Pet Talk

13 years ago

    Last week I spent a little bit of time telling you about who we are as individuals, at least the members of the board, and in upcoming columns I’d like to tell you about our staff and volunteers. But today I’d like to talk to you about what we do.   Seems a little obvious, but maybe not so much to everybody.
    The Houlton Humane Society was founded to provide a place for stray animals. Prior to 1952 I have no idea what happened when a dog or cat became lost and had no home, but evidently the end was not good for these critters. In the early 50’s there was not likely as much of a problem as there is now, but there was still a tremendous need to find temporary housing for strays. A group of very prominent local individuals came together to form the Humane Society and find the first location for a temporary shelter.
    Today, hundreds of animals come into the Shelter. One day last week we had 17 cats brought in. This was not an unusual day unfortunately.
    The Houlton Humane Society can’t be all things to all people.  It was never the intent of the original founders to be able to solve every problem, and space and finances do not allow us to solve every problem today.  
    For instance we  can’t help you with behavioral problems.    Like my cat Holly, when she started to eliminate in inappropriate places around the house, I didn’t take her to the shelter to dump her off and let the shelter try to figure out what’s wrong with her and then try to adopt her into another family. Holly is my cat, my responsibility, and while the staff at the shelter might be able to offer advice, they cannot take owner animals surrendered for behavioral issues. There just isn’t space enough to do this.
    The Shelter does try to help when there are situations that are just total emergencies. For instance, if an elderly family member passes away and leaves a pet that nobody else in the family can take, we’ll do what we can to help you re-home this animal.
    The care and re-homing of strays is our priority and it’s our responsibility. We are funded in a very small way by town contracts. The reason that we are set up this way is because there is a state law that requires that every single town either own or contract with an animal shelter.  When this law was passed, some 15 or 20 years ago, we were approached by southern Aroostook communities and asked to provide this service.   This meant that if we contracted to be the Shelter for these towns, we had to take their strays, all their strays. This involved having a building, a full time staff, insurance, workers compensation, a light bill, a heating bill, and a Vet bill, to mention just a few. In order to assure sufficient funds to keep the facility open to take in all the strays from all the towns, we asked each town to participate financially. The most  fair way to do that was a per-capita fee. Almost every shelter in Maine currently charges a per-capita fee to their contract communities. In most cases the fee is 40% or less than their total operating budget.
    This is the case with Houlton Humane – the town contracts don’t even cover payroll. And payroll is cut to bare bones.  Staff is sent home as soon as the work is done other than keeping two people in the afternoons to take care of customers, adoptions, paperwork, meds, etc.
    Houlton Humane partners with other shelters throughout the state, working closely with Presque Isle, Calais, Bangor, Waterville, etc., to do animal transfers when it’s in the best interest of an animal. For instance, maybe we’ve had a hound for four months and he’s just not getting adopted – we’ll call another shelter and transfer our hound to them so he’ll get more exposure and they will transfer one or two of their dogs to us. 
    The Shelter does not euthanize for space. There are situations where the difficult decision is made to euthanize. This requires the Director and Assistant Director and the Veterinarian to all agree that the animal is suffering, has no hope of recovery, and that it would be inhumane to allow it to continue to suffer.  
    Since town contracts do not even cover payroll, in order to cover the rest of the bills, Vet, mortgage, lights, payroll taxes, insurance, the Humane Society board members host numerous fundraisers. In the course of a year you will likely see as many as twenty different events, from yard sales to bake sales, walk-a-thons, dinners, luncheons, box lunch, concerts, you name it.  Because if we don’t do this, we can’t pay the bills and we can’t take care of our animals. So if you wonder why there is “yet another fundraiser” , this is the bulk of the support that keeps the Shelter going.
    We have some extraordinary supporters who are faithful in their generosity. One lady who can barely afford to do this sends us $20 every single month.  Children have birthday parties and ask that donations to the shelter be supplied instead of gifts. Families in their time of grief remember the shelter when a loved one passes. All of this helps us continue our work and day-by-day, animals come in, are treated, bathed, fed, loved and placed into new homes.
    I just received an email from a woman whose father adopted a cat in May. She said her dad just loves this cat, she has given him a reason to get up every day, and not too long ago when his daughter came to visit, Dad was in bed, kitty laying beside him.   Daughter visited a few minutes, went to leave, and kitty started meowing fiercely, as if to say “don’t you know he’s sick”.  Daughter came back, checked dad more carefully, and ended up taking him to the doctor where he was hospitalized for a serious illness. Kitty knew, and made it clear, and Dad recovered nicely and is back home with kitty.
    This is what we do, and if you are a lover of animals, we invite you to  join us. Whether it’s just a visit to the shelter, maybe you’d like to become a foster home, perhaps you could adopt, or maybe you could just send a dollar or two a month to support this work. Whatever it is, we appreciate your help.