LINCOLN, Maine — Two kittens meowed unceasingly in the small metal cage, their marmalade-colored striped coats in need of a good brushing, as Nicole Murchison stood over them on a wooden footpath bridge at the South Lincoln boat launch.
“I was called and told about a cat down here and I looked around and looked around and I couldn’t find anything,” Murchison said Tuesday. “Then I happened to see this bridge and I saw the cat walking away from it, so I set the trap about an hour and a half ago.”
Murchison, who is Lincoln’s animal control officer, had expected to trap only one kitten, but wasn’t surprised to catch two. She and Meg Crocker-Curtis, director of the Penobscot Valley Humane Society shelter of Lincoln, say that abandoned cats and dogs are a chronic problem in the Lincoln Lakes region.
Murchison and Crocker-Curtis fear they are seeing an increase in the number of abandoned cats and dogs this year — possibly, Murchison said, brought on by the closure of Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC and some drug addiction cases where people going into rehabilitation were forced to give up their pets.
Towns where mills close or unemployment spikes due to business downturns typically see increases in pet abandonment, said Liam Hughes, director of the s tate Animal Welfare department.
“You see this whenever it is a very difficult time in any economically challenged area for families to stay together and survive. It is not just about the pets; it is about the families needed to make very difficult choices to stay together,” Hughes said Wednesday.
The Lincoln mill filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2015, eventually laying off 128 workers employed there at the time. LPT sought bankruptcy after a boiler explosion in November 2013 left the mill leaking cash. Lincoln Paper had employed close to 300 workers at one point.
Boston-based Gordon Brothers Commercial and Industrial LLC, PPL Group LLC of Illinois, Rabin Worldwide of California and Capital Recovery Group LLC of Connecticut bought the mill at auction in November for $5.95 million. They auctioned the mill’s equipment in April.
No tallies for the first half of 2016 are available, but statistics reported to the state by Penobscot Valley Humane Society for the three previous years show fairly consistent numbers of abandoned cats and dogs.
As far as dogs go, 170 were collected by animal control officers or surrendered at the shelter. In 2014, 189 were collected or turned in to the shelter while 160 dogs came in during 2013. About 528 cats were left at the shelter or collected by animal control officers in 2015, 534 came into the shelter in 214, and the shelter handled 625 cats in 2013, Hughes said.
Murchison and Crocker-Curtis encourage donations, particularly in dry cat and dog food, to the shelter. Anyone who wishes to adopt pets or donate money or supplies can contact the shelter at 207-794-3457 or visit it at 1 Park Ave., Lincoln.