WATERVILLE — The executive director of the Humane Society Waterville Area shelter has resigned as police continue to investigate the disappearance from the shelter of two dogs deemed dangerous and ordered euthanized by the court — a disappearance Lisa Smith views as a theft.

“We fully believe that we were deceived,” Smith said Monday in a phone interview, breaking her silence on the case. “It’s a tragedy all the way around. We feel we’ve let the public down, we feel we’ve let the community and law enforcement down, so we do feel bad.”

Smith’s resignation after three years at the shelter’s helm comes amid a flurry of criticism and a police investigation into the missing pit bulls, Bentley and Kole, which had been housed at the Webb Road shelter since August 2016 when they killed a Boston terrier and seriously injured its owner, Sharron Carey, as she walked the terrier on Lucille Avenue in Winslow.

The pit bulls’ owner, Danielle Jones, had been going to the shelter twice a week for the past year to walk the dogs while the case was on appeal in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

That court on Oct. 24 upheld the ruling that the dogs are dangerous and ordered them euthanized. Moments after that court issued its decision, Jones went to the shelter, walked the dogs, and reported to the shelter that the canines had slipped their leashes and ran off into the woods.

Police say they doubt that the dogs are on the loose — there have been no sightings of the dogs — with Winslow police Chief Shawn O’Leary saying he thinks the disappearance was the result of a “coordinated effort.”

Smith, who resigned Thursday of last week, said Monday that she has Tuesdays off and was not at the shelter that day. Shelter staff were unaware of the court’s decision when Jones came to walk the dogs, and she wishes they had been a party to the information along with others who knew the decision.

When Jones came back into the shelter and told workers the dogs slipped their leashes, they believed her, according to Smith.

“They totally believed her story — she was hysterical and sobbing — that the dogs had escaped, so they immediately went out to help her look for the dogs,” Smith said. “I was suspicious and I thought the best way to get them back was to address it with her, but she had left.”

Smith said the shelter on Webb Road has 7 acres, and she can count on perhaps two hands the times animals have gotten loose, but three out of four times they were recovered, so it is unusual for animals to escape.

“We did not know that that day was different than any other day,” Smith said of the times Jones walked the pit bulls. Typically, Jones’ boyfriend accompanied her when she walked them, but Smith said she does not believe he came to the shelter with Jones the day they disappeared.

“They came on a regular basis, twice a week — she and her boyfriend — and never gave any indication of wanting to do anything against the court,” Smith said.

She said when the dogs entered the shelter last year, they were stressed and began to get thin and would not eat, and staff did not feel comfortable walking them because the pit bulls were “reactive.”

“So it was with the regular contact with the owners they (dogs) came out of that and developed some sort of normalcy to their routine,” Smith said. “We continued in that way for a year.”

She said shelter staff were all in agreement with the court’s decision that the dogs were dangerous and should be euthanized.

“Everyone here is definitely working in cooperation with local law enforcement,” she said.

The shelter, she said, will work to beef up the security camera system and examine policies and procedures.

Michael Brown, president of the Humane Society’s board of directors, told the Morning Sentinel Monday that Smith resigned her position Thursday night.

“We’re reviewing protocol and procedure to make sure that we’re going to be successful going into the future,” he said.

SHELTER LEGACY

Smith said she feels the shelter has turned a big corner during her tenure, and she looks forward to handing the reins over to someone who can take the facility to the next level of sheltering, looking at national shelter modeling.

“This is a pretty emotionally challenging business, animal welfare,” Smith said. “Three years is a long time. I am really proud we placed more than 7,000 animals through the facility in the past three years and moved almost all to good outcomes. We’ve been able to save 2,500 a year.”

She said one of the things she is most proud of is leaving a legacy of kindness, compassion, caring and empathy for pets and the people who care for them.

“That was my goal,” she said. “Pets are a very important part of people’s lives, but … behind every pet is a person.”

Smith said she will continue to work with animals and looks forward to spending time at home, as she has been commuting to Waterville from the Portland area the last three years.

“Animals have always been a part of my life, and I definitely have a couple of other opportunities that I’m looking into,” she said.

The shelter has a staff of 18 people, 10 of whom are full time, and operates on an annual budget of more than $500,000. The shelter receives funding from fees 26 communities pay for services, as well as from fundraisers and donations. Smith was paid a salary of $42,400 as of 2015, according to the organization’s nonprofit documents.

O’Leary last week said Winslow would not take any more dogs deemed dangerous to the shelter and the town would consider using another shelter if changes were not made there by 2018.

On Monday, he said he is pleased that the shelter will make changes.

“I’m very happy that they have decided to move on, and we do not plan on moving right now to any other agency,” O’Leary said. “We hope to work better with the Waterville Humane Society and just be partners and work together, and when they have these types of situations, court-ordered, their staff will follow the rule of law. I don’t see any problems. I’m very happy to get this over with. However, the two dogs are still at large, per se, and I’m just really concerned for the safety of the public.”

Brown said the Humane Society’s board of directors will meet Wednesday to discuss the next steps.

“Basically, we’re going to be looking for some new leadership and we’re going to be working very closely with all our partners, with the towns and everybody to make sure that they understand our commitment to serving them and the community,” he said.

INVESTIGATION CONTINUES

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said Monday that there was nothing new to report regarding the missing pit bulls.

“We are continuing to investigate that and run some leads down which I’m hoping will be fruitful, but we’ll see,” Massey said.

Massey said he had spoken with Brown and asked that, when a new shelter director is hired, a meeting be set up with police so they will all be on the same page.

It is important a new director understands concerns and expectations of police so as to avoid issues they have been plagued with over the last year or 18 months, Massey said.

“He was very agreeable to that,” Massey said.

Brown said last week that he was working closely with police and helping in any way he could in the investigation into the pit bulls’ disappearance.

The facility was closed for much of October due to an outbreak of feline distemper that killed more than three dozen cats and kittens. When the outbreak was in its beginning stages, Smith was on a pre-planned vacation in Indiana but returned to Waterville a few days later.

Smith, of Falmouth, is an Indiana native who received a bachelor’s in biology in 1982 from Purdue University, worked in medical marketing and sales, worked in an Indiana zoo, was a veterinary technician and worked 10 years as part of a marine mammal rescue team along the Maine coast. She moved to Maine 37 years ago.

She has a background in development, fundraising and membership drives for nonprofit organizations and worked as community outreach director for the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick. She also was director of Cumberland County Response Team, an emergency shelter group that partners with the Red Cross to set up disaster shelters for animals when the Red Cross sets up shelters for their owners.

After she was hired as director of the Waterville shelter, she said she was moving the shelter toward meeting national standards by working on policies and procedures in keeping with the Humane Society.