It takes more than catnip to care for homeless felines

Posted Dec. 29, 2013, at 11:38 a.m.

Caring for animals, including thousands of cats, in shelters in Maine carries a hefty price tag.

While those costs vary from state to state and shelter to shelter, Liam Hughes, director of animal welfare in Maine, said it’s normal for daily shelter expenses to run into the thousands of dollars to cover electricity, maintenance, staff, animal food and care.

The annual budget at the Bangor Humane Society is $900,000, according to Stacey Coventry, its public relations manager. Coventry said the largest costs are staffing and veterinary care for the 5,000 animals that come through the shelter each year.

Every animal surrendered or brought into the Bangor shelter is screened and treated for diseases, parasites or injuries and — if needed — is spayed or neutered.

“It costs a lot to run a shelter,” Hughes said. “Caring for these animals can really be mind boggling.”

No shelters in Maine are supported directly through taxes, though some have contracts with towns and get revenue when animal control officers bring in strays.

At the Bangor facility, according to Coventry, 60 percent of revenue comes from donations and fundraisers. The other 40 percent comes from contracts with around 38 municipalities, adoption fees and grants.

No one in any shelter, according to Hughes, wants to see an animal euthanized, but it is sometimes necessary when dealing with unhealthy or dangerous pets.

“From our end, a shelter is a place where animals can go and find a new home,” he said. “There is a movement of people wanting only ‘no-kill’ shelters, but we’d rather look at the live release rate.”

The rate of animals leaving shelters in Maine to go to a new home is around 80 percent, he said, far higher than the rest of the country.

In Maine, most of the animals that are euthanized are killed because “we can’t do anything more for them,” Hughes said. “This is a hard thing and the people who work in shelters are trained and have a lot of respect for the animals, and it really affects them.”