Jess Townsend, executive director of Midcoast Humane, talks to visitors at the reception desk of the organization’s new facility at 5 Industrial Parkway in Brunswick. (BILL MULDOON PHOTO)
In what will be a major boon for pets in Harpswell and across the area — and for the people who love them — Midcoast Humane is transforming a former MBNA call center in Brunswick into a welcoming, modern animal shelter.
The $6 million project, which launched in 2020, is now in its final stages, with administrative staff already at their desks at 5 Industrial Parkway and animals expected to move in next month. Plans are in the works for a grand opening to the public in July.
And the public is very much part of the plan for the new 24,000-square-foot facility. The totally renovated building offers many opportunities for humans and potential pets to interact, with plenty of space for fun family events and educational programming.
“We’ve really adopted the community-oriented model of sheltering, which is the way things are trending in that field,” said Bill Muldoon, a Harpswell resident and chair of Midcoast Humane’s Board of Directors, during a recent tour. “It’s vital that we are interactive with the community that we serve.”
Midcoast Humane serves 39 communities, including Harpswell, in Cumberland, Androscoggin, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties. It currently operates a Brunswick campus on Range Road and a similar campus in Edgecomb, along with a thrift store in Boothbay Harbor.
According to Jess Townsend, Midcoast Humane’s executive director, those facilities can see close to 4,000 animals during the course of a year. Somewhere between 180 and 250 animals are being sheltered or in foster care at any given time depending, in part, on the time of the year.
Providing that kind of care to animal friends takes a lot of human effort, and money. Townsend said Midcoast Humane currently employs 31 staff members and is looking to hire a few more. The former administrative building on Pleasant Street in Brunswick has been sold and the Range Road facility is under contract. Meanwhile, the fundraising effort for the new facility is continuing, with $2.5 million left to raise.
“It’s really a transformative time for raising the standard of animal care here in Maine and across the country,” said Townsend, who noted that Portland, Bangor and Waterville have upgraded their facilities.
“A lot of the old shelters were built in the 1950s and 1960s, like our Range Road campus,” she added. “Animal health is now a greater focus. We want happy, healthy, well-adjusted pets to go to their forever homes quickly.”
Townsend, who joined Midcoast Humane last August after serving as director of operations at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland for almost seven years, was a bundle of energy while guiding visitors around the labyrinthine work in progress that will be the new shelter. She pointed out the drains in the floors and the hose reels hung on the walls that will ease the cleaning process. She also noted the “fear-free wall color palette” that helps guide staff and visitors: cats are blue, small animals are green and the dog area is lavender and gray. If the walls are cream colored, you’re in a human hallway or office space.
She seemed most excited by the shelter’s expansive medical area and pharmacy. Currently, Midcoast Humane uses a mobile van for spaying and neutering animals. Now, those procedures and others, along with X-rays, can be performed in much more comfortable surroundings for both humans and animals.
Townsend said Midcoast Humane has a $2.2 million annual operational budget. Some of that money comes from the communities it serves. Harpswell, for example, annually enters into an agreement to shelter stray dogs and cats with Midcoast Humane, according to Town Administrator Kristi Eiane. “The cost in 2022 is $7,294.95, or $1.45 per capita of Harpswell’s new population figure of 5,031,” she added.
(Harpswell is currently seeking applicants to replace Animal Control Officer Gail Federico, who will resign May 15 after nearly seven years in the role. For more information, or to apply for the position, go to harpswell.maine.gov and click on the “Employment Opportunities” tab.)
Townsend, who worked with humane societies in Washington, D.C., and Maryland before coming to Maine, noted that 94% of stray dogs are ultimately reunited with their owners. That number, sadly, is much lower for cats.
There is no time limit for how long pets can stay at the shelter, Townsend said, as long as they are behaviorally and medically manageable. Midcoast Humane’s current longest-running resident is Willow, a pit bull-terrier mix who is housed at the Edgecomb facility.
“She’s been with us for over a year and is a staff and volunteer favorite,” Townsend said. “She’s looking for a home without other pets and with a fenced yard, so it makes it a little harder to find her a family, but we know she’s got one out there!” (For more on Willow, go to midcoasthumane.org/animal/36.)
Townsend admitted that working with animals in need can take an emotional toll on herself and her staff. “It can be hard,” she said, “but being able to take the long view is helpful. In the 15 years I’ve been doing this, the field has made so many important changes and improvements.” She added: “We have far more success stories than sad stories. For example, a hypothyroid dog with a skin condition was adopted yesterday. Fifteen years ago, he probably wouldn’t have made it to most shelters’ adoption floors. We are making progress a pet at a time, all the time.”
The opening of the new Midcoast Humane shelter will be a significant sign of progress. Townsend is already envisioning kitty yoga classes, training seminars and other events to introduce the public to the new facility and, perhaps, to their new forever friends.
“It’s really about entering into a partnership to help you find the pet you’re looking for,” she explained. “That’s ultimately why we’re here.”
For more information about Midcoast Humane and its animal clients, or to donate to the organization, go to midcoasthumane.org.
Doug Warren, of Orr’s Island, retired from a career as an editor at the Portland Press Herald, Miami Herald and Boston Globe. He serves as vice president of the Harpswell News Board of Directors.