The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, seen in March, denies that it is euthanizing more dogs than it has in the past. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — A former employee of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society took to social media this week to accuse the shelter of recently doubling the number of dogs it euthanized because they were deemed too aggressive to be adopted.

Amanda Kimball, one of three animal care team leaders at the shelter until she was fired recently, said euthanizing dogs used to be a last resort. But under a new manager at the shelter “any animal with behavior issues” is likely to wind up dead, she said.

The shelter’s leaders vehemently denied Kimball’s allegations Thursday, saying the shelter’s guidelines have “been the same forever,” and that it is not euthanizing more dogs than in the past.

“There’s a lot of thought and consideration that goes into that decision” about any potentially aggressive dog, said Brandon Castner, who took over as the shelter’s operations manager about a month ago.

But Zachary Black, who held that position for the previous decade, said it “seems a little startling to me” that staff members and volunteers have been reaching out to him nearly every day to complain about what they see as a shift in philosophy at the shelter.

In a Facebook post that had been shared more than 1,600 times by the end of Thursday, Kimball wrote: “Did you bring your pet in recently? Was it food aggressive or wary of strangers? It’s probably been euthanized. Milo, Betsy, Cookie, Gilbert, Bella. They had behavior issues that could have been rehabilitated with a little patience and training.”

DIRECTOR: NOTHING HAS CHANGED

Steven Dostie, the shelter’s longtime executive director, said neither the nonprofit’s policies nor the outcomes of dogs’ assessments have changed.

Since Jan. 1, he said, the shelter has euthanized 34 dogs considered too aggressive to be adopted. In a typical year, Dostie said, about 100 dogs fall into that category, which is roughly 5 percent or 1 in 20 of the approximately 2,000 dogs that pass through the shelter each year.

Kimball, however, said she saw an immediate change when Black left for a new job in mid-March.

She said 10 dogs were euthanized within two to three weeks of Black’s departure, compared to two to three a month earlier.

She said a few dogs the staff had been working with to get them to the point where they would have been adoptable were among those killed.

In one case, Kimball said, three dogs were taken away at the same time, dying in front of one another.

“It’s not humane,” she said.

Kimball believes the policy shift that she alleges has taken place is connected to a March 19 incident in which a shelter dog taken out for a walk – and improperly taken into a home – killed a family’s Yorkie and injured two people.

The shelter did not want to risk more bad publicity, she said.

Dostie said the shelter’s policy is straightforward: It only euthanizes dogs that are too dangerous to be adopted or that are in such poor health that treatment is unlikely to be successful.

Castner said the shelter has tests and methods for evaluating how dogs approach people, one another, and food and toys, among other things. By watching what dogs do, including body language and growling, the staff can assess whether those animals pose risks that prevent them from being adopted.

“Our commitment to place safe animals in the community is a huge priority for us,” Dostie said. “We don’t want to place dangerous animals into homes.”

There is no bright line that clearly delineates which dogs pose too great a danger.

Kimball said some dogs are clearly too far gone to save, remembering one that would not even let anyone touch him. Many others have an issue or two that can be addressed by staff and volunteers who can retrain the animals and ensure their proper placement, she said.

RESPONSIBILITY TO ANIMALS

Black, who took a new job in another city, said he “poured heart and soul into saving as many pets as possible” during his 10 years at the Lewiston shelter.

He said he felt a responsibility to work with pets to give them a chance.

“We didn’t adopt out every dog,” Black said, but many with food aggression or an inability to be around others could go on to have happy lives with the right families.

Dostie said there are times when the number of dogs that cannot be rehabilitated runs high and other times when it is lower. In general, he said, the shelter has “a very, very low” rate for euthanizing dangerous dogs.

Kimball said she posted her online plea in the hope that the community would pay attention. She said she wants to see change at the shelter.

She said she never thought her post would reach so many people.

Black said the shelter’s board of directors “needs to step in here” and evaluate what is going on.

“We really need to have some transparency,” Black said, noting that directors in the past have been asked to get involved with certain issues at the shelter without success.

“We’re knocking at a door that never gets answered,” he said.

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