WATERVILLE — This time of year is what Lisa Smith calls the beginning of high season at the Humane Society Waterville Area’s animal shelter on Webb Road.

“This is kitten season,” she said. “We have moms and their kittens just rolling in every day. Yesterday we had 22 kittens and seven moms come in. We have probably 20 dogs, 12 pocket pets — rabbits, birds — and 70 cats and kittens.”

Smith, the operations manager since September, has developed new strategies at the shelter, which is required to accept the animals people drop off there.

Many of those people say they are strays, but Smith suspects that in many cases they are giving them up because they are afraid to say they are surrendering their animals — they are afraid of the stigma. When they drop them off as “strays,” they do not pay a fee, and that poses a challenge for the shelter, she said.

“So how do we create a balancing system that serves the number of animals coming in versus the number of animals going out?” Smith said.

Smith comes to the shelter after a period of flux and hardship. Paula Mitchell, who directed the shelter for many years, retired, and the shelter had a succession of directors who did not work out. Then there was a costly outbreak of ringworm in the shelter, forcing its temporary closure.

Following failed efforts to maintain stability and overcome hard feelings that developed in the community, the shelter’s board of directors hired a consultant to look at all aspects of the operation and make recommendations for a strategic plan.

Smith, of Falmouth, was recommended to the board of directors as someone who had a broad background and skills that would benefit the shelter.

Mike Brown, the new president of the board as of April, said board members and staff want the public to know that they are working to help improve the shelter’s ability to work with the public in all aspects, build trust and be a welcoming place where visitors can see that officials and staff really care.

In an effort to spread awareness about the shelter and invite people in to see how it operates, the humane society will hold an open house 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at its 100 Webb Road site. Smith said visitors will have an opportunity to tour the shelter and learn about employment and volunteer opportunities, share refreshments and meet the animals.

Brown said part of rebuilding trust and making improvements meant finding the right person to manage the shelter, and the board found that person in Smith.

“She basically is able to bring together all the things, between getting the volunteer numbers back up, getting the right employees,” he said.

Smith is developing programs that were not at the shelter prior to her coming, including focusing on increasing the shelter’s “live release” rate, or the number of animals that leave the shelter alive.

The average in 2014 was 90 percent, she said. “Of all the animals that come into the shelter, 90 percent go out.”

Smith also networks and collaborates with the Maine Federation of Humane Societies, so that if one shelter has a high number of cats, for instance, and another does not, they can transfer them.

“There’s strength in numbers and there’s resources in numbers,” she said.

In addition to sharing resources, the shelters are able to share policies and procedures. When one shelter is running terribly low on blankets or towels and another has an excess, it hands them over.

Often, when a particular animal sits for a while without being adopted, taking it to another shelter seems to do the trick.

“Many times, that dog gets snapped up right away,” Smith said.

The shelter is focusing on animal care, customer service and public service and then will turn its attention to fundraising and outreach to donors.

“We are always looking for board members, people involved on the board,” Brown said. “We want people with a strong business background, science and IT.”

An Indiana native, Smith received a bachelor’s in biology in 1982 from Purdue University, worked in medical marketing and sales, worked in an Indiana zoo, was a veterinarian technician and worked 10 years as part of a marine mammal rescue team along the Maine coast. She moved to Maine 35 years ago and never left.

Smith has a background in development, fundraising and membership drives for nonprofit organizations and worked as community outreach director for the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick. She also was director of Cumberland County Response Team, an emergency shelter group that partners with the Red Cross to set up disaster shelters for animals when the Red Cross sets up shelters for their owners. She also is trained in emergency response and volunteered in New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy.

“I love animals and I love problem solving and I love working with people, so I have gotten to put everything that I am passionate about together,” she said.

Smith said she is moving the shelter toward meeting national standards by working on policies and procedures in keeping with the Humane Society U.S., ASPCA and well-respected national organizations.

“They have veterinarians and people across the country more than willing to share resources,” she said.

Customer service also is a focus for Smith.

“One of my goals is to put the ‘human’ back in the humane society,” she said, “because there aren’t pets but for the fact that there are people attached with them.”

The shelter has nine full-time employees, four part-time and a group of volunteers. It operates on a budget of between $600,000 and $700,000 a year, according to Smith. The shelter, which survives mostly on donations and fundraising, contracts with 25 area communities for services, and those communities contribute about 20 percent of its budget. People may make contributions to the shelter on its website, www.hswa.org, or by mailing them to the shelter.

The facility welcomes donations of pet food, particularly canned cat food, litter, hay for rabbits, paper towels, instant hand sanitizer, window cleaner and office supplies, including stamps. Volunteers are needed to walk dogs and socialize cats, according to Smith.

The shelter also operates a pet food pantry, which supplies pet food to people in need so that they may keep their animals.

Providing pet food to help keep a pet in a loving home is much better than bringing it to the shelter where it must be fed and adopted out, according to Smith.

“A pet needs to be in a loving home, and that’s my goal,” she said.

The shelter’s Barn Friends program returns cats to areas they came from such as barns, sheds and warehouses, but makes sure there are humans that feed and supervise them and ensure they are neutered or spayed.

Individuals, families and businesses may foster cats as part of another program.

Volunteers are invaluable, according to Smith. At the shelter this week, Colby College biology major Kasey Kirschner, 20, of Norfolk, Massachusetts, was finishing up her work before heading home for the summer. Kirschner heads up Colby Paw Pals, a group of about 15 students who clean and do laundry, administrative tasks and other work at the shelter.

The shelter is open noon to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday. It is closed Sundays.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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