WATERVILLE – When the dogs step outside their kennels at the Waterville Humane Society, Darien Acero notices that all they want to do is run.

Unless the 17-year-old shelter volunteer wants to run with them, however, they must remain on a leash. And with up to 50 dogs housed at a time, not every dog is able to go outside every day.

So the dogs build up energy. And when prospective owners walk by the kennel area, they may see dogs pacing, jumping or barking and believe they are not well-behaved, Acero said.

Really, though, the animals just want to play.

So Acero, starting his final year at Waterville Senior High School, has a plan to improve the dogs’ quality of life and hopefully increase adoptions: build long fenced-in areas behind the humane society on Webb Road so the dogs can stretch their legs freely — without a leash.

Last year he began fundraising, revived the Kindness Toward Animals club at his school and got other students involved in the project. His goal is to raise $15,000, he said, though the entire fencing project may cost as much as $35,000. So far he’s collected $1,000.

“I’ve always just had the mindset that people didn’t respect animals as much as they should, dogs especially. I feel we’re more equal to them than we think we are,” Acero said.

In the year and a half he’s been volunteering at the shelter, dogs have been euthanized because they were aggressive and deemed not adoptable.

“Hopefully this will lead to lower euthanization rates because they’ll be more adoptable,” he said.

Scott Towers, a board member and chairman of the fundraising committee, said the 6-by-50-foot runs — the goal is to erect 27 — will greatly improve the dogs’ quality of life.

“This will probably be the biggest project the humane society has done since the building itself,” he said, referring to the structure that opened in 2007.

The shelter takes in roughly 1,000 dogs from 27 towns in Kennebec and Somerset counties annually, and about 600 are adopted, Towers said. The rest are transferred to other humane societies or private rescue organizations, and some are euthanized.

The nonprofit shelter is nearly always full and relies heavily on volunteers.

The humane society has four small outside pens for dogs, but it’s not enough, Towers said.

Larger run areas will allow prospective owners to see how dogs act around children or other dogs. It will also provide a place for the dogs to go in case of a fire in the building, he said.

He envisions dogs being kept outside for more than four hours in the morning, before the shelter opens at noon for adoptions. Then, he said, when people arrive to claim a new pet, they’ll meet calm, happy dogs.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Erin Rhoda can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

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