WATERVILLE — The Humane Society Waterville Area will have to close its animal shelter on Webb Road within three months if it does not receive significant contributions of funds, officials say.

The shelter, which has contracts with 22 area municipalities across central Maine, plans to kick off a capital campaign Monday in an effort to garner money to save the shelter from shuttering.

“We are trying to raise at least $250,000 and we would like it to be sustainable and not just an influx of cash,” said Lisa Oakes, the new president of the board of directors, who is filling in as shelter director until a new one is hired.

The fundraiser, called the Save Your Shelter Campaign, would help with operating expenses and repairs to the building, which is about 10 years old, according to Mike Brown, a former president of the board who now serves as an advisor.

Brown said the shelter over the last year has changed its policies and procedures since it went through a transition with former executive director Lisa Smith’s resignation in October. Her resignation followed an outbreak of feline distemper and the disappearance of two pit bull terriers from the shelter just after a court ordered them euthanized because they had killed a dog and maimed its owner.

Robert Crosby, animal control officer for nine local towns, including Fairfield, Norridgewock and Rome, said the prospect of the Waterville shelter closing does not bode well for communities. Crosby said he sometimes takes animals to a smaller shelter in Skowhegan, the Somerset Animal Shelter, but that other options are much farther afield in Augusta, Farmington and Bangor.

“It would make things tough for animal control” if the Waterville shelter closed, Crosby said. “I could see it putting strain on any shelters in the surrounding area. Every town has to have shelter coverage. I hope the best for them. It would definitely be tough for animal control officers and municipalities.”

While Crosby said he’s known of recent hardships at the Waterville shelter, “I’m kind of surprised they’re considering closing.”

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

Brown said that after Smith’s resignation, shelter officials made changes.

“We’ve changed all policies and procedures, so we think we’ve done really well there,” Brown said Wednesday at the shelter.

“Overall, the shelter is doing well, but with all of the revenues — including donations, annual charitable giving and income — we’re still struggling to have day-to-day needs met.”

Brown said the shelter should be operating on an annual budget of more than $900,000, but is functioning on much less than that.

“Unless we get some funding to keep the doors open, it will continue to be a struggle. We don’t have a large endowment like other shelters have. Most of our funding comes from philanthropy, donations from the community and the town contracts; but an influx of over 150 cats coming in on a fairly regular basis and costing $15 a day to take care of and feed, we’re having trouble keeping up with that and having enough staff to take care of everything.”

The shelter, which now houses 120 cats, 14 dogs, a rabbit and two rats, had a Clear the Shelter event Aug. 18 at which 22 cats and three dogs were adopted, according to Oakes, who has been a member of the board a little over a year. She said most of the seven board members are fairly new and have served two years or less.

She and Brown said they want to go from a shelter that does strictly animal care and helping animals in immediate need to also helping animals out in the community — and people who take care of them — through clinics and education.

“We want this to be a center. We want to be central to the community, and just because we’re not downtown doesn’t mean we’re not in need,” Brown said.

He said that as part of the Save Your Shelter Campaign, he and Oakes plan to approach businesses and organizations capable of contributing more than smaller donors and individuals. The campaign will include four levels of giving.

Brown said the fiscal state of the shelter ebbs and flows. For instance, when there is publicity about an animal with certain needs or word gets out that supplies are needed, people in the community will donate. When the shelter was built about 10 years ago, businesses, organizations and individuals pledged funds, but as the years have gone by, momentum has slowed. Also, over time, people who donated regularly have died or moved out of state, and thus funds have decreased, according to Brown. He said the shelter is large and keeping it going with oil, lights and sewer is costly.

Humane Society Waterville Area employees Melissa Dawes and Tyler Large examine a small dog being treated for a broken leg Wednesday at the Waterville facility.

“We need consistent support and we need to do a better job of making the community aware,” he said.

The shelter charges annual fees to communities as part of their contracts, based on population. Waterville, for instance, pays the shelter $23,200 annually based on $1.48 per capita, according to City Manager Michael Roy.

Oakes and Brown said the shelter is as close as one can get to being a “no-kill” facility, but if an animal is very sick or mandated by law to be euthanized, that is done.

“We do everything we can to provide healthy animals with permanent homes,” Oakes said.

The shelter’s new community outreach coordinator, Nichole Ferrara, will be going to the 24 communities the shelter serves to meet people and talk about the capital campaign, and volunteers will approach businesses in those towns to seek donations, Oakes said. Communities served by the shelter range across several counties outside of Waterville, from Albion, Belgrade and Oakland in Kennebec County, to Fairfield and Pittsfield in Somerset County, and Unity in Waldo County.

She said information about the campaign and how to donate at various levels is on the shelter’s website, www.hswa.org, and on its Facebook page.

SHELTER TROUBLES

Smith, the former shelter’s executive director for three years, resigned last October as police continued to investigate the disappearance from the shelter of the two dogs deemed dangerous and ordered euthanized by the court.

Smith, who earned $42,400 a year, said at the time that the shelter was deceived by the dogs’ owner, Danielle Jones, of Winslow, who reported the dogs slipped their leashes when she took them for a walk outside the shelter. Jones walked the dogs minutes after the Supreme Court upheld a euthanasia order against the dangerous pit bulls.

Smith’s resignation came 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 wounded its owner, Sharron Carey, as she walked the terrier on Lucille Avenue in Winslow.

Jones went to the shelter twice a week for about a year to walk the dogs while the case was on appeal in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Brown said Wednesday that changes in protocols and procedures at the shelter since Smith’s resignation prohibit anyone from the public to walk a dangerous dog; only shelter officials are allowed to do that.

The pit bull terriers have not been found and Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said in an email Wednesday that there was nothing new to report in the case.

MAKING CHANGES

The shelter’s board of directors throughout this year has made improvements at the shelter with advice from consultants and the staff. It now has a three-year strategic plan that focuses on various efforts, including achieving a sustainable organization that delivers outstanding animal care, according to officials.

With a staff of 18 people, 10 of whom are full-time, the facility releases about 2,000 animals a year for adoption.

Brown and Oakes said the search for a new executive director would not happen until the shelter’s immediate needs are met.

“We’re looking for an executive director, but right now, animal care is our biggest priority and making sure that we can keep the doors open, and we hope to have more employees in the future,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, the problem is to get someone who is a good business person and loves animals.”

He and Oakes said the facility needs volunteers and Ferrara will be working on that effort. Rory Routhier, the shelter’s operations director, has done an excellent job overseeing animal care and staff, they said.

That good care will continue with the community’s support, they said.

“We need help,” Brown said. “We need the community to support us. We want to support the communities. We feel like it’s our duty to make sure we keep the shelter running, but we know it’s the communities’ shelter and we need everybody to feel like we do — that it’s their shelter.”

Besides Waterville, the shelter contracts with Albion, Belgrade, Benton, Burnham, Canaan, Clinton, Detroit, Dixmont, Fairfield (including Hinckley and Shawmut), Freedom, Knox, Mercer, Oakland, Palmyra, Pittsfield, Sidney, Thorndike, Troy, Unity, Waldo and Winslow.

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