Chris Mitchell walks Beatrice from an outdoor kennel to an indoor kennel Monday at the Humane Society Waterville Area at 100 Webb Road in Waterville. Mitchell is on the animal shelter’s board of directors. Others connected to the facility walked dogs on a grassy area near the kennels. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The Humane Society Waterville Area animal shelter has closed temporarily due to animal illnesses, according to officials.

Meanwhile, some animals have been parsed out to other facilities, and the executive director is no longer employed by the shelter.

Officials would not say Monday whether Lisa Oakes was fired as executive director or left of her own choosing, saying only she was no longer an employee as of last Thursday.

The shelter’s board of directors asked the state Wednesday to inspect the shelter due to concerns it was overpopulated with animals and there might be procedural deficiencies, according to Malena Gatti, a member of the board.

State Animal Welfare Program officials inspected the facility and confirmed an overpopulation of 200 animals, and those officials were concerned about illnesses in some animals, Gatti said Monday.

A team of veterinarians confirmed ringworm and upper respiratory issues in cats and kennel cough in dogs, Gatti said, adding such illnesses are “very common in shelter settings.”

Animals are being quarantined and the shelter has been working with the Maine Federation of Humane Societies and the Rescue League of Greater Portland to move animals to other sites, she said.

As of Monday, the number of animals at the Waterville shelter had been reduced to 156, and the goal was to decrease that to fewer than 100 over the next couple of days, according to Gatti.

She said she did not have data on how many of the 200 animals were sick but said most were healthy.

“We have been working diligently over the weekend and over the course of the week to partner with shelters through the Maine Federation to try to get as many animals out of our shelter, so staff can focus on the care of animals,” Gatti said.

Lisa Oakes, the former executive director of the Humane Society Waterville Area, with Bobby, a cat, in February 2019. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Gatti confirmed Oakes is no longer employed at the shelter, but would not say whether she was fired or left on her own accord. She also would not say if Oakes’ exit was related to the current situation at the shelter.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that, unfortunately,” Gatti said.

Contacted by telephone Monday afternoon, Oakes said she could not comment on the matter for confidentiality reasons.

“All I can say is I’m heartbroken for the shelter and all the people who loved the animals,” she said.

Oakes took over as executive director of the nonprofit shelter at 100 Webb Road on Nov. 1, 2018, after serving as interim director. In late August of that year, Oakes reported the shelter would have to close within three months if it did not receive significant contributions.

Money was needed for operating expenses and repairs to the building, which was about 10 years old at the time. By early December 2018, more than $100,000 had been raised toward a goal of $250,000, which was ultimately met. The contributions enabled the shelter to remain open.

The entry to the Humane Society Waterville Area at 100 Webb Road in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

During 2018, shelter officials changed policies and procedures when it went through a transition after former Executive Director Lisa Smith resigned in October of that year. Her resignation followed an outbreak of feline distemper and the disappearance of two pit bull terriers from the shelter shortly after a court had ordered them euthanized because they had killed a dog and maimed its owner in Winslow.

Afterward, Oakes became the president of the shelter’s board of directors, filled in as shelter director and then agreed to become executive director.

Gatti said Monday as soon as the shelter’s board became aware the facility was possibly dealing with an overpopulation of animals, it contacted the state. The shelter staff, she said, has been working hard to care for the animals.

Gatti said she was not sure when the shelter will reopen to the public. The quarantine period is about 90 days, but it is possible it will be less than that, she said.

The Humane Society Waterville Area at 100 Webb Road in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Gatti said updates on the shelter’s situation are being posted on its Facebook page.

Shelter officials said they hope to reopen the facility to the public as soon as possible. They are working with shelter partners to ensure animals that are in foster care get to their appointments to be spayed and neutered, and that as many as possible are sent to permanent homes.

The state Animal Welfare Program, in the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, has made recommendations to the shelter for improving infrastructure and animal care procedures, according to Gatti.

A call placed Monday afternoon to Jim Britt, director of communications for the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, went unreturned.

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