HOULTON, Maine — With the economy in recession, many people have been forced from their jobs and even their homes, but the displacement phenomenon doesn’t end there.
The Houlton Humane Society, a nonprofit corporation that offers care and adoption services for stray and abandoned animals in southern Aroostook County, has in recent months seen such an influx of animals — and the expenses of caring for them — that the organization has been pushed to the brink of closure.
The Houlton Animal Shelter, operated by the Houlton Humane Society, is set up to accommodate around 70 cats.
On Wednesday, there were nearly 200, said Cathy Davis, the humane society’s president. With the increased population comes a jump in expenses for food, veterinary care and cleaning supplies. Officials also must pay the mortgage on the shelter, as well as electricity bills and payroll.
“My employees are e-mailing me and asking if they should start looking for jobs,” said Davis. “Right now, we have enough money in the bank to cover one more week of payroll and one more mortgage payment.”
The Houlton shelter contracts with 19 towns that pay for the services they receive. Fundraisers and donations also propel the shelter’s operation.
The recession, Davis said Wednesday, has forced the shelter to care for more animals with less funding from donations.
It also has affected other shelters across the state.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Hancock County is supported entirely by donations from individuals and businesses.
Doug Radziewicz, executive director of the Trenton-based nonprofit organization, said the shelter is equipped to hold five or six dogs and 20 to 25 cats. On Wednesday, the shelter had close to 40 cats and kittens.
“We are seeing more people come in and say, ‘I love my pet but I can’t afford to keep it,’ or feed it or pay if it is older and needs medical care,” he explained Wednesday. “We try very hard to help them get food if it is a matter of them not being able to afford the food anymore, but sometimes it is just that someone has lost their job or home and he or she has to move and can’t take the animal with them.”
Radziewicz said some of those animals have been left at the shelter door to be found when the shelter opens in the morning. Some have been sick or pregnant.
The director said Wednesday that individual donations to the Trenton shelter are down, which he said he believed was related to the recession.
“It is really hard out there right now,” he said.
In Presque Isle, the Central Aroostook Humane Society also has seen its pet population swell and donations dwindle.
Shelter manager Betsy Hallett said Wednesday afternoon that the shelter contracts with 25 towns, all of which provide financial support. But donations are vital to the shelter’s survival, and Hallett has noticed that the money is not coming in like it used to.
“The public is always very good about donations,” said Hallett. “But now, people are asking themselves if they should support the shelter or put more money towards supporting their family. Most are supporting their families.”
Visitors to the shelter are up, she said, but visiting is mostly what people are doing.
“People come in and look at the animals, but they can’t afford to take them home,” Hallett said.
The Bangor Humane Society reported last month that it was “filled to capacity” with homeless cats and kittens.
In Thomaston, the Humane Society of Knox County conducted a fundraiser in June in which some restaurants donated a percentage of their proceeds to the shelter.
Back in Houlton, Davis continues to brainstorm ways to raise money, as adoptions cannot keep pace with the climbing population.
“We have eight to 10 cats coming in a day,” Davis said.
The humane society conducts a number of fundraisers, which Davis said typically bring in $500 per event.
The shelter relies heavily upon volunteers, but does have nine part-time employees who do not work a set number of hours. Some come in, for instance, to clean for a few hours one day and do not come back until a week later.
Davis said she hopes people will come forward with financial assistance.
“I don’t think I have ever seen it this bad,” Davis said Wednesday.
For information on the Houlton shelter, call 532-2862. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Hancock County can be reached at 667-8088, and the Central Aroostook Humane Society can be reached at 764-3441.