DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — It appears that no town in Piscataquis County has a designated shelter for stray animals, although state law requires that each must verify that a shelter is in place by April 1 of every year.
That information was gleaned last week when representatives of several towns met with the Piscataquis County commissioners to discuss a possible solution for strays through a regional effort.
“The county is not going to solve this problem. We’re helping to facilitate it because we all have the same problem, so we thought it’s healthy to get everybody in the same room and talk it out,” Commissioner Tom Lizotte said at the meeting Thursday night.
Lizotte said the towns could continue the status quo, in which each is in charge of its own stray animals, or a system could be structured so the county takes the lead role of coordination and bills each town as part of county services, he said. Lizotte said county officials are not “real anxious” to get into the business but they recognized a solution is needed.
A solution is what Joseph Guyotte of Dover-Foxcroft, animal control officer for the Unorganized Territory and for most of the Piscataquis County towns, hopes will be forthcoming. He said that in the past he has relied on the mercy of the Foxcroft Veterinary Service and the Bangor Humane Society to board the county’s stray dogs and cats without any contracts. Both businesses have no obligation to take the animals without a contract, he said, although the society has never turned him away.
As the economy continues to sour, Guyotte said, he’s finding more and more stray animals — especially cats — pets that some homeowners no longer can afford to keep. When the local veterinary service has no available cages for the strays, Guyotte said, he must make the 100-mile round trip to Bangor, which consumes three hours of his time.
“Dogs don’t seem to be the major problem. It’s the cats, and when I say cats, I mean cats. There’s cats everywhere, people. If you don’t think so, follow me around for a week,” Guyotte said.
Hoping to find a solution, Guyotte approached both the Bangor Humane Society and the Foxcroft Veterinary Service for contract fees. If all the towns agreed to go with the county under one contract with the Bangor Humane Society, it would cost $1.69 per capita, or $29,127 a year.
“I’m never going to turn him away, but we need to formalize,” Suzan Bell, executive director of the Bangor Humane Society, told the town and county officials Thursday.
In comparison, the cost for Foxcroft Veterinary Service, which would use its former quarters as the shelter, would be $96,450 a year, which includes two full-time employees, rent, labor, utilities, maintenance, insurance, taxes and fees, according to Dr. Ronald Miles Jr., a co-owner of the service.
A per-capita fee would be the best way to spread the operational costs, Miles said Thursday. That fee would be reduced, he said, if other services were provided at the facility such as boarding, grooming and a “doggie day care.” In addition, the per-capita fee would drop if other towns outside Piscataquis County contract with the facility, he said.
If a shelter animal required emergency medical treatment, that cost would be extra at both the humane society and the local service.
The difference in cost between the two businesses troubled Willimantic Selectman Tom Capraro. He said Thursday that it was his board’s position that it was “kind of upsetting” that someone from Penobscot County would treat the county better than a local organization.
That comment prompted Miles to remind the audience that he and his partners, Drs. Dennis Ruksznis and Jeffrey Kelly, had been “raised” under Dr. Harold Sherman and knew the value of community service. He said the trio has made an effort to continue that community service, noting the multitude of clinics the veterinary service holds each year and other services it provides.
Guyotte said the opportunity to have a shelter locally would reduce the cost for towns, which must pay his mileage and his $10 hourly wage. It would create local jobs and it would keep the money in Piscataquis County, he said.
Abbot Selectman Jan Ronco suggested that fundraising could help offset the per-capita costs for the local service.
“There is a middle ground there someplace, but we’ve just got to figure out first if there is an interest.” Lizotte said.
The commissioners are expected to continue the discussion at their meeting today.