HOULTON, Maine — At the Houlton Humane Society on Tuesday evening, as volunteers and shelter staff were getting ready to close the facility, executive director Heather Miller said that she and several others talked about what a great day it had been.
It has been a tough winter financially for the shelter, which offers care and adoption services for stray and abandoned animals in southern Aroostook County. Staff saw their hours cut and the Callaghan Road facility was forced to close each Monday.
But on Tuesday, Miller said that a group of girls from Greater Houlton Christian Academy had come to volunteer, as did several other people. The shelter also received a number of monetary and supply donations.
“We had our smiles on,” Miller said Wednesday. “It just seemed brighter, like things were looking up.”
All of those feelings of happiness and goodwill were wiped away in an instant, however, when someone came into the shelter between 3 and 4 p.m. Tuesday and stole cash from two donation jars from the lobby.
For the volunteers, staff and shelter supporters, it has been devastating, said the executive director.
According to Miller, one of the jars placed in the lobby was to collect money for the animal shelter, while the other jar solicited donations for Miller’s rabbit rescue, Hoppity Haven. The jars were not locked or otherwise secured, Miller said, because shelter officials never have had anyone steal from them and never believed that anyone would.
“Earlier, I had noticed that both of the jars were getting full,” Miller said. “One jar had at least three $20 bills in it, and the other had at least two $20 bills in it. So I said, ‘we really should empty those,’ to my staff. But we got busy and people were in and out, and then the theft occurred.”
Miller said that she has a “rough estimate” of who was in the building between 3 and 4 p.m., but it would be hard to prove who stole the jars. She filled out a statement for the Houlton Police Department and also wrote about the incident on Facebook, which generated an immediate response from residents horrified by what had occurred.
One individual purchased 10 pounds of dog food for the shelter, and another man volunteered to make a wooden donation box with a lock on it so that such an event does not occur again. Others have stated intentions to send donations.
The shelter employs four people and contracts with 14 towns in the southern Aroostook area that pay for the services they receive. It does not receive any money from the state, Miller said Wednesday, and some towns, such as Macwahoc, pay as little as $300 a year for services.
“We are like any other business in terms of having to pay a mortgage, fuel bill, electricity bill, taxes and payroll,” she said. “We really are in a desperate financial situation. It was a difficult decision to have to cut back on hours and close on Mondays, but there was no other choice. Closing on Mondays also means that the animals have to sit in their cages all day long, instead of running free like they do when we are here. Anything bad that happens at the shelter hurts not only the employees, but the animals as well.”
For information on the Houlton Humane Society or to donate to the shelter, log on to its website. You also can call the shelter at 532-2862.
A previous version of this story said two jars of cash were stolen. To clarify, cash was stolen from the jars, but the jars themselves were not stolen.