Written by Peggy DeBlois | Photography by Adam Bouffard
What’s new at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society
The Greater Androscoggin Humane Society (GAHS) is a modern, vibrant organization that puts the focus on animals.
The strong presence of all the animals is evident. The front walkway leading to the front door is made of brick pavers in tribute to family pets. Through the glass entry, a visitor can watch the cats in their playroom, which looks a lot like a pre-school with cat-sized structures and toys. Once inside, cats watch you from their glass suites, and dogs bark greetings from their large kennels.
Even Executive Director Katie Lisnik displays that focus. She’s sharing her office with Sparkles, a fractious cat who needs some special attention.
Katie Lisnik joined GAHS in November 2018, taking over leadership from Steve Dostie. Over his 38-year tenure, Dostie had taken the shelter from a small operation in Auburn to its current Lewiston location, considered state of the art.
“Steve was great about keeping up with changing trends; this facility is a tribute to his leadership,” says Lisnik.
Indeed GAHS, a midsize Maine shelter, is supported by a large band of people, including an active board of directors, 24 paid staff (full and part time), and 120 volunteers.
Lisnik brings 20 years of animal welfare experience to GAHS. She studied animal science at the University of Vermont, and holds a Master’s Degree in Animals and Public Policy from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. She has spent the last 12 years working for the Humane Society of the United States, the first five of those years as the Maine state director. Most recently, she held positions as the national director of cat protection and policy and the director of companion animal public policy.
“I loved the national work, but you never see the benefits of the changes,” explains Lisnik. “I really wanted to put my skills to use for a community, and be here for the long term, to improve the lives of animals in a local community.”
The mission of the GAHS reads: We are committed to strengthening our community by supporting humane care of animals and fostering the human-animal bond.
“This mission statement was part of why this shelter stood out to me,” explains Lisnik. “It’s not just about the animals that come through the door; it’s about the community. There are people and pets in our community that may never come in here, but they need us for support. Maybe the pet owner calls for help with an odd cat behavior, or maybe they’ve hit a rough spot and can’t afford to feed their animal. You want to try to keep these animals in the home, where they have formed a bond with their families.”
Everyone thinks of an animal shelter as a place for strays and animals in need of new homes, and the numbers certainly support that. In 2018, GAHS managed 2,500 adoptions, with 1,500 of those being cats. But according to Lisnik, GAHS also impacted another 1,000 animals through community outreach, in programs many people don’t realize are run by GAHS:
- Medical care– Lisnik says the bulk of GAHS’ $1.2 million budget goes to medical care.
“We have a vet tech on staff and a veterinarian here twice a week,” she states. “It goes well beyond the spay/neuter program. We can do most medical procedures right here, and have access to supportive clinics for x-rays and advanced surgery.”
Outreach clinic. In the warmer months, the GAHS team visits low income areas in LA. “We provide vaccinations, wellness checks, flea meds, collars, tags, microchips. We don’t want a lack of financial resources or transportation to be what makes a family have to give up their animal.”
- Pet food pantry. On Tuesday mornings at the shelter, pet owners who qualify have access to a pet food pantry.
- Spay/neuter vouchers. GAHS is committed to mitigating overpopulation of cats, as well as pit bulls and pit bull mixes.
- Transport adoption. The warm climate in the South means dogs can breed year-round, and both puppies and kittens can survive in any season, so GAHS places animals from shelters in Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama.
- Respite care. GAHS has partnered with Safe Voices to provide foster care for pets. “Pets are a huge barrier for people, when they are trying to leave an abusive situation,” says Lisnik. “We also get calls from mental health organizations and hospitals, when they have patients who need respite care for their animals.”
“Expanding our community outreach is No. 1 to me,” says Lisnik.
Today’s society values pets, so there are fewer animals in need of being re-homed, but there are still a host of animals in our community that we can help in other ways. Here are some of the new efforts being considered by Lisnik for GAHS:
- Trap/neuter/return program for cats. “Cat colonies are a constant source of animals coming to us, particularly litters of kittens every spring,” explains Lisnik. TNR helps decrease the cat population by trapping, sterilizing, and vaccinating them, to get them on a healthier path. “Then they go back to the colony they were living in, because we can’t place truly feral cats,” says Lisnik.
- Wellness vet services. GAHS would like to provide more low cost wellness services, for people who can’t afford it. “We would not replace services provided by local vets, but we could be an avenue for animal wellness for those families who cannot afford regular care.”
Overall, Lisnik keeps coming back to the strength of our community. “We are the resource for fostering the human-animal bond – we want to be the place animals get help, no matter their needs.
Did you know that New England is the center of animal welfare in our country?
Want to help?
Greater Androscoggin Humane Society Needs:
- financial donations
- foster homes