WATERVILLE — The Humane Society Waterville Area has raised more than $100,000 toward a $250,000 goal in just three months, enabling the animal shelter on Webb Road to remain open after it had been in danger of closing its doors.

Lisa Oakes, who was hired Nov. 1 as shelter executive director after serving as interim director, said Saturday that the community responded to a plea for donations as part of the Save Your Shelter Campaign and officials will continue raising funds into the new year.

While the shelter is still $150,000 behind what it had hoped to raise from September through November, Oakes is confident the community will help meet the goal.

“We’ve raised over $100,000 in just three months, which is tremendous, and that’s all from no more than $5,000 at a time — everything from individual donations of a $10 check or a $500 check,” she said. “The community support has been tremendous, and that’s why the board is committed and I am committed to make this place soar.”

Oakes spoke Saturday at the shelter, which was holding its holiday open house from noon to 6 p.m. By 4 p.m., about 500 people had come through the doors, according to Oakes.

At 11 a.m., people started lining up outside the door, an indication that the shelter is high on the list of priorities for people who love animals and care about their well-being.

“I think we had 100 within the first 10 minutes,” she said. “People were waiting to get in and were enjoying all the free food and the coffee. It’s just been tremendous today. I had to stop and take a breath a few times because its been so overwhelming — in a good way, of course.”

 

Donna Laliberte cuddles with her new 8-year-old Alaskan klee kai Saturday at the Humane Society Waterville Area shelter in Waterville. The organization held an open house that day to raise money to keep the shelter open. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

The shelter on Black Friday, Nov. 23, released 30 animals — 28 cats and two dogs — for adoption in four hours; and on Saturday during the open house, five puppies and two cats were adopted, according to Oakes.

“We have barely any animals left to adopt. We have three dogs left and maybe five or six cats.”

There are more animals at the shelter, but they are not ready to be placed in new homes. Many are kittens that need to be spayed or neutered, some are adult cats that need spaying and neutering and some have upper respiratory problems, Oakes said. About 10 dogs also are not yet ready to be adopted, she said.

The shelter has an annual budget of about $900,000 but has been functioning on less than that. It has contracts with 24 municipalities in central Maine.

Officials announced in August that the shelter was going to launch a fundraising campaign, saying that if they did not raise $250,000 by Dec. 1, the shelter would have to close its doors. Money was needed for operating expenses and repairs to the building, which is about 10 years old. The shelter over the last year has changed its policies and procedures since it went through a transition after former executive director Lisa Smith resigned in 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 in Winslow.

Oakes became the new president of the shelter’s board of directors, filled in as shelter director and on Nov. 1 became executive director.

“I decided I like this and I’m kind of good at it, so I took the job,” she said.

Randy Marshall, who was board treasurer, is the new board president, and Chris Mitchell is the new treasurer, she said.

“We have letters going out to the entire constituency — all 24 towns — arriving on the 12th or 13th, introducing everybody to me and explaining our plan for the future,” Oakes said.

Melinda Dawes, a shelter worker, cuddles with Felicity, one of the cats found recently in an a Unity storage unit, as she prepares her for her new adopted home Saturday at the Humane Society Waterville Area shelter in Waterville. The organization held an open house that day to raise money to keep the shelter open. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

She said the shelter has been working with volunteer organizations, including Unique Minds, a marketing group, of Portland, which is helping the shelter pro bono. The shelter also has been advertising and using social media to raise awareness — and that has been working, as people are donating to the effort, according to Oakes.

“I can’t say it’s all advertising. A lot of it has been hard work by volunteers and just talking to the community,” she said, “honestly, having people come in and taking the time to sit down and have a conversation with them and reassuring them that I have the best interest of this organization in my heart.”

Winter is a slower time for the shelter, as not as many animals come in, so it offers a bit of time to make changes and the shelter doesn’t need a huge influx of cash, she said.

“We have some breathing room,” she said.

At the first of the year, some management changes will be made, and volunteers have signed up for shifts, just as if they were paid workers, according to Oakes.

“I just want to say how appreciative I am of the response from the community,” she said. “It’s been so positive and heartwarming, so many hands shaken. Everyone loves these animals and the facility, and what we do is so important.”

Oakes led the way into a room housing three of a dozen cats found recently in a storage unit in Unity with no food or water for nearly three weeks. Flick, a young gray-and-white cat, was curled up in a cat house, watching Emmeline, a 5-year-old black cat, walk around, as Emmeline’s offspring, Felix, who is a 10-month-old black-and-white cat, cuddled in a cat bed. Melinda Dawes, the shelter’s lead cat technician, said the cats were fearful of people at first but have become more sociable.

Oakes said the cats are healthy and adoptable now, and that Felix and Emmeline are bonded and should stay together.

“There were 12 total cats and only seven survived,” she said. “Three had already passed when they got here and one passed away that same night and one was humanely euthanized.”

Santa Claus greets children Saturday at the Humane Society Waterville Area shelter in Waterville. The organization held an open house that day to raise money to keep the shelter open. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Oakes adopted two of the cats and a shelter staff member took another.

“The staff has been tremendous. These guys have really put their hearts into this,” she said.

Those wanting to donate to the campaign may do so on the shelter website at hswa.org or go to its Facebook page. Checks also may be sent to the shelter at 100 Webb Road, Waterville, ME, 04901.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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