WATERVILLE — The animal shelter operated by the Humane Society Waterville Area has reopened after closing in late July because several cats and dogs had fallen ill and overcrowding prompted officials to send many animals to other shelters.

“We have been cleared for illness,” Malena Gatti, a member of the Humane Society’s board of directors, said Tuesday. “We had a follow-up inspection a few weeks ago and our team had been able to turn the whole operation around so quickly that the state lifted our quarantine after, I believe, 25 days, which was shorter than the estimates they originally gave us. They had told us it would be 30 to 90 days.”

Veterinarians at the time the shelter closed confirmed some cats had ringworm and upper respiratory infections, and some dogs had kennel cough.

The animals were quarantined and officials worked with the Maine Federation of Humane Societies and the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland to move animals to other sites, Gatti, the shelter’s spokesperson, said at the time.

She noted this week that while the shelter was cleared recently for ringworm and kennel cough, it has three cats with upper respiratory infections, but “lower numbers like this (are) relatively common in shelter settings, so it’s not necessarily a huge concern.”

She said the shelter at 100 Webb Road has developed relationships with veterinary clinics in the area to assess animals that come in and treat those in need of care.

The shelter’s board of directors in July asked the state to inspect the shelter due to concerns it was overpopulated with animals and because of procedural problems. State animal welfare officials inspected the facility and confirmed an overpopulation of 200 animals.

The state Animal Welfare Program, part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, made recommendations for the care of animals and other improvements, according to Gatti.

About the time the shelter closed, its executive director, Lisa Oakes, left her position, although neither she nor Gatti would say why, citing confidentiality agreements. Soon afterward, four board members also left.

Oakes had taken over as executive director of the nonprofit shelter in November 2018 after serving as interim director.

Money was needed at the time to help with operating expenses and repairs to the building, which was about 10 years old. 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.

Shelter officials changed policies and procedures when the facility went through a transition period after former Executive Director Lisa Smith resigned in October 2018. 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 president of the shelter’s board of directors, filled in as shelter director and then agreed to become executive director.

Gatti said this week there was no public notice about the shelter’s recent reopening because officials “wanted to make it a slow and gradual transition for the good of the staff and the animals.”

She said many improvements have been made at the shelter and the Humane Society is looking for a new executive director.

Chelsea Braley, feline team manager at the Humane Society Waterville Area, cares for cats at the shelter in Waterville on Wednesday. The shelter currently has 25 cats available for adoption. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“We have some very qualified candidates and are excited to bring someone new in who will lead our efforts in rebuilding our relationship with the community,” Gatti said. “We hope to ramp up fundraising soon after hiring a new director, as that will be our next immediate need in order to bring stability to the organization.”

The shelter now has 118 cats and 25 dogs, and officials are looking to bring those numbers down, she said.

“We are working with all potential adopters who have reached out to us since we’ve opened back up to find these animals their forever home,” Gatti said. “If anyone reading is interested in adopting, we encourage them to fill out the adoption application found on our website (hswa.org).”

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