There’s no doubt Maine has a cat problem. A recent survey conducted by Maine’s Animal Welfare Program, there were thousands of dogs in Maine shelters last year. That compares to tens of thousands of cats. Twenty seven percent of animals that end up in shelters are euthanized, 59 percent adopted, and ten percent (mostly dogs) reclaimed by their owners.
Liam Hughes, Director of Animal Welfare, Division of Animal and Plant Health of the Maine
Department of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Resources, conducted an informal survey of shelters across the state. There are 92 licensed animal rescue, horse, bird, and dog, cat rescues in Maine.
According to the survey, shelter numbers were as follows:
- 11,265 that came in as strays;
- 10,474 that were surrendered by their owners;
- 13,019 adopted; and
- 440 reclaimed.
The good thing is that there are a lot of interested groups, like the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for Protection Against Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and more localized rescue groups that are working to improve the situation. “They are very happy work on this problem with us. Maine can be the model for HSUS and can do to spread that message throughout the country.
The shelter survey was designed to help determine where to direct funds from the Help! FIX ME program (the state’s low cost spay/neuter program for cats and dogs). There’s a lot less people outside of Portland. Over the past three years, most Help! FIX ME funds have gone to Penobscot, Kennebec and Aroostook counties. If a person qualifies for MaineCare or is on Social Security Disability, they can have their cat spay/neutered for $10.
There are more than just shelters that help dogs and cats. They include places to help horses, reptiles, birds, and holding facilities that certain townships may have, in addition to the traditional animal shelter. Towns are mandated by law to contract with a shelter.
Next year, Hughes plans to add survey questions about how many died or were lost in shelter care. The number is probably very low, like one percent, but you need to account for animals that could have been stolen, escaped or died of natural causes while in the shelter. This will help gather good information and compare it year to year. What he found this year, is as follows:
- Theirs is a 27 percent euthanasia rate.
- Fifty nine percent were adopted,
- And ten percent reclaimed by their owners (mostly dogs).
This gives us a good idea of what’s going on in our shelters, and let us know where we need to improve. It’s reflective of all the hard work the shelters and humane work in Maine have done. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has repeatedly listed Maine in the top five states nationally when it comes to animal welfare laws.
There is no data base in reference to what happens to animals at shelters. The ASPCA and HSUS gather those numbers, but not a lot of states will have them. These questions have only been asked on a local level. Not many places are asking these questions on a statewide level.
One of Hughes’ goals is to direct the most resources to the biggest problems. In order to do that, he needs to identify what the biggest problems are. Hughes was asked to come to Maine from Washington, DC, last November. Growing up in New Jersey, he’d come to Maine camping and as a tourist. “There are a lot of people in Maine working very hard to make Maine a better place. It’s not just one agency or group. It’s a number of them working collectively to make our lives, and the lives of our communities and animals better.”
Maine’s animal division has six humane agents that patrol parts of the state, covering a very large territory. There’s a secretary that helps with the administrative work and an on-staff veterinarian that supports agents in the field. When they have medical questions, there’s a veterinarian available to answer them.
The humane agents are humane law enforcement agents. They are trained in criminal justice, helping enforce animal welfare laws. They work with local Animal Control Officers (ACO’s), law enforcement officials dealing with animal related issues, respond to complaints, and inspect, kennels, boarding facilities and shelters. While the law does not require the inspections, they want to be inspected annual. That tells them whether they are doing a good job, and the types of improvements they need to make. There’s no shortage of work.
For the animal welfare program, we’re here to insure humane and proper treatment of animals, upholds animal welfare laws, and through communication, education and enforcement, make sure animal welfare laws are followed. Maine’s animal welfare laws is a good sized law book, with good progressive laws covering a wide variety of subjects,
When asked about the law stating the ACO’s shall pick up cats, but states they may pick up dogs, he said it’s a misnomer, how they are reading the law. There are different definitions by different people, animal control.
The reality is that the towns don’t want to pick up cats. They cannot ignore the problem, but they only do what they think they have to do. Hughes sees their job as educating the towns, the selectmen, the clerks, etc., on what other options are available to them. Trap Neuter Return (TNR) is a ten year solution. It’s a matter finding a solution that works best for the community. On average, those who specialize in feral cat colonies say the colony will dissolve in ten years. With unregulated colonies, making more and more kittens, the feral colonies continue to grow. With proper sterilization, and a colony caregiver that makes sure the cats have food, water, shelter and checks for medical emergencies, the colony will dissipate in about ten years. That’s something to be optimistic about.
Large animal and small animal issues can be quite different. Normally, Animal Welfare deals with “everything but lobsters.” while most birds fall under IF&W, there are bird sanctuaries that deal with parrots and wild animals. Most complaints deal with cats, dogs or horses, animals that are a big part of people’s lives. They try to educate someone that just got an animal and does not understand what they need to do to take care of them.
This year, the Animal Welfare Division is focusing on dog licensing. It’s mandatory to license a dog in Maine. In order to license a dog, the dog must be up to date on rabies’ vaccinations. In early April, 20 cases of rabies had been reported. That’s a lot more than last year at the same time. The whole point licensing is to protect people from a dangerous, bad disease, that is still very active.
Another goal is to make sure the ACO’s get the best training possible. They are the front line, important to both animals and people. They need to have the best information so they can do their job efficiently and help animals and communities resolve their problems. The ACO is the most misunderstood profession in animal control. They are being asked to do more and more. They are the first responders where it comes to any animal problems. They tend to find a lot of things, like the Michael Vick case, one of largest dog fighting cases in American history