Litchfield Animal Control Officer Cliff Daigle opens the door on March 16 to a retrofitted box trailer that serves as a temporary, state-licensed animal shelter. Some residents are urging the town to contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

LITCHFIELD — Concerned that the town’s retrofitted box trailer is not adequate to temporarily house animals, a handful of residents are asking officials to hold a local vote on whether to continue using the shelter or instead contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society facility in Augusta.

Now, Litchfield uses the C&J Animal Shelter, which is an 8-by-12-foot retrofitted box trailer body off Stevenstown Road. The town had previously contracted with the humane society.

During a select board meeting Monday night, some residents asked that the shelter choice be added to the warrant for the annual Town Meeting in June. If select board members do not approve including that choice on the Town Meeting warrant, then residents would need to circulate and submit a petition to do so.

Litchfield resident Ed Avis said said one of the key points in the state’s definition is that the facility houses and provides for stray, abandoned, abused, or owner-surrendered animals. He argued that the facility should not be labeled as an animal shelter, since it does not accept surrendered animals.

But Selectman Gary Parker defended C&J Animal Shelter and the results the town is getting from it, saying “no animal has stayed there more than one night, and no animal has been euthanized.”

He also said the C&J shelter will likely improve over time as additional upgrades are made.

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“Your issues aren’t falling on deaf ears,” Parker said the residents, “but it’s a slow process, evidently. The best that I could hope for is to speed it up a little bit, but I don’t think there’s any ill intent on anybody’s part, and I think that given a little bit of time, they (C&J Animal Shelter) will probably improve their area. There’s no doubt in my mind, but right now, what’s there is what’s there.”

Town Manager Kelly Weissenfels said last month that the town saves about $2,000 annually by using its own shelter, instead entering into a Kennebec Valley Humane Society contract that would cost about $6,200. The town has a $3,800 contract to use the C&J shelter, with a roughly $2,000 contingency fund if veterinary care is needed, or to cover euthanasia.

The humane society maintains what it describes as an outdated, 12,000-square-foot facility at 10 Pethaven Lane, off Western Avenue, in Augusta, but has plans to build a $6 million, 19,100-square-foot animal shelter on former farmland off Leighton Road.

One resident asked if the town website could have a comparison of both C&J shelter and Kennebec Valley Humane Society, outlining what they offer and how much they cost.

Weissenfels said this could be done on the website and it could also potentially be done during the upcoming Town Meeting.

Another resident asked about the deadline for finalizing the meeting warrant, and Weissnefels said the last meeting this could be done is on Monday, May 23.

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Avis said it seems like a step in the wrong direction for the town to continue using the C&J facility.

“We have a perfectly functioning automobile with good tires,” he said, “the automobile being Litchfield and the tires being (the) Kennebec Valley Humane Society facility. We’ve taken off those good tires and put on some ox cart wheels, and we’re bumping down the road hoping that they get better. Seems to me like we’ve taken a step backwards. There’s a perfectly good facility available. It does cost a little bit more but sometimes you get what you pay for. They certainly offer much wider range of services.”

Kennels are stored in a retrofitted box trailer that serves as a temporary, state-licensed animal shelter in Litchfield. Some residents are urging the town to contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Avis once again reiterated that the C&J facility should not be referred to as an animal shelter, and Select Board member Rayna Leibowitz said the town does have state license for the facility. Weissenfels added that this license also indicates that it is an animal shelter.

Parker asked if Litchfield Animal Control Officer Cliff Daigle had any response to the claim that it should not be considered an animal shelter. Daigle said the state has inspected the facility and issued an animal shelter license for it.

One resident said they heard that a dog would be euthanized after six days and a cat would be euthanized after three days in the facility, and Daigle said this was not true, and that they go by state regulations.

Parker added that throughout the entire life of Litchfield’s facility, not one animal has been euthanized, and that this was never the intent.

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“People hear all kinds of things, but what they need to do is go talk to the animal control officer, talk to the person at the facility,” he said.

He continued, adding that Facebook notoriously puts out sketchy information, referencing several posts that had been circulating on the social media platform leading up to the Monday meeting.

“I’m on Facebook all the time,” he said, “but I don’t believe everything I read on Facebook. And if it really bugs me, I’ll go to the person they’re discussing and I’ll find out.”

Leibowitz added that she has known John Alexander, who owns the C&J property, for more than 30 years, and that he even took a dog home with him so it did not have to stay in the shelter overnight.

“If I needed to be away and wanted someone that would take good care of my dog,” said Leibowitz, “John would be it.”

Litchfield resident Ellen Wood was critical of the board for needing additional discussion and fact-finding to consider providing the option, instead of just giving residents the choice.

“I respectfully implore all three selectpeople to personally visit this facility as opposed to having Kelly do some fact-finding,” she said. “It’s not far away.”

Leibowitz said some of the concerns that led to the town using its own shelter include complaints about animals that had been picked up as strays and couldn’t, at that time, be taken to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society during certain hours and that the town had paid well over $5,000 so four animals could be cared for.

“Those were part of some of the factors that went into my head when we were looking at potential alternatives,” she said.

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