LEWISTON — The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society has a new leader.

Katie Lisnik has taken over for former Executive Director Steve Dostie, who retired this summer after 38 years at the shelter. Lisnik, 38, has spent her career working for animal welfare organizations, including nearly 12 years at the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Humane Society of the United States, where she most recently served as director of companion animal public policy. 

“I’d get to work with shelters all over the country, really hear what’s working for them and what’s not, and kind of offer them, ‘Hey, try this. Try that,’ for the problems they’re having,” Lisnik said. “It got to a point where I was like, ‘I really want to do that myself. I want to immerse myself in the community to be able to start implementing some really amazing work, some really amazing progress and some really exciting new ideas that are happening all across the country.'” 

Raised in southern Maine, Lisnik graduated from Massabesic High School in Waterboro. She went on to study animal science and to minor in wildlife biology at the University of Vermont. She earned a master’s degree in public policy from Tuft University’s veterinary school.

She officially started working with animals when she was a teenager, first as a volunteer at the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebunk, then as an animal care technician.

She has, she said, always loved animals.

“It’s just always been there,” Lisnik said. “There’s no one thing I can point to as to why. It’s just always been me.”

Lisnik beat out several candidates to become executive director of the nonprofit Lewiston animal shelter. Board President Denise Ouellette said board members liked that Lisnik has had years of experience with legislation and animal welfare on both state and national levels. They also liked her enthusiasm and emphasis on teamwork.

Lisnik started Nov. 15.

Her tenure comes at a unique time for the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society.

While Dostie was widely credited with turning a small, needy animal shelter into one of the best-known programs for stray, abused and abandoned animals in the state, both he and his shelter dealt with controversies in the months before he left.

In March, one of the shelter’s dogs killed a Yorkshire terrier and injured two people when a potential adopter took it for a walk to a nearby apartment. Soon after the incident, Dostie said the shelter would change its policies to restrict outside visits to a fenced-in area and limit them to 15 minutes.

In May, a former employee publicly accused shelter managers of doubling the number of dogs they deemed aggressive enough to be killed, euthanizing pets with behavior issues that could have been overcome with “a little patience and training.” Shelter officials denied those claims.

Lisnik said she’s been made aware of both situations. 

“We have taken to heart everything that has happened and are trying to learn everything we possibly can about a better way to move forward,” she said. “So we are taking a look at all of our policies and procedures. We’ve got some new staff on board. We’re really highlighting staff training. We’ve got a new focus on behavior management for dogs and for cats … and, also, just thinking holistically about being an asset to the community. We need to balance the appropriate actions for our animals and our care for them with community safety. It’s a fine line to walk.”

Lisnik said the shelter is looking at creating a strategic plan in the near future. 

“That would mean talking with community members, talking with the board, talking with staff, talking with volunteers. Really hearing from the community and all of our stakeholders. Talking with our business partners, local veterinarians, and really hearing, ‘Where do you think the shelter needs to go?'” she said.

One thing that likely won’t go away: The shelter’s program to take animals from high-kill shelters in Southern states and bring them to Lewiston for adoption.

One thing that may grow: the veterinary services the shelter provides to the community. 

“We know we really want to push harder on community engagement and getting out and meeting people out in the community that have animals that maybe can’t afford to go to a local veterinarian or maybe are struggling to be able to transport their pet to a spay/neuter clinic,” she said. “Really finding ways to help community members treat the animals the way they want their animals to be treated.”

The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society takes in 4,500 animals in the greater Androscoggin area each year. Last month, it found homes for 85 dogs, 162 cats and five small animals. It is currently caring for 350 animals.

[email protected]

Katie Lisnik, the new executive director of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, checks on some kittens up for adoption in Lewiston on Tuesday afternoon. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)