CUMBERLAND — If the residents at 302 Range Road could read, their front-page headline this week would be “Bum economy forces more to streets, shelters.”
But they’re content to scratch and stretch and sleep all day – headlines, after all, are best for lining litter boxes.
The cats normally housed by the Homeless Animal Rescue Team might not be up on the news, but they probably have noticed a significant influx of neighbors. Calls from Mainers looking to surrender their felines are coming as often as 10 times a day, according to HART President Marcia Carr, and just two weeks ago the shelter accepted 32 cats from a single home in Millinocket.
Those 32 animals, ranging in age from 4 months to 2 years, stressed both space and finances for the non-profit shelter, forcing 130 total pets into a space normally capped at 120 and costing around $3,300 in one week to spay, neuter, clean, and vaccinate the lot.
Two weeks ago, the shelter got a call from a woman in Millinocket desperate to be rid of an untold number of cats she could no longer care for. HART volunteer B.J. Crosby made the drive – in a snow storm – on Feb. 13, met the woman in a parking lot, and drove home with 16 cats and kittens, all of which were flea infested and desperate for care.
“They were very dirty,” Carr said, “but well loved, and very friendly.” Based on the cats’ behavior, it was clear that they’d all been kept inside, though some had shared living space with their owner while others had simply been locked in rooms.
Crosby and volunteer Tasha Dugas returned the next day to pick up the remaining 16 animals. On the four-hour drive home, the women started brainstorming names: Quest, Sable, Beemer, Jetta, Lexus, Forester, Hummer.
The weekend was spent tirelessly cleaning cats and giving distemper shots; over the next week all 32 were spayed, neutered and given rabies shots by area veterinary clinics.
With the exception of a few that need additional medical care, they were all ready for HART’s weekly open house the following Saturday. Three of them even found homes.
While HART has a good track record for placing cats – last year it found adoptive homes for 725 cats while taking in 794 – the shelter is feeling some pressure from the economy, which has increased the demand on animal shelters and hasn’t helped with adoption rates.
While adoption numbers have been fairly high for the last two months, Carr said that rates fell last fall, along with the economy. Hoping to increase adoptions, the all-volunteer organization recently added hours, moving from being open just one Saturday per month to hosting an open house every Saturday. They also host private tours for prospective parents who want to see a less frenzied herd of potential pets.
With breeds ranging from mixes to Maine Coons to Siamese of all ages, HART helps place the right pets and personalities with the right, indoor-only homes, charging a flat $75 fee per animal. The medical care, including fixing and vaccinating an animal, would normally cost a household about $200.
“Every penny goes to the care of the cats,” volunteer Dani Kelley said, as she reached down to give sweet-faced Hummer a scratch between his ears.
But Hummer doesn’t know a penny from his carpet-covered palace. With food in his belly and fleas off his back, he only knows that this place is the cat’s meow.
Olie the cat prepares to leap from his perch in a room full of felines that were recently aquired by the HART shelter and adoption center in Cumberland from a Millinocket woman who could not care for her 32 cats. (Matthew DeLorme photo)