Bangor Humane Society executive director Suzan Prendergast got emotional on Tuesday morning, when construction crews arrived to begin nearly a year’s worth of work on the organization’s Mount Hope Avenue facility.
Though by summer 2020 the building will be renovated to include a new lobby, improved dog kennels and cat condos, and a better overall workflow for humane society staff, Tuesday’s work focused on a project that that’s as much symbolic as it is practical: the removal of the society’s incinerator.
The removal of the incinerator, which has not been used to cremate animal remains for more than 18 months, represents everything Prendergast and her army of staff and volunteers have been working toward for the past decade.
“Our work has been all about increasing adoptions, and decreasing euthanization. We have a 95 percent adoption rate now,” said Prendergast, who has led the organization since 2008. “That room where [the incinerator] is is going to go from being the worst room in the building, to the best room in the building. It represents every life we can save.”
When the incinerator has been removed and the room it’s in is renovated, it will instead house a new intake and quarantine room for the many dogs the society brings up from animal rescues based in the southern U.S. Over the past two years, the Bangor Humane Society has more than doubled the number of dogs it brings up to Maine from shelters in states such as Georgia and Mississippi, where euthanization rates are much higher, and spay and neuter rates are much lower.
The renovation is the goal of a capital campaign the shelter began last year, which has raised $1.6 million toward its $1.7 million goal. Prendergast says she expects the remaining funds will be raised by the end of this year.
Its renovation is also the culmination of an overall shift in the way the Bangor Humane Society operates.
“Twenty years ago, animal welfare was in a dramatically different place. Animals were treated differently. Some were adopted out, but many more were euthanized,” she said. “It was the pound, basically. That’s how it worked. But that is not who we are anymore. Not by a long shot.”
Though there are still parts of the country where euthanization of unwanted animals is common, in the northeastern U.S., the majority of shelters have realigned their goals toward adopting out every animal. Though very occasionally some animals at the Bangor Humane Society must be put down due to illness or severe behavioral problems, Prendergast said in the vast majority of instances, their dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals all find homes.
“In a lot of ways, we are a veterinary facility that adopts out animals,” she said. “We get these animals healthy enough to where they can be adopted, we spay or neuter them, and we find them homes.”
During the renovation, the building layout will be redesigned to move the lobby from the front of the building to the east side of the building, facing the parking lot, which will allow the facility to increase the number of cats it has on display.
“The first thing you see when you come in will be cats in their condos, moving around and stretching and perching,” Prendergast said. “It’ll be a much happier space.”
Dog quarters will also get a facelift, with glass partitions replacing wire bars for each dog enclosure. The HVAC system will also be replaced, and various rooms and hallways will be consolidated to lessen the amount of time dogs, cats and humans alike have to spend in hallways. The humane society building, which was built in 1986, has not been significantly renovated since it opened more than 30 years ago.
A second phase of renovations will include the draining of the facility’s backyard area, which presently is underwater during the spring and early summer due to runoff from Hogan Road. When that is done, there will be a new enclosure for dogs to run around in, and the headstones from a long-unused pet cemetery will be removed and a memorial gazebo erected.
When the work’s all done, the renovations will bring the Bangor Humane Society into the 21st century, with a modern facility Prendergast said will better accommodate everyone — animal and human alike. She also said that when the incinerator is gone and the new quarantine facility is complete, humane society staff plan to hold a blessing ceremony, to cleanse the space of old, negative energy.
“We need to create a new aura in there that erases the old, bad things that happened in there,” she said. “This is a new beginning for all of us.”