John Bernier of the Humane Society Waterville Area plays with 2-year-old Ginger while dropping off toys for adoptable dogs Sept. 15 at the Waterville shelter. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — A Gardiner resident with many years experience working in animal welfare has been named the new executive director of Humane Society Waterville Area, which over the last few years has experienced a turnover of directors and issues including animal illnesses and overcrowding.

Rae-Ann Demos is the new director of the Humane Society Waterville Area in Waterville. Contributed photo

Rae-Ann Demos, 45, was chosen for the position after a thorough search was conducted over the past few weeks, according to Malena Gatti, president of the Humane Society’s Board of Directors, who led the search committee.

“Rae-Ann comes to us with an impressive breadth of experience and knowledge in animal welfare, shelter operations and team leadership,” Gatti said in a news release. “We had a very competitive applicant pool but we were blown away by Rae-Ann’s vision for the future of the shelter, and more importantly, her skill set to make that vision a reality.”

Demos, who begins her new job on Monday, has worked the last 14 years as district humane agent for the Animal Welfare Program in the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. She served two tours in the U.S. Army, working as a veterinary technician. The U.S. Army, she said, is the only military branch that offers veterinary technician service. While in the Army, she served as an acting, noncommissioned officer in charge of a veterinary clinic in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She also worked as a veterinary technician at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Military Working Dog Center in San Antonio, Texas, where she earned various honors.

In a phone interview Friday, Demos said she grew up in the Chelsea area where, as a youth, she learned to love dogs, horses and other animals. She graduated from Cony High School in Augusta in 1995, served two tours in the military starting in 2001 and studied food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine at Augusta from 2012-16.

At the humane society, she succeeds Lisa Oakes, who left the job in late July as the shelter closed temporarily because of overcrowding and animal illnesses. Oakes and humane society officials would not say at the time whether she was fired or left of her own choosing, citing confidentiality agreements.

The shelter’s board of directors had asked the state to inspect the shelter due to concerns it was overpopulated with animals and there might be procedural deficiencies, Gatti, the board’s spokesperson, said at the time.

Rae-Ann Demos has been hired as executive director of the Humane Society Waterville Area shelter, located at 100 Webb Road in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

State Animal Welfare Program officials inspected the facility and confirmed an overpopulation of 200 animals, and those officials were concerned about the illnesses. A team of veterinarians confirmed ringworm and upper respiratory issues in cats and kennel cough in dogs. The animals were quarantined and the shelter worked with the Maine Federation of Humane Societies and the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland to move animals to other sites.

The shelter was cleared for illness and reopened by mid-September, earlier than expected.

In 2018, officials changed policies and procedures 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.

After Smith’s resignation, Oakes was named interim director. Oakes then officially took over as executive director on Nov. 1, 2018. She left the position this past July.

The Humane Society Waterville Area, located at 100 Webb Road in Waterville, has named Rae-Ann Demos as its new executive director. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Demos said in a phone interview Friday, on the last day of her job in the Animal Welfare Program, that she looks forward to her new position at the Waterville shelter, with which she is very familiar.

“I’ve been working, obviously, with Waterville since the start of my career here with Animal Welfare,” she said. “In all honesty, it’s been a bit of a mess over the years. I witnessed director after director come in and not take on fully their responsibilities as director.”

As district humane agent for the Animal Welfare Program, Demos served several roles, primarily that of investigating accusations of animal cruelty in five counties. Also, she worked to inspect and license dog daycare centers, boarding facilities, pet rescues and animal shelters, so she was familiar with Waterville’s situation.

“I think the shelter is an amazing shelter,” Demos said. “They have great employees and I know that, with the right direction,  it can be one of the top shelters.”

She said her goal over the next five years is to make the shelter an ideal facility that others look to mirror.

“It’s a beautiful shelter — it really is,” she said.

Using a military-related analogy, Demos said, however, that you can have the most beautiful fighter ship out in the ocean, but “if internally, the engines aren’t working properly, you’re a sitting duck.”

She said her initial first focus will be addressing internal issues with staff and discussing job titles, the responsibilities associated with those titles and how to best execute them.

“Along with rebuilding these relationships with employees, I feel that my next step will be rebuilding the relationships with the community,” Demos said. “It’s imperative that we fix the relationships that were damaged and build a strong, community-based shelter.”

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