GREENFIELD TOWNSHIP, Maine — A cow and a rope left Lynn Stark with a broken hip – and a great idea.
The 69-year-old retired cake decorator was tending to a cow at her Samsara Exotic Animal Refuge in July 2011 when she got tangled in the rope and dragged, causing the injury. Stark realized during her six months of hospitalization and rehabilitation that she was fortunate: Her seven children could care for her slightly more than 100 farm and exotic animals while she recovered.
Other people, Stark said, aren’t so lucky. Animal control officers are often required to take possession of household pets and put them in animal shelters while their owners recover from injuries. If the elderly have no one to shelter the pets, sometimes the injured people recover and find that the shelter operators were forced to find new homes for their pets — or euthanized them, Stark said.
That’s why Stark and her daughters will begin accepting household pets at her refuge as soon as state officials approve her animal shelter permit application, she said Friday.
“I tried to put myself in other people’s places. If something happened to him,” Stark said in reference to her purebred Pomeranian dog, whom she named Shard of Obsidian – Cid for short — “and he wasn’t with me anymore, and I didn’t know where he went or who had him, that would break my heart. I couldn’t imagine how that would happen to somebody. That’s horrible.”
Thurlow Harper, an animal control officer for 11 central Penobscot County towns, including Lowell and Bradford, said that occasionally ACOs are forced to get pet owners to sign voluntary release forms if the owners have no one else to care for their pets.
When that happens, Harper said, the pets go to animal shelters. Most shelters try very hard to keep the animals themselves or find new owners for them rather than put them down, he said.
“I have had situations where I had to go in [to a home] with a police officer and confiscate the animal and came to find out that the person passed away in the hospital,” Harper said.
Legally, owners who leave their pets unattended for lengthy periods can be cited for abandonment or animal cruelty, which carries a $500 fine. Harper doubted that an animal owner would face such a fine if hospitalization caused the abandonment.
“The law says that we cannot leave the animal home alone and unattended,” Harper said.
By this past May, when she stopped needing a cane, Stark said she had heard enough stories of people losing their pets to begin her pursuit of temporarily adopting household pets.
With about 20 acres of property off County Road, Stark has plenty of room for pets. She also has a heated trailer that she plans to turn into a wintertime shelter for her pets, Stark said.
Stark’s property looks more like a livestock farm than a shelter. Cows, horses, chickens, rabbits, gerbils, and other pets or farm animals stay in neat cages or wander inside corrals or chicken-wire pens over the sprawling property. Some of the fences are electrified.
Stark only gradually got into sheltering animals, she said.
“I’m soft-hearted and I had seven children,” she said, “so you know there’s the cat they found on the road when they went on a pony ride, there’s the people they know who are getting rid of their dog and have no place to put it. That’s what happens.”
“And basically, once the children were grown up, I was [doing] bird rescue — cockatiels, parrots — and then I rescued emus. And then it changed the whole picture because that’s not an inside-put-it-in-a-cage bird. Then it just snowballed,” Stark said. “Look what happened.”
Stark’s 42-year-old daughter, Christine Stark, said she wasn’t surprised that her mother wanted to broaden her animal -rescue efforts to include people who cannot afford the cost of boarding.
“I think it’s a very good idea because it is something that we never thought of even when we started taking care of all her stuff. It never dawned on us either that there were people who have nobody,” Christine Stark said. “As the animal control officer put it to us, nobody is going to come up from Texas to get their mommy’s kitty cat. People can’t, so if that is all you have for relatives, then you have no choice – and boarding [animals] is expensive, very expensive.”
“My mother has always, I can honestly say, been a very caring and very open person,” she added. “Every stray, everything, always came here.”
Caring for so many animals is constant work. Stark relies on her children and grandchildren to help when they can. She hopes that people who leave animals will make donations to help her cover expenses rather than force her to charge them, Stark said.
Hannaford Supermarkets donates vegetables and fruit that are not fit for human consumption. Blue Seal of Bangor, which sells livestock, pet and garden supplies, also donates frequently. People also give via her shelter’s Facebook page or just drop donations to Stark at her home, she said.
“It always seems to balance out in the end,” she said.
Anyone who wants to donate animal food or supplies, leave a farm or exotic animal with her, or discuss adopting an animal can contact Stark at 207-478-4978 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.