Litchfield residents urge town to contract with county humane society for animal shelter instead of using box trailer

Animal control officer Cliff Daigle opens the door on Wednesday to a retrofitted box trailer that currently serves as a temporary state-licensed animal shelter in Litchfield. Some residents are urging the town to instead contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

LITCHFIELD — Some residents urged Litchfield officials this week to rethink their approach to sheltering animals, saying the town should collaborate with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta instead of continuing to contract with a small, local animal shelter.

The C&J Animal Shelter, with which the town has contracted since last year, now uses an 8-by-12-foot, retrofitted box trailer body off Stevenstown Road to house animals temporarily.

Town Manager Kelly Weissenfels said the box trailer is insulated and appropriately ventilated, and C&J is considering building a 20-by-40-foot facility that could accommodate larger animals, including livestock.

Weissenfels said the town now has a $3,800 contract to use the state-licensed shelter, with a roughly $2,000 contingency fund if veterinary care is needed or to cover euthanasia.

In a recent Facebook post, the town wrote the original goal of having a local shelter was to keep residents from having to travel to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta to pick up lost pets and to minimize local costs.

Weissenfels said another major factor influencing the decision to contract with a local shelter was a state regulation requiring towns to have an emergency shelter for animals in the event of a mass evacuation.

The discussion about the town’s animal sheltering options came during a Monday night meeting to review municipal budget proposals, which will ultimately be voted on by residents at the annual Town Meeting in June.

The town manager said Litchfield has also entered discussions with local humane societies, and that the Kennebec Valley Humane Society would provide these services to the town for $1.75 per capita, and the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society would do so for $1.40 per capita. He said it roughly works out to a savings of about $2,000 annually to continue contracting with the local shelter instead. Litchfield has a population of about 3,580, according to Census figures.

The Kennebec Valley Humane Society currently maintains what it says is an outdated 12,000-square-foot facility on Pet Haven Lane off Western Avenue in Augusta but has plans to build a new a new 19,100-square-foot, $6 million animal shelter on former farmland off Leighton Road.

Among the major differences between the shelter options is that the local shelter does not accept surrendered or unwanted animals, re-homing, or situations in which an animal has excessive medical costs; however, some surrenders may be accepted if the owner qualifies for general assistance. The local shelter also would not accept feral cats. The town does, however, have a foster family for abandoned pet cats until new homes can be found. They also assist owners in posting animals for adoption if they are in need of re-homing.

Kennels are seen Wednesday inside a retrofitted box trailer that currently serves as a temporary state-licensed animal shelter in Litchfield. Some residents are urging the town to instead contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Prior to contracting with the local shelter, Litchfield had contracted with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.

Steve Scottdirector of operations at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, said during the meeting Monday night that if, for example, Litchfield’s animal control officer brought an injured animal to the emergency clinic, the humane society would pay for it if they were contracted with Litchfield.

With only standing room was available in the Litchfield Town Office, resident Paul Fraser said the difference in cost of about $2,000 is more than worth the level of care animals would receive from the humane society.

“I think having a top-class facility is well worth the money,” said Fraser. “If you have an animal that’s picked up, it’s terrified. Throwing it into a box trailer body, perhaps with other animals, that is just devastating to the animal.”

Later in the meeting, after another resident asserted that the town was tossing animals into a box, Weissenfels clarified that only one animal had to stay in the box trailer body overnight since they began using the local shelter, and that all other lost animals were returned to their owners immediately. He said all animals staying in the shelter are cared for, and that it is fully licensed by the state.

Scott said Kennebec Valley Humane Society staff is trained to review all animals on intake and to modify their behavior as needed, depending on the animal’s needs, like in cases of food aggression or toy possession. They are also trained to perform minor medical procedures, and can immediately take animals to the vet.

She said going with a local shelter that doesn’t accept surrenders is a step in the wrong direction.

“I think it’s really moving backwards in society by not allowing these animals to get the correct care they need, to kind of leave owners responsible for their animals,” Scott said. “While I totally understand that concept, and I think you guys have a lot of heart when you say that, there are always things that happen.”

A retrofitted box trailer that currently serves as a temporary state-licensed animal shelter in Litchfield is seen on Wednesday. Some residents are urging the town to instead contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

She said there are situations in which even the most caring and responsible pet owners may have to surrender their pet, such as a suddenly losing a job.

Colette Bonte, a Litchfield resident and veterinarian, brought up several points in favor of going with the humane society instead. She said the level of service a humane society can provide is much higher than the difference in price, which may be even lower than projected as a humane society contract would cover services rendered with the vet contingency money. And depending on where a resident is located, Bonte said it may actually be a shorter drive to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta than to the C&J animal shelter on Stevenstown Road.

Bonte asked how the town would deal with a hoarding situation, where numerous animals are removed from a hoarder’s home, or how they would quarantine a sick dog in the box trailer to prevent an outbreak.

Weissenfels said these were good questions, but that they pertain to unlikely scenarios the town had not considered. He said on Tuesday that the town will take these concerns into consideration as they work on the budget in preparation for the annual Town Meeting.

“The meeting last night was actually a great part of the town budget process,” Weissenfels said Tuesday, “getting input from residents and making an informed decision about what to recommend.”


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