WATERVILLE — Humane Society Waterville Area officials have raised about $40,000 in the first phase of a three-month effort to raise $250,000 to ensure the Webb Road shelter will remain open.

Lisa Oakes, the new president of the society’s board of directors, who is filling in temporarily as the shelter’s director, said Friday that since officials last month announced that the shelter would close in three months if it did not receive significant contributions, people have come out of the woodwork to help.

“They are giving more than they normally would in terms of amounts, and small businesses have been generous as well,” Oakes said Friday. “It’s been really kind of heartwarming, honestly. We’re only $40,000 in. We still need large donors to partner with us. I’m so surprised that not a single donor over $5,000 has approached us so far.”

She said elderly people who likely live on fixed budgets have mailed in $10 checks, and a small business gave as much as $2,000. Every donation helps and is appreciated, she said.

Shelter officials understand they must gain the trust of the communities again since the Humane Society went through a transition over the last year and changed its policies and procedures, according to Oakes. She said officials have been visiting large businesses and talking with municipal officials about their fundraising efforts.

The shelter, which contracts with 24 central Maine communities, charges annual fees as part of their contracts, based on population. Waterville, for instance, pays the shelter $23,200 annually based on $1.48 per capita.

The Humane Society kicked off a capital campaign Aug. 27 in an effort to garner money to save the shelter from shuttering. At the time, Oakes said officials sought to make the shelter sustainable through the campaign and not just to garner an influx of cash.

The fundraiser, called the Save Your Shelter Campaign, will help with operating expenses and repairs to the building, which is about 10 years old, according to Mike Brown, a former board president who now serves as an adviser.

The shelter has worked on policies and procedures since former executive director Lisa Smith’s resignation last October. Her resignation followed an outbreak of feline distemper and the disappearance of two pit bull terriers from the shelter just after a court ordered them euthanized because they had killed a dog and maimed its owner. The former owner of the pit bulls had been allowed for a year to come to the shelter and walk the dogs. She returned to the shelter one day and said the canines had slipped out of their leashes. Those animals have never been found.

The facility was shut down for much of October because of the feline distemper sickness that killed more than three dozen cats and kittens. When the outbreak was in its beginning stages, Smith was on a planned vacation in Indiana but returned to Waterville a few days later.

Brown said last month that the shelter was struggling to meet day-to-day needs and while it should be operating on an annual budget of more than $900,000, it was functioning on much less. Unless it received funding to keep the doors open, it would continue to be a struggle, he said. The facility doesn’t have a large endowment like other shelters have, he said, and most of its funding comes from philanthropy, donations from the community and the town contracts. With more than 150 cats coming in on a fairly regular basis and costing $15 a day to take care of and feed, the shelter had been having difficulty keeping up, particularly with not enough staff members.

The shelter now has 104 cats, 25 dogs, a rabbit and four “pocket pets” including two rabbits, Oakes said Friday. She said the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook recently took some adult cats to help, she said.

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said Friday night that the shelter matters to the Police Department and the community and he hopes it can remain open.

“It’s very important to us,” Massey said. “We certainly need a place to bring stray animals and injured animals. Obviously, it’s very convenient and it’s in the community.”

If the shelter were to close, police and animal control would be forced to take animals to shelters in Skowhegan or Augusta, and that’s if those shelters have the ability to take them, according to Massey, who met Thursday with Oakes.

He said he hopes shelter officials are able to generate resources through donors and events.

“I would certainly hope that they stay open,” he said. “I hope folks step forward and help with donations.”

Meanwhile, the Humane Society is ramping up fundraising efforts with several events planned for October, including one Oct. 2 at the Red Barn restaurant in Augusta and a Blessing of the Animals event from noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Apple Farm in Fairfield.

From 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday, Lauren Kennedy, a professional videographer from Portland, will film a video for the Humane Society’s Facebook page to include appearances by Waterville firefighters, Miss Maine and two young children who support the shelter, according to Oakes. The Mutts & Motors Car Show will help Sept. 30 at the Waterville Elks Lodge, she said.

The shelter’s board of directors throughout this year has made improvements at the shelter with advice from consultants and staff. It now has a three-year strategic plan that focuses on various efforts, including achieving a sustainable organization that delivers outstanding animal care, according to officials.

The shelter employs 16 full- and part-time staffers, 30 volunteers and, on average, houses 300 animals daily. It serves more than 2,000 animals a year.

Oakes said those wanting to donate to the shelter may do so at hswa.org or through the society’s Facebook page.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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