Canine adoption councilor Pamela Grigg brings Stitch back in from a walk on Tuesday. Chance Viles / American Journal

Before the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland opens its doors on the mornings of interviews for prospective pet adopters, a line of more than 10 hopefuls is regularly waiting.

Interest in adoptions is “three times” higher than it was before the pandemic, but the supply of available pets has fallen because of state border closures and other disruptions related to the coronavirus, according to Director of Community Engagement Jeana Roth.

Belafonte looks on with curiosity. There are fewer animals at the Animal Refuge League than normal due to the pandemic. Chance Viles / American Journal

The Westbrook shelter completed 2,900 adoptions in 2020, compared to 4,000 in 2019. It took in about 1,400 rescue animals from other states, 600 less than in 2019, which Roth cited as a typical year. Four hundred new foster families joined the shelter’s program in the last year, also three times the normal to join in a given year, she said.

“I think when people were home they had time and energy and started to adopt more. Interest is still high even now,” Roth said.

The pandemic has also affected the shelter’s finances. Annual fundraisers, including a popular beer fest and auction, that normally raise upwards of $200,000 were canceled in 2020, and likely will be canceled again this year, she said.

She couldn’t put a dollar amount on the impact, she said, because the community has helped make up for the drop in revenues by donating food and other needed supplies.


“The community has been great. We can put out a call for cat food and right away we will have bags of it,” Roth said, but added that canned cat food donations are still needed.

Tim is the Westbrook shelter’s only rabbit at the moment. Chance Viles / American Journal

Businesses have also helped. One recent $1,000 gift from Bangor Savings Bank was donated as part of the bank’s Christmas kitten commercial 40th anniversary celebration. The bank gave communities the opportunity to choose the shelter recipients for its donations.

The shelter transitioned from a 500-person volunteer team to a team of 200 during the pandemic to keep potential COVID-19 exposure as limited as possible.

“Once we get our team vaccinated we can begin to have them all back, but our team has been incredible,” Roth said.

Westbrook Mayor Mike Foley said the Animal Refuge League is “a great community partner.”

“We are glad to hear of their great success with adoptions despite the circumstances,” Foley said.

In general, shelters in the state have been successful during the pandemic, an official with the Humane Society of the United States said last year.

“While adoptions have slowed, Maine’s shelters and rescues have done an amazing job modifying their practices in order to safely continue caring for animals and placing them with families,” said Katie Hansberry,  Maine senior state director, state affairs, at the Humane Society of the United States.

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