Abby Malone, interim shelter manager at Midcoast Humane, gives treats to Jack and Annie, two of the shelter’s longest-term canine residents, and two staff favorites. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — It should have been a time for celebration. 

In mid-March, Midcoast Humane officials signed the purchase-and-sale agreement on a $2.2 million facility on Industrial Parkway, bringing the finish line of a 10-year effort within sight. 

Just two days later, an executive order from Gov. Janet Mills — issued in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic in Maine — mandated the shelter close its doors and officials scrambled to place over 100 animals in foster care while they figured out how to stay in business.

Thanks to overwhelming community support, a Paycheck Protection Loan and adoptions resuming, the organization has stayed afloat, and on Thursday, announced a “sweeping revitalization effort” that officials believe will help improve the shelter’s ability to serve both the community and the animals in its care. 

Midcoast Humane officials plan to convert a former call center at 5 Industrial Parkway into a new shelter and office space. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

“COVID-19 certainly impacted this process,” MidCoast Humane stated in a press release, “yet we have no choice but to push forward in this effort as the health and safety standards for our animals and staff will not continue to be met with the limits and condition of our current facilities.” 

On Tuesday, the Brunswick Planning Board unanimously approved plans to transform the 24,000-square-foot former MBNA call center at 5 Industrial Parkway into an animal shelter.

The new facility will allow the organization to consolidate the Pleasant Street offices and the Range Road kennel, both of which will eventually be sold. There are currently no plans to close the Edgecomb campus. 

It will be at least a year before the new building, which will require almost $3.5 million in renovations, is ready to open. Sundeen said they hope to close on the building in October, with renovations starting in the winter. It is expected to take nine to twelve months. The Range Road shelter will remain in use until the new building is fully renovated and ready to go. 

“Our goal is to improve mental and physical health for our animals and expand community programs,” Mary Sundeen, president of Midcoast Humane said in an interview. “We cannot meet either objective in our current facility.”

The building on 5 Industrial Parkway was “a gift,” she said— the only building within 100 miles that fit the criteria. 

It will take work— the financial struggles created by the pandemic and ensuing closure are still very much a reality for the organization, and without the community’s help this spring, it’s possible they would not have been able to reopen. 

But the capital campaign has been going on for years, and the shelter has funds that donors have earmarked for a new facility that they could not touch earlier this year. In addition, with an anonymous $1 million anchor donor, a mortgage, donations and a challenge grant, Sundeen is optimistic. 

She said organizers will reach out to the business community for support, and hopes that in the absence of a fundraising gala or golf tournament, the community will once again offer some support. 

“The spirit we saw (this spring) was incredible,” she said.

‘The animals deserve better’

In the new building, there will be a fully equipped veterinary office and surgical area, which will provide a safe, larger space for the thousands of spay and neuter procedures performed each year. According to Sundeen, those procedures are currently performed in a mobile surgical unit — a specially equipped van located in the parking lot that, while safe and effective, is cramped and not as efficient or comfortable as the veterinarians would like. The surgical center and veterinary office will also save time and money currently spent transporting animals to the emergency veterinary hospital in Lewiston for animals needing urgent care. 

The new facility also will feature a designated area for sick animals to quarantine, which will reduce the viral load for both humans and animals and prevent the need to close the shelter in the event of an illness.

In October, Midcoast Humane had to close for nearly a week after eight cats showed symptoms of respiratory illness. 

Outbreaks do happen in shelters, Sundeen said. It’s a stressful environment for the animals, and cats especially can develop upper respiratory infections when stressed. 

To compound matters, the shelter has poor air circulation that falls short of national standards, she added. There is no generator and no air conditioning, so staff have to purchase portable air conditioners and fans to keep air flowing throughout the building, drastically increasing the electric bill. The new facility will also address those issues, she said. 

Range Road has been their home for decades, and it meets the organization’s basic needs, but as Kate Griffith, community programs manager said Thursday, “the animals deserve better.”

Annie, left, and Jack, two bonded 12-year-old pups are available for adoption at Midcoast Humane. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

A new program, the Behavior and Training Institute of Midcoast Humane, will have a designated space where Dr. Christine Calder, director of behavior services, can work with nervous, aggressive or reactive dogs in a safer, more suitable environment than the modified conference room currently being used on Pleasant Street. 

Coupled with the larger play yard and agility yard, the new facility will add about 4,000 square feet of animal care and behavior modification, Sundeen said, and the renovations will help create a less stressful environment for the nearly 4,000 animals they care for every year.

Plans for a new shelter have been in the works for more than a decade. 

Midcoast Humane previously announced plans to build a new shelter at Brunswick Landing, a nearly $9 million endeavor that Sundeen said was scrapped when man-made chemicals known as PFAS, or per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were found in the soil. It was back to the drawing board, and by then the urgency had only increased.  

“We don’t have the amount of time it would take to raise that money,” she said. “The animals don’t have that kind of time.” 

“COVID made us look at everything,” she added. “We’ve got to stay here. We’re all they’ve got.” 

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