Down East 2013 ©
Government works at a different, far more personal level in Maine’s small towns. In town offices that often share space with volunteer fire departments and the local ladies aid, selectmen often as not find themselves handling such municipal chores as arranging for someone to check on shut-ins or lining up a ride to the hospital for a disabled veteran.
Selectmen in Andover, a tiny town at the far end of Route 5 west of Rumford, know how to handle everything from valuation complaints to moose wandering through backyards, but a few months ago they found themselves temporarily flummoxed by a bunch of cats — a big bunch of cats.
“We were having a meeting one night and a local person came in and said we’ve got to do something about these cats,” recalls selectwoman Trudy Akers. “Cats?” The cats, it turned out, belonged to an elderly couple who could no longer care for them.
The husband had recently entered a nursing home, and his wife was in the hospital with a broken hip. A neighbor had tried to feed the pets for a few days, but couldn’t take on the job much longer.
The local animal control officer investigated and found not five, not ten, but literally scores of cats hiding in the house — from the rafters in the attic to the walls in the basement. There were several fresh litters of kittens and many more on the way. A preliminary estimate put the total as high as a hundred.
“The good thing was they were all healthy and relatively tame,” Akers explains. “The bad thing was, what do we do with them?”
The town’s dilemma attracted the attention of the Lewiston Sun Journal and three television stations. All of a sudden complete strangers were dropping off bags of cat food and cash donations at the town office, and the telephone in town clerk Elaine Morton’s office was ringing off the hook with people offering to adopt the strays.
“We had people from Rumford, Norway, Gilead, even Kennebunk come up to get a cat,” notes Akers, who gives much of the credit for the adoption campaign to fellow selectwoman Joan Carney and town clerk Morton. “A local veterinarian even donated rabies shots.”
Akers says town officials worked hard to make the project a success “because the only other option was to euthanize them. We didn’t want to do that, and we didn’t know who would pay for it anyway. We’re a small town with a small budget, and euthanasia would cost about twenty dollars an animal.”
As of late October, the town had placed some three-dozen cats in new homes, and the animal control officer was still trapping new candidates almost daily. A few sourpusses in town have asked why local government got involved, but overall the reaction has been supportive. “After all, if it’s not our responsibility, whose is it?” Akers asks. “We’re a small town. This is our way.”
(Published December 2003)