Cliff Daigle, the animal control officer in Litchfield, opens the door March 16 to an 8-by-12-foot, retrofitted box trailer body at the C&J Animal Shelter on Stevenstown Road. The former trailer serves as a temporary, state-licensed animal shelter. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

LITCHFIELD — Residents are expected to have a say next month on whether the town contracts with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society or continues to use the C&J Animal Shelter on Stevenstown Road, which is an 8-by-12-foot, retrofitted box trailer body used to temporarily house animals.

A resident-led petition has gathered enough signatures to put the question on the warrant for the annual Town Meeting, which is set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, at the Carrie Ricker School gymnasium, 573 Richmond Road.

The matter has been debated during Select Board meetings since at least March, when Stevanie Scott, the humane society’s director of operations, addressed town officials about the organization’s shelter.

Scott said if the town had a contract with the humane society, the organization would pay for any injured animals brought to its emergency clinic.

She also said the humane society’s staff is trained to review animals on intake and modify treatment depending on animals’ needs, adding that staff members are trained to perform minor medical procedures and take animals to veterinarians, if needed.

Scott said in March the town’s decision to stay with a local shelter that does not accept surrenders — animals that are turned over to a shelter or rescue organization — is a step in the wrong direction.

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“I think it’s really moving backwards in society by not allowing these animals to get the care they really need, (and) kind of leave owners responsible for their animals,” she said in March, adding there are situations where even the most caring and responsible pet owners have to surrender their pets, such as after losing a job.

Resident Paul Fraser said in March the cost difference of about $2,000 to contract with the humane society is well worth the money, and that putting an animal into a box trailer with other animals could be a terrifying or devastating experience for the animal.

Residents again brought the matter up during a late April board meeting, asking officials if they would allow residents to vote on contracting with the humane society.

Officials defended the C&J Animal Shelter last month after some residents said it should not even be considered an animal shelter.

Cliff Daigle, the animal control officer in Litchfield, said the state has inspected and issued a license to C&J Animal Shelter.

Selectman Gary Parker said no animal has stayed at the shelter for more than one night, and no animal there has been euthanized, adding the facility will improve as upgrades are made.

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Selectman Rayna Leibowitz said she has known C&J owner John Alexander for more than 30 years. She spoke of his love for animals, including how he has taken a dog home with him so it did not have to spend a night at the shelter.

Residents at the April meeting criticized town officials for not allowing members of the community to choose between the Kennebec Valley Humane Society and C&J Animal Shelter. Since then, residents have circulated a petition to include the question on the annual Town Meeting warrant.

Town Manager Kelly Weissenfels said Tuesday that while only 173 signatures were required, residents collected 224.

The question, to which voters can respond with a yes or no, is to read: “To see if the town will vote to direct the board of selectmen to negotiate a reasonable contract with the Kennebec Valley Humane Society for the purpose of fulfilling the obligations of the town as required Title 7 of Maine Revised Statutes to provide for an animal shelter to accept stray animals.”

Weissenfels said Wednesday it was good to see residents getting involved with local government.

“A town government works on behalf of the residents to take care of the needs of the town and provide general services,” he said. “It’s appropriate that if residents aren’t pleased with a particular decision or action, that they have a way to bring their concerns to Town Meeting for a vote.

“We were happy to assist in the petition process, and I’m glad the system is working as intended.”

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