Celebrating 150 years of animal welfare with the Lowell Humane Society

Lowell Humane Society Executive Director Crystal Arnott, of Litchfield, N.H., left, and incoming Board of Directors President Grace Jeanes, of Dunstable, with 9-year-old Tiana, the longest shelter resident at 310 days, whom they would really like to find a home for. She was found as a stray in Lowell, and when checked was found to have chronic kidney disease which is managed with a special diet and medication. She loves people but isn’t happy around other dogs. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

LOWELL — Walking through the doors of the Lowell Humane Society on Broadway and Pawtucket streets is an immersive experience.

Several wire cages of chittering birds fill the lobby. A mixed breed, brindle-colored dog named Tiana thumps her tail against the doorframe of an office in which she is holding court, greeting visitors.

It’s a menagerie of the abandoned, but not forgotten, thanks to the tireless work of the nonprofit that is celebrating 150 years of service to the Lowell community.

“We’re having a big celebration on Sept. 14 at UTEC,” Executive Director Crystal Arnott said as she cuddled Tiana, who rewarded Arnott by plastering her with dog kisses. “We want the whole community to come out and celebrate with us.”

Animals have always been the mission of the organization that was founded in 1873. The shelter cares for pets as small as a 2-pound Guinea pig named Gus, to an 80-pound German shepherd named Obi.

But its early work put a focus on pack or work animals, not pets, explained incoming Board of Directors President Grace Jeanes, of Dunstable.

“A group of Lowell citizens were concerned about the horses on the streets being overworked or lame or being sold at auction down on Market Street,” she said. “They organized the society to address the treatment of those animals.”

From there, the society briefly expanded into the care of children working in the mills before settling into an enforcement role to sanction the mistreatment of animals.

“In 1939, we had State Police powers,” said Jeanes, who also serves as the organization’s archivist. She rescued the society’s historical documents from a 1998 flood that threatened to inundate the basement-housed records collection. The organization sits on a spacious property across the road from the Merrimack River, at the entrance to the south campus of UMass Lowell.

“Now the archives live in my basement on high ground,” she laughed. Jeanes gently turned the pages of an oversized handwritten ledger from 1897. The display table, part of the effort to organize material for the gala, also held police patches among other artifacts.

“Our last agent retired in 2004,” Jeanes said. “We could arrest folks, and a lot of what we did was to prevent cruelty by putting animals out of their misery.”

The mission shifted from enforcement and animal euthanasia to animal rescue and management starting in the mid-2000s, said Arnott.

“Around 2008, things shifted where the animals we were adopting out were being spayed or neutered before being placed in homes,” she said. “Any animal that comes in, goes out spayed.”

The large, corner-lot building is laid out in a dormitory-style format. The birds occupy the lobby — callers to the society will hear them chirping in the background. Small animals such as Guinea pigs, hamsters and rats occupy a large room with enclosures designed to mimic their nesting habitat. Felines have two-level climbing spaces in a separate room.

The facility includes a surgical suite where staff and volunteer veterinarians provide medical care ranging from teeth cleaning to spaying and deworming and other surgical procedures.

Arnott noted that all incoming animals are given a complete physical and as-needed medical care, such as vaccinations, prior to adoption.

Veterinarian Astrid Kruse, of Bedford, who has been volunteering at the shelter one day a week for more than five years, sat quietly with Susie, a Jack Russell terrier, who was waking up from anesthesia after a dental cleaning.

“We cleaned up her nasty teeth,” Kruse said. “Thankfully, she didn’t need any extractions.”

Tucked in the back of the building are the dog kennels, which were built in 1970. On the wall leading to the kennel are pictures of volunteers and foster home volunteers who been with the shelter for 10 years or longer — from dog walkers to cat cuddlers. The wall is filled with images.

A cacophony of barks begin before the door is even opened.

“We have a max capacity for 16 dogs at a time,” Arnott shouted above the din. “And then we utilize our foster homes.”

The foster home program is the society’s way of transitioning animals from street or shelter life to preparing them for home living, and has about 50 participating families, said Arnott.

“Foster families serve a lot of different purposes,” Arnott said, as the tour ended in the large outdoor enclosure. The dogs can access the outdoor space through a sliding door built into the back wall of their indoor cage.

“Sometimes, we have space issues,” Arnott said. “Some animals will completely shut down in this environment — it’s loud and they’re in a cage surrounded by other animals, people and constant activity. Being in a home environment, they can really come out of their shell. We have some volunteers who take dogs for overnights or weekends to give them a break from the shelter.”

She noted that the majority of the shelter’s staff started out as volunteers, and everyone who works for the society is a pet owner.

“If they don’t (have a pet), they will,” Arnott laughed. “You just fall in love.”

In addition to four school-aged children, the Arnott family includes three cats, a ferret and a hamster. Jeanes grew up in the shelter business — her mother ran a Humane Society in Pennsylvania in the 1970s and 1980s — and lists her animal family as “three cats, a rabbit, a boxer and a labradoodle.”

Gearing up for their 150th celebration also means another paradigm shift in mission focus, said Arnott and Jeanes, what they describe as “wraparound services” that supports both the animal and their human companions.

“The next big shift is the type of education that we’re providing the community, and the type of resources we’re helping the community get access to,” Arnott said. “We’re shifting now to more affordable and accessible vet care and behavioral assistance, being able to help families keep their pets, and not surrender them. If animals have a home, that’s where they should stay. If we can get that family the resources, they should be able to keep their pet.”

That forward thinking has kept the Lowell Humane Society at the forefront of animal care in the Lowell community, and Arnott said they’re looking forward to sharing the society’s ongoing mission at the September gala.

“If you’ve lived in Lowell for any amount of time, you’ve probably been involved with us somehow,” Arnott said. “Whether you’ve been a foster home or a volunteer, send us a picture. We have “Tell Your Lowell Humane Story” on our website. You can share photos, tell us a story of the pet you adopted. Anything, really, that we can share as part of this celebration.”

She notes that pets available for adoption will also be attending. One animal that she hopes will come as a guest and not as a participant is Tiana. The gentle “office dog” has been with the shelter for almost a year, and Arnott is anxious to find her a home.

“Tiana is everybody’s favorite,” Arnott said. “She’s 9, and she’s got chronic kidney disease, but she’s super housebroken. We want her to be with a family that doesn’t have a dog, just lounging on a couch. She has six months of her special diet, and six months of her medication sponsored and her adoption fee has also been sponsored. She’s a 55-pound snuggler.”

Celebrating 150 years of animal welfare with the Lowell Humane Society

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