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


FRYEBURG, Maine — During the beginning of the pandemic, Harvest Hills Animal Shelter adopted a new means to undertake pets by requiring all would-be adopters to schedule an appointment.

They nonetheless require that, says longtime government director Joan McBurnie, as they discovered when folks make an appointment, they’re extra probably to go house with a pet.

“Back in the day, we kind of used to be the ‘free zoo,’ in that people would stop by to see and play with the dogs and cats. It was great for the animals’ socialization — but no one was getting adopted,” stated McBurnie, who has directed the shelter for 20 years.

“But now with us continuing to only be open by appointment, although that upsets some people, once we explain that anytime we have an appointment the pets go home, they support it,” she stated.

Asked why that’s the case, McBurnie believes that just by having a dialog in making the appointment, a lot of the screening background work can also be executed, in order that leads to a extra optimistic, streamlined interplay as soon as they do come to the shelter.

“When they come, they have our full undivided attention for an hour, and we already know from the earlier conversation in making the appointment what they are looking for,” stated McBurnie.

During the beginning of the pandemic final yr, shelters corresponding to Harvest Hills and the Conway Area Humane Society in Conway noticed sturdy demand.

That has continued, notice each McBurnie and Tim Westwig, her counterpart at CAHS, and though there have been some information studies nationwide about animal shelters seeing returns now that persons are heading again to work in particular person, the 2 stated they haven’t seen that at their native shelters.

Harvest Hills at the moment has 16 canines and 30 cats accessible for adoption.

They’re open day by day 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays) and closed Thursdays.

Now that some persons are returning to the office or workplace, McBurnie stated, “We’re hoping that businesses will consider letting employees to bring their dogs in with them to work.

“Of course, I’m biased — we love it when we have an office dog with us,” she stated.

Asked why so many individuals turned to pets throughout the stay-at-home orders final yr and through distant studying for college students, McBurnie spoke concerning the therapeutic energy of the human-animal bond.

“Pets just help people in so many ways — they bring your blood pressure down; they bring stress down … When the pandemic hit and people were home, I think we saw great emotional need. We are still seeing people with that,” stated McBurnie.

She stated not like studies in The New York Times of shelters seeing extra returns nationwide, Harvest Hills isn’t experiencing any greater than regular.

“No, we are not seeing greater returns,” McBurnie stated. “However, we are seeing some cases where people may have gotten a dog from a rescue outfit down south in Mississippi or Georgia that you’ve never heard of and they meet somewhere in a parking lot off I-95 and take the animals home and they find out they are not what they were told.

“For instance, we had a lady in North Conway who was told that the dog she was adopting got along with cats. Well, that was not true. When she got the dog home, it wanted to kill her cat. So although it’s easy to adopt from them it’s not so easy to return because how do you get them back to them?

“So, although we are not getting our own returns so much, we are seeing some from other places,” McBurnie stated.

CAHS’ Westwig echoed these feedback, although he stated one distinction between the 2 shelters is that CAHS does do quite a lot of transport, taking animal rescues from the Deep South.

At Tuesday’s MWV Chamber After Hours, held at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in North Conway, CAHS was a featured non-profit. Westwig, Event Director Elizabeth Lord, Administrative Assistant Autumn St. John and volunteer Evin Hatch had an info desk the place they have been accompanied by Calvin, a well-mannered Lab combine that the shelter acquired from Texas.

“He’s a good boy — just getting socialized and still a bit shy,” stated St. John, as Calvin rested his head on her leg. “He’s a great dog,” agreed Westwig, who has served as CAHS’ government director since 2019.

Operations Manager Kristen Belanger notes that CAHS has 36 cats and 19 canines of their care, together with three rabbits.

It’s an enormous week for the humane society, as they placed on their “Paws for Putts” golf event Wednesday on the North Conway Country Club, then equipped for his or her “Trails for Tails” fundraising occasion, going down at the moment at Whitaker Woods in North Conway.

“We bring in animals from Southern states that are in danger of being euthanized,” stated Westwig. “Therefore, some months last year, during the pandemic, we were doing over 1,200 percent more in adoptions from prior years. We were transporting as many animals as we possibly could find a way to do, as the demand was incredibly high.”

Like McBurnie, he stated due to the pandemic, folks reached out to animals for consolation, therefore the rise in adoptions.

“A lot of people say it was because more people were at home, but personally, I feel it was deeper. Animals provide unbelievable comfort, encouragement and unconditional love ad during the isolation that many experienced during the pandemic that was very needed,” stated Westwig.

He stated CAHS continues to be “strict” when it comes to whom they permit to undertake. “Our application process is very thorough and sometimes people get frustrated with how we dig down deep — but we want to make sure that people have taken care of their pets in the past if they have had them. While it can be burdensome at times, and I respect that, I think that’s why it’s resulted in very few surrenders (returns) for us.”

He stated adoptions have slowed down considerably from a yr in the past on the peak of the demand.

“We are back to our traditional numbers — we adopt on average about 25-40 dogs a month and fewer than that for cats but within those ranges,” stated Westwig, noting that pet ages vary from kittens to 12-year-old cats and from puppies to older canines.

He stated CAHS additionally takes in native surrenders in addition to native abuse instances when animals are seized by police and turned over to the shelter.

Still, he stated, they don’t seem to be seeing an enormous enhance in surrenders, associated to the pandemic or in any other case.

That was echoed by Megan Williams, government director of the Lakes Region Humane Society in Ossipee.

“We saw a big increase in our adoptions last year, which was great,” Williams stated. “We have not seen many surrenders, although we remain a bit apprehensive of that changing as life gets back to more normal, if that ever happens.

“But so far, so good,” stated Williams, noting that the shelter at the moment is caring for about 40 animals, each cats and canines.

Westwig stated: “We have a light uptick of surrenders when it comes to cats but not with our dogs. From time to time, there are obviously bad pairings that happen, but they are rare when you have, for example, an adopted animal that doesn’t get along with other family pets. But it’s not often.”

Westwig says CAHS belongs to the New Hampshire Federation of Humane Organizations and have seen “only a very small percentage of surrenders.”

He and McBurnie famous that their respective shelters step up and fill the necessity when issues corresponding to a divorce or transfer happens, or when a pet proprietor dies and their animal wants a new house.

But what about when folks head again to work in particular person — don’t they discover it powerful to have a tendency to their pet’s wants?

“What I have seen is people make time once they get an animal,” stated Westwig.

“And as for the pet? They don’t know there’s a pandemic going on, or that there is a financial downturn or whatever: they’re just happy to see you, and they give you their unconditional love.”

For extra details about adopting or fostering pets, name Harvest Hills Animal Shelter, at 1389 Bridgton Road in Fryeburg, Maine at (207) 935-4358 or go to

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

details about Lakes Region Humane Society, name (603) 539-1077 or go to lrhs.web.