Animal shelters adapt to ‘the new normal’ | Local News

FRYEBURG, Maine – At the start of the pandemic, Harvest Hills Animal Shelter adopted a new way of adopting pets by requiring all prospective adopters to make an appointment.

They still demand that, according to longtime executive director Joan McBurnie, as they’ve found when people make appointments they’re more likely to return home with a pet.

“Back then we were sort of the ‘free zoo’ as people stopped to see and play with dogs and cats. It was great for socializing the animals, but no one was adopted, ”said McBurnie, who has run the shelter for 20 years.

“But now we continue to only be open by appointment, although it does bother some people, once we explain to them that every time we have a date the animals come home, they do. argue, ”she said.

When asked why this was the case, McBurnie believes that by just having a conversation when making the appointment, a lot of the background screening work is done as well, so he A more positive and streamlined interaction results once they come to the shelter.

“When they come in, they have our full attention for an hour, and we already know, from the previous conversation when making the date, what they’re looking for,” McBurnie said.

When the pandemic began last year, shelters such as Harvest Hills and the Conway Area Humane Society in Conway saw high demand.

This has continued, note both McBurnie and Tim Westwig, his ACSS counterpart, and although there have been nationwide reports of animal shelters seeing returns now that people are returning to the working in person, the two said they had not seen this at their local shelters.

Harvest Hills currently has 16 dogs and 30 cats available for adoption.

They are open every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday) and closed on Thursday.

Now that some people are returning to work or the office, McBurnie said, “We hope companies will consider letting employees bring their dogs with them to work.

“Of course I’m one-sided – we love it when we have an office dog with us,” she said.

When asked why so many people turned to pets during stay-at-home orders last year and during distance learning for students, McBurnie spoke of the healing power of the bond. human-animal.

“Pets help people in many ways: they lower your blood pressure; they reduce stress… When the pandemic hit and people were at home, I think we saw a great emotional need. We still see people with that, ”McBurnie said.

She said that unlike reports from the New York Times that shelters are seeing more returns nationwide, Harvest Hills is not experiencing more than normal.

“No, we’re not seeing better returns,” McBurnie said. “However, we are seeing instances where people may have gotten a dog from a rescue team in southern Mississippi or Georgia that you’ve never heard of and they meet somewhere in a parking lot next to I-95 and bring the animals home and they find they are not what they were told.

“For example, we had a lady in North Conway who was told that the dog she was adopting got along well with cats. Well, that wasn’t true. When she brought the dog home, he wanted to kill his cat. So although it is easy to adopt from them, it is not so easy to come back because how do you get them to come back to them?

“So while we don’t get as much of our own feedback, we see it in other places,” McBurnie said.

Westwig of CAHS echoed those comments, although he said that a difference between the two shelters is that CAHS does a lot of transport, taking animal rescues in the Deep South.

At Tuesday’s MWV Chamber After Hours, held at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in North Conway, CAHS was a featured nonprofit. Westwig, event director Elizabeth Lord, administrative assistant Autumn St. John, and volunteer Evin Hatch had an information table where they were accompanied by Calvin, a well-bred lab mix that the shelter received from Texas. .

“He’s a good boy – just socializing and still a little shy,” said St. John, as Calvin rested his head on his leg. “He’s a great dog,” agreed Westwig, who has served as CEO of ACSS since 2019.

Director of Operations Kristen Belanger notes that CAHS has 36 cats and 19 dogs, as well as three rabbits, in its care.

It’s a big week for the humanitarian society, as they host their ‘Paws for Putts’ golf tournament on Wednesday at the North Conway Country Club, then get ready for their ‘Trails for Tails’ fundraising event, which has held today at Whitaker Woods in North Conway.

“We are bringing animals from the southern states that are in danger of being euthanized,” Westwig said. “As a result, a few months last year, during the pandemic, we were making over 1,200% more adoptions than in previous years. We were transporting as many animals as we could find a way to do because the demand was incredibly high. “

Like McBurnie, he said because of the pandemic, people have reached out to animals for comfort, hence the increase in adoptions.

“A lot of people say it was because more people were at home, but personally I think it was deeper. The animals provide incredible comfort, encouragement and an advertisement of unconditional love during the isolation that many experienced during the pandemic which was much needed, ”said Westwig.

He said the CAHS continues to be “strict” about who it allows to adopt. “Our application process is very thorough and sometimes people get frustrated with the way we dig deep – but we want to make sure people have taken care of their pets in the past if they have had any. While it can be tedious at times, and I respect that, I think that’s why it resulted in very few surrenders (returns) for us.

He said adoptions had slowed down somewhat compared to a year ago, when demand was highest.

“We’ve gone back to our traditional numbers – we are adopting an average of around 25 to 40 dogs per month and less than cats, but within those ranges,” Westwig said, noting that the ages of pets range from kittens to cats. 12 year old cats and puppies to older dogs.

He said the CAHS also takes care of local surrenders as well as local abuse cases when animals are seized by police and handed over to the shelter.

Yet, he said, they don’t see a big increase in surrenders, pandemic-related or otherwise.

This was echoed by Megan Williams, Executive Director of the Lakes Region Humane Society in Ossipee.

“We saw a big increase in our adoptions last year, which was great,” said Williams. “We haven’t seen a lot of surrenders, although we’re a little worried that this will change as life gets back to normal, if it ever happens.

“But so far everything is fine,” Williams said, noting that the shelter is currently caring for around 40 animals, cats and dogs.

Westwig said: “We have a slight increase in surrenders when it comes to cats, but not with our dogs. From time to time there are obviously bad pairs that occur, but they are rare when you have, for example, an adopted animal that does not get along with the other animals in the family. But it is not often.

Westwig says the CAHS is owned by the New Hampshire Federation of Humane Organizations and has seen “only a very small percentage of surrenders.”

He and McBurnie noted that their respective shelters are stepping up their efforts and meeting needs in the event of a divorce or move, or when a pet owner dies and their pet needs a new home.

But what about when people return to work in person – don’t they find it difficult to take care of their pet’s needs?

“What I’ve seen is that people save time once they have an animal,” Westwig said.

“What about the pet?” They don’t know there’s a pandemic, or there’s a financial downturn or whatever: they’re just happy to see you, and they give you their unconditional love.

For more information on adopting or fostering pets, call Harvest Hills Animal Shelter at 1389 Bridgton Road in Fryeburg, Maine at (207) 935-4358 or visit

For the Conway Area Humane Society, located at 223 East Main St. in Conway, call (603) 447-5955 or go to

for information on the Lakes Region Humane Society, call (603) 539-1077 or visit

About Chuck Keeton

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