VAN BUREN, Maine — It is not how Linda Ouellette wants it, but until something changes, it is how it has to be: The cat sanctuary at Precious Paws Rescue and Adoption Inc. has closed.
Ouellette, the president and founder of the nonprofit organization, said the no-kill, cageless shelter and adoption service for homeless, abandoned and unwanted mother cats and kittens shut its doors at the start of the year.
It will no longer offer shelter services, with the exception of emergency situations in the next few months.
All of the cats are now gone from the shelter.
“It was not something that I wanted to do,” she said Wednesday. “But finances played a huge part in the decision. We needed a lot more volunteers to do fundraisers, and we do not have them. That put the bulk of the fundraising responsibility, along with the operation of the shelter, on me. I just got burned out.”
Founded in 2003 to assist animals in the underserved St. John Valley, the 1,752-square-foot facility on Main Street was home to countless abandoned and unwanted animals over the years. Ouellette said she and her volunteer board of directors set a long-term goal of extending assistance to all domestic animals but the cat population took priority due to the high abandonment rate.
Ouellette said Precious Paws has remained an all-volunteer organization and has never received funding assistance from state, city or federal sources.
“We faced a lot of financial hurdles in the beginning, but we got grants and people were generous with their donations,” she said. “But as time went by, those financial hurdles continued to come up and it became harder to get by without a steady income source.”
Ouellette said she and her board of directors rallied volunteers to put on fundraisers, but those labors became increasingly challenging because of the time and effort required. With the recent downturn of the economy, Ouellette added, obtaining funding sources became still more difficult.
“We have always had a sporadic stream of volunteers,” she said Wednesday. “There has never been a steady group, and that has been a huge challenge. Without volunteers to help do fundraisers, we just can’t be successful.”
Still, Ouellette said she is not giving up completely and plans to continue advocating for animals and to maintain the organization’s nonprofit status. She also plans to collaborate with local groups and will continue to receive donations in an effort to provide medical assistance to needy animals. Ouellette will continue raising funds for spay and neuter assistance.
“Our office also will remain open on Main Street,” she said.
“If we can get more volunteers to work on a steadier basis, I believe we could open up fully again,” she continued. “If that happens, there are things that I want to do different. I would like to set up a planning committee to work on fundraisers and think of some new ideas to keep the shelter operating. I also need to build a local board of directors, people who are pretty much set up in the area and are living here and have the time to donate to this effort.”
Despite her optimism, Ouellette said she is concerned about what the shelter’s closing will mean for area cats. She also expressed thanks to those who have donated to Precious Paws over the years.
“This area is very underserved as far as animal shelters,” she said. “We took in animals from towns throughout the St. John Valley, and I am very afraid for what will happen to those animals now.”
She noted that PAWS Animal Welfare Society Inc. is open in Fort Kent, but other towns are not as lucky. She fears the lack of services for the homeless cat and kitten population in her community will lead to high levels of suffering and neglect.
“I wish I could do more,” she said Wednesday. “And with more volunteers, I think we can.”
Anyone interested in supporting Precious Paws can still call at 868-2828, e-mail email@example.com, or write the organization at Precious Paws, 15 Main St., Van Buren 04785.
The photo gallery on the organization’s Web site will continue to be updated, and anyone interested in making an online donation can go to www.mypreciouspaws.org.