Lewiston shelter animals in demand; adopters wait in lines for hours

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"He has no concept of personal space," Carl Willing said as Bo, the 6-month-old boxer puppy he and his wife, Alison, adopted from the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society on Saturday, climbed into his lap at their Temple home.

LEWISTON — People wait in line overnight for concert tickets. For hot movies. For Black Friday deals.

Carl Willing camps outside the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston last Saturday with his wife, Alison, starting at 3:30 a.m., in hopes of adopting Bo.

And now, for pets at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society.

The Lewiston animal shelter has experienced such a surge in adoption requests for dogs and cats that potential adopters have begun waiting outside the shelter doors, sometimes for hours, sometimes overnight, to make sure they're first in line when the pet they want comes up for adoption.

The trend began last year with a few people waiting a few hours for one of the shelter's litter of puppies.

Now, lines can form six hours or more before the shelter's mid-morning opening, with people clamoring not only for that cute puppy they heard the shelter had, but also for adult dogs, kittens and adult cats — animals the shelter has historically struggled to place in homes.

In the past, the humane society has had 120 cats or more at one time. Not this week.

"Right now, we're down to three cats for adoption," said Operations Manager Zachary Black. "We've never seen that."

Black credits the shelter's social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter for enabling it to promote its animals to a wide audience using adorable photos, videos and short write-ups. He also credits the creative adoption events the shelter held during the recent ASPCA $100K Challenge for making the shelter better-known in the community.

"It's amazing," Black said. "It's giving all these animals an opportunity to find a home. And it's giving us the opportunity to outreach to other shelters that are having an overabundance of animals, and it gives us the opportunity to take them off their hands and find them a home here."

Lori Tierney, her 16-year-old daughter, MacKenzie, and a family friend stood in line for two hours to adopt a pair of pets during the shelter's 24-hour adoption event in August. The Tierneys wanted a kitten; the family friend was there for an adult dog.

"We wanted a good pick," said Tierney, of Livermore Falls. "Their advertising was huge."

To be the first in line to adopt kitten Kahri and pit bull Baxter that day, they endured two hours standing outside in the August heat.

Last Saturday, Carl and Alison Willing endured six and a half hours in the cold.

The Willings left their Temple home at 2 a.m. to be first at the shelter door at 3:30 a.m., to adopt Bo, a skinny, 6-month-old boxer that had been surrendered by his previous owner.

Willing's wife of 26 years sat in their vehicle to stay warm while he bundled up and sat at the door like a sentry. They switched places every 30 minutes.

"It was frigid," Carl Willing said. "There was one point, it was 6 a.m. and I'm sitting there, trying to read my book and figure out how to make my toes warm."

But the couple had their hearts set on Bo and only Bo, the dog that could be a bright spot in their new year. Their 2011 had been hellish, with Carl's mother dying in May and her seemingly healthy Boston terrier, Bonnie, suddenly dying after that. At the end of the year, their 10-year-old Shar-Pei, Sigmund, stopped eating. He had contracted Shar-Pei fever, a terminal illness that causes kidney failure. They euthanized him on New Year's Eve.

The family's other two dogs, Jake, a 10-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, and Ginger, a 4-year-old Shar-Pei, felt the loss of their friends. Ginger stopped eating for days after Sigmund passed.

"With four dogs, there was quite a bit of positive energy," said Willing, 65. "They would play and wrestle together. When Bonnie died, it just stopped; and when Sigmund passed, it was devastating."

So Willing, a retired English and social studies teacher, spent hours searching the shelters in Maine for a suitable playmate. When he saw a picture of Bo on the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society's website, he knew he had found the one.

Willing visited the shelter Friday while his wife was at work as an elementary school teacher in Madison. He didn't get to meet Bo. The dog was being neutered and would not be available for adoption until Saturday, but five other people had already inquired about him.

Even though he hadn't met Bo, Willing had fallen in love with him. He hatched a plan to be the first one at the shelter Saturday. They would shove off at 2 a.m.

"Alison is a sport," he said. "She was very cool about it."

Days after the adoption, Willing's face lit up when he remembered catching his first glimpse of Bo and his sad, puppy-dog eyes.

"Seeing Bo, when he came out," Willing said, pausing to lovingly scratch Bo's ears. "Oh, yes! This is why we're here."

Because Maine does not have a dog overpopulation problem and puppies are highly sought after by families, the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society has been taking in puppies from overcrowded, out-of-state shelters. It is also taking in kittens and adult animals from other Maine and New Hampshire shelters that haven't seen the explosion in adoptions that the Lewiston shelter has.

"Right now, it's hard to find a kitten with us, and it's been that way for the last month or so," Black said. "People are constantly calling, 'Do you have any kittens?'"

The shelter's adoption policies and guidelines remain the same. People still must apply to adopt.

But so far, that hasn't shortened the lines.

"Everyone gets excited about it," Black said. "People know our animals are leaving a lot faster now that the word's gotten out about us."


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Eric Carboneau's picture

What a heartwarming story,

What a heartwarming story, with a truly happy ending. It is terrible to lose one's parent -- especially at such a young age. I am glad that Carl now finally has a support system he can appreciate.

Kim Berry's picture

Feed the Ferrals....

... they know where the food is. It will help prevent disease, worm infestations and more. You will have to get them used to you. If it means, you put on a warm jacked and hat, and just sit there, in a safe distance, than, that's what you do. I have done this, and got to the point where I could handle the cat.

You can do it! :) Please do not make them wander for food. Put the food in a safe location, where they feel they are out of harms way. But, they can still observe you and your actions. This will help gain their trust in you. If you have any questions, call the shelter. They have contact information on people who work with ferrals regulary,and can give you support or advice Cathy.


there are a few semi feral kittens arond my house. They did go near one older gentleman that was feeding them. I haven't seen him in a while now and the cats still come around. i have been trying to catch them with my have a heart because they are not even a yr old they were born this past june. They will need time to be socialized but are young enough to do that. I will attempt to catch them and being them in to the shelter.


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