HOULTON, Maine — For now, the Ark Animal Sanctuary is more of a concept than a physical location, but that does not mean the driving forces behind saving area homeless or neglected animals are any less committed.
In fact, a group of northern Maine animal lovers was hard at work Sunday clearing 35 acres that they hope someday will house a working, no-kill animal shelter.
“We started last year,” Lorraine Montfils, sanctuary director and owner of Hollywood Pet Salon in Houlton, said over the weekend. “We’ve done a lot of work with the local animal shelter but we wanted to do something more.”
That something more is focusing on rescuing stray and abandoned cats suffering from a feline form of AIDS or leukemia.
“These are not death sentences for these cats,” Montfils said. “Properly treated they can live up to 14 years, but at a shelter they will be euthanized.”
So Montfils and her dedicated group of animal lovers are fostering close to 20 felines, all ready for adoption.
There’s TK — short for Toothless Kitty — who had to have all of his teeth removed, a condition that does not stop him from eating his dry kibble.
Moose was a true feral cat when he found his way into foster care about six months ago, but he now craves attention and, according to those who know him, missing part of one ear simply adds to his character.
Perhaps the saddest story at Ark is Hector, who lived as a stray outside a family’s home for a number of years.
Montfils does not know why, but the family was afraid of Hector and would kick him if he came too close. The constant abuse resulted in his developing arthritis and a limp.
“But his limping doesn’t keep him from greeting anyone looking to give him hugs and kisses,” according to the Ark website.
“We’ve adopted out 120 cats,” Montfils said.
When fostering a feral cat is not an option, Montfils said, the group traps, spays or neuters and then returns the cat to the area in which they found it.
But the group is not stopping with small felines.
“There is a big need for horse rescue, too,” Montfils said. “There are not a lot of places for them to go.”
The group’s dream is a central building with a large fenced-in area creating special indoor-outdoor living spaces for cats and other animals.
“Goats, pigs, horses, dogs — we want to help all animals in need,” Montfils said.
The group initially looked at a farmhouse on a lot, but that proved to be too expensive an option, Montfils said.
“One of my customers read about what we are trying to do and she had a parcel of land [of] 35 acres and gave us an awesome deal on it,” she said. “It already has a well and septic system and a brook running through it. We really lucked out.”
Sunday marked Ark’s first “community cleanup day,” and volunteers spent the day clearing brush, picking up trash and cleaning up the newly acquired land.
“The Fire Department plans on coming in to do a controlled burn of the brush,” Montfils said. “We have volunteers with brush hogs and other heavy equipment who will help flatten it out.”
Montfils said they hope to have a building on the site within a year and for now are hoping someone with an old structure they want taken down or a mobile home they need moved will step forward to donate.
“There are a lot of people who believe in what we are trying to do,” Montfils said. “We could not do this without all the wonderful volunteers we have.”
Information on cats available for adoption or making a donation is on the group’s website at www.arksanctuary.com.