $107,000 a year. Cooper was paid about $105,000 annually.

Kiska Icard, executive director of the Sonoma Humane Society, said she considers Wasson's ascension from a shelter manager to the top post in Sonoma County a "natural progression."

Icard said the thing that impresses her is that the live release rate at the Santa Clara County shelter increased under her watch, from 60 to 90 percent, according to a news release.

"In that regard it looks like a good hire," Icard said.

Sonoma County's live release rate is 75 percent, according to Wasson. On Tuesday she expressed hope of increasing that to 95 percent in two or three years by bolstering existing spay and neuter programs, micro-chipping more animals and other initiatives aimed at curtailing the number of animals that end up in the county's shelter, which handles about 6,000 animals annually.

Wasson said her goal will be to build on the "really great foundation" she said exists in Sonoma County.

"One person can only do so much," she said. "When you have a community that supports live-release programs, the best thing you can do is bring those people together to achieve those common goals."

She said she supports outreach efforts to lower-income communities, in particular to help people cover the cost to spay or neuter their pets. Wasson said she has her own stable of dogs, cats, horses, mules and chickens.

She said she attended the College of San Mateo but did not obtain a degree. She started her career in animal services as a teen-aged volunteer with the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo.

Sonoma County's relatively new adoption agreement with the Humane Society could assist Wasson in her goals. Under the agreement, the Humane Society near Sebastopol takes in animals from the county shelter that might otherwise be killed for medical, behavioral or other reasons.

Icard said euthanasia rates at the county shelter were down 30 percent from January to June 2013 versus the same period in 2012.

Cooper was widely credited with helping facilitate such initiatives and leading a turn-around of the animal care division, which in the three years prior to her arrival had two managers. The Agricultural Commissioner's Office, which at the time oversaw the department, had two directors. A management audit of the animal care division found a slew of problems with shelter operations.</CS>

Cooper, who was fired by former Ag Commissioner Cathy Neville and then rehired by the county, cited a need to spend more time with her family as the reason for her sudden departure in June.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.