LEWISTON — The Planning Board unanimously voted Monday evening to approve an ambitious expansion at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society.

Although GAHS has yet to purchase the property across the street from its shelter at 56 Strawberry Ave., the plan is to expand on both sides of the street.

The plans submitted by Platz and Associates include construction of a 12,880-square-foot animal intake and quarantine facility where animals will be held before they move across the street to the shelter.

Another 3,600 square feet will be used for a doggy daycare and 15,400 square feet for dog training, agility and special events.

The daycare facility is expected to serve 20 to 30 dogs during the day, as well as animals coming and going throughout the day and evening for training classes.

Walkways and crosswalks are included in the plan, which would add to the block already hosting an animal hospital and the GAHS-operated dog park.

Look at the plan, Paul Madore of the Planning Board said, “This is very attractive.” 

After the vote, board member Bruce Damon said, “We’re very glad to have you since you moved over from Auburn.”

GAHS Executive Director Steve Dostie said, “There’s no facility like this in the state of Maine.”

He said the 14,000-square-foot working space at the facility will expand greatly, maintaining its staff of about 20 employees as well as a seemingly endless stream of volunteers.

“We can’t survive without volunteers,” Dostie said.

GAHS is also home to the Feeding Time Pet Food Pantry, a volunteer service run by students from The Margaret Murphy Center for Children in Lewiston and Auburn.

“It works out great,” Dostie said. “They come out every Tuesday.”

“We have a lot of people who come in and they need assistance; it’s not long-term,” Dostie said. “We want you to get back on your feet during that time.”

Dostie said if a pet owner can’t afford food, it’s more beneficial to give them food than to have that pet surrendered to the shelter.

“We serve all of greater Androscoggin County plus surrounding counties,” he said. “We actually have people come to adopt from the whole state of Maine — throughout New England.”

Just as GAHS attracts those thinking to adopt from all over New England, the animals may not be local either.

“We bring in hundreds of animals that otherwise are most likely to be euthanized,” Dostie said. “We work mostly with shelters down south or in the Midwest where they still have high euthanasia rates.

“They’re working on their spay and neuter programs but they just take forever,” he said. “For us in the Twin Cities and also the state of Maine, we don’t have a dog overpopulation problem.

“We bring them up to save their lives,” Dostie said. That gives other shelters the chance to work on their programs.

“It took us about 20 years from the start to the finish to really cut down the numbers,” he said.

According to Dostie, shelters often bring their animals north to GAHS.

The Facebook page run by the private nonprofit chronicles the shelter’s success, noting that some expectant pet owners even camp out overnight hoping to be first in line when new puppies arrive.

Speaking about the need for other pet services locally, Dostie said, “There’s a huge need for a training facility — there is nothing in the Twin Cities whatsoever.

“For us, as we adopt animals out, we want to keep the pets in their homes,” Dostie said, “so we want to make sure they have the tools to do that. If they bring an animal in because he jumps or whatever, we would much rather have them train the animal and keep it so they have a well-behaved pet.”

Dostie said, “Doggy daycare works out great. When I was younger, usually there was one parent at home with the dogs and so forth.”

Now, Dostie said with people at work, dogs are often left alone and expected by their owners to stay quiet. Doggy daycare, Dostie said, will provide dogs with a healthy release for their natural energy.

The next step, according to Dostie, is the board of directors meeting Tuesday night to see how it wants to proceed.

[email protected]