Andrew Bellmore of Litchfield gets acquainted Tuesday with a 3-year-old cat he was looking to adopt at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston. Bellmore did adopt the cat for his 3-year-old daughter, Carly. Taco and Louie were the top name contenders, according to Bellmore. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Adoptions by appointment only. All volunteers sent home. Puppy caravans canceled.

Animal care technicians Noah Kiel, left, and Ashley Greene sanitize a cat cage Tuesday at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston. Kili the cat had just been adopted before the employees cleaned his former cage. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, one of the largest animal shelters in Maine, is open. But it is not business as usual.

“I’ve told the staff, ‘Hey, it’s not going to be perfect,'” said Executive Director Katie Lisnik of the shelter’s upcoming Kitten Shower, a donation drive that will now largely be a Facebook Live event. “It’s far from perfect these days, but we try it. It really is amazing how supportive the community still has been, especially with adoptions and reaching out to foster. It’s really inspiring that people are so generous.”

Considered essential businesses by the state, the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society and other Maine animal shelters have been allowed to continue operations during the coronavirus pandemic, However, they have generally limited what they do.

The Lewiston shelter has asked its dozens of volunteers — who provide 1,200 hours worth of help each month — to stay home. It has divided 16 essential employees into two teams, with strict no-contact rules, in an effort to increase the chances someone will still be able to care for the cats and dogs if one team is quarantined.

The shelter is handling all adoption applications online or by telephone, and allowing families into the building only by appointment — and even then just to meet the animal they are interested in adopting.

This time of year, the Lewiston shelter would normally have 10 adult dogs and 50 cats. It now has just five dogs and fewer than 20 cats. The shelter is trying to take in surrendered pets only in urgent cases because officials believe their dog runs and cat enclosures will soon be needed.

“We are anticipating that we’ll start seeing some animals coming in from (COVID-19)-impacted homes, perhaps people that have to go to the hospital and can’t care for their animals. Hopefully no one that may pass away,” Lisnik said. “We haven’t seen that yet, knock on wood. But we’re trying to maintain as much space to address that as possible.”

The shelter is encouraging pet owners to create a pet care emergency plan, and a backup plan, for their animals in case the owners become sick and require hospitalization.

Normally, the shelter would also house 25 puppies brought up from the South, a program that saves the lives of animals in high-kill shelters and makes money for the nonprofit Humane Society. It currently has none. The state will not allow those “imported” animals to be adopted now, and few foster families are willing to commit to caring for them indefinitely.

That has hurt the shelter’s finances. So has the need to drop community events, including fundraisers, in a time of social distancing.

The shelter has also had to cancel dog training classes, “yappy hours” and at least one popular puppy yoga session. More cancellations are likely.

In an effort to raise some money, the Humane Society has turned its April 26 Dash for Dogs 5K into a weeklong virtual event in which participants post creative videos of them exercising.

Andrew Bellmore of Litchfield smiles at the 3-year-old cat he adopted Tuesday at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston. Bellmore adopted the cat for his 3-year-old daughter, Carly. Taco and Louie were the top name contenders, according to Bellmore. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Its May 16 Kitten Shower will take to Facebook with livestreaming from some kitten foster homes and a drop-off point outside the shelter for donations.

“It’ll be very different,” Lisnik said, “but we’re trying to find ways for people to help.”

The shelter is also trying to find ways to keep helping. While the shelter is largely closed to the public, it has kept up its free pet food pantry, moving the program outside and tweaking the process so there are few interactions between people.

It is open every Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., although the shelter might add days. As the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the shelter expects its pet food pantry will only be in greater demand.

And then there is summer, one of the busiest times for the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, with puppy and kitten yoga, adoption events, free clinics and community outreach events. Those remain uncertain.

“Some of them you’ve still got to talk with people, you have to be in the same room with people to make this happen,” Lisnik said. “So right now, this week, we’re really touching base on how to do our community outreach clinics? How do we get free vaccines to the people that need it? How do we get back to services once this comes to a close? That’s our next challenge.”

 

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