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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: Lena Bombard helps find pets new homes

May 3, 2019
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - The Tri-Lakes Humane Society covers a large chunk of the Adirondack Park. The closest animal shelter is about an hour away, so that means they can have a lot of unwanted animals to take care of until they get adopted.

When I visited the humane society on LaPan Highway in late February, there were 36 cats and nine dogs, the lowest numbers they've seen in years. But things were about to change; the slow season was almost over.

"A lot of people are asking about kittens right now," said Lena Bombard, manager of the Tri-Lakes Humane Society. "It's not kitten season yet. We get a little bit of a break in the winter. Kittens come in usually starting March, April and then we get kittens all the way through September or October usually."

Article Photos

Tri-Lakes Humane Society manager Lena Bombard gets ready to take Jessie for a walk.
(Provided photo — Andy Flynn)

In the 1970s and 1980s, there used to be a lot more dogs than cats at the shelter.

"And at some point during the 1990s, there was like a cat explosion."

Bombard thinks it was because people started spaying and neutering dogs, so the dog numbers started going down. Now it's mostly cats.

Since joining the staff as a kennel technician in 2000 - and becoming manager in 2008 - Bombard said she's seen the number of animals at the Tri-Lakes Humane Society plunge from 600 a year to about 300. Last year, they had about 250 adopted animals. That shift didn't come by chance; it came with a lot of hard work. Bombard has a number of tools she uses to reduce the amount of stray and unwanted animals in the region.

In the end, it's all about getting those animals forever homes. With two dogs and three cats at her own home, Bombard is maxed out for living space, so she can't take in any more. Even so, working at the humane society can be tempting.

"It's hard not to fall in love with them," she said, "especially when we take care of them every day. I've had to say no a lot to what my brain is thinking. 'Oh I could have just one more.' They're like potato chips, just one more, I could just have this little kitten, but I know that I could find them good homes, and that's where the payoff is."


Animal control officer

Unlike the neighboring communities of Tupper Lake and Lake Placid, where the towns and villages have their own animal control officers, the village of Saranac Lake and five surrounding towns have a contract with the Tri-Lakes Humane Society to take care of animal control. That's one of Bombard's jobs as the shelter manager.

She leans heavily on state and local laws to take care of animals in the community.

"So that part comes down to dog licensing, dogs running at large, dogs chasing people, basically becoming a nuisance, nuisance barking, digging up gardens, doing things that dogs aren't supposed to do but they like to do, chase cars, bicycles," she said.

Confronting pet owners with these complaints can be difficult, especially when it pits one neighbor against another.

"It's harder when it's somebody that's kind of set in their ways and I'm trying to tell them, your dog can't run loose, your dog can't being over at the neighbor's (house) tearing open the garbage cans every day," Bombard said. "It doesn't always work, but I try to be a peacemaker because not everybody wants to sign a formal complaint against their neighbor's dog."

With the dangerous dog law, if a dog attacks a person, Bombard and the police can take formal statements and bring them to a judge and the district attorney. Enforcing those laws can be a difficult part of the job.

"Nobody likes the dog catcher showing up or picking up their dogs, so it comes with the territory," Bombard said. "And with certain cases that end up in court, yeah, we have to do our jobs ... and that sometimes requires taking a case all the way through court if it was a dog attack. And, unfortunately, people don't like us afterwards when their dog is deemed dangerous."

There are also leash and dog feces laws to enforce. In Essex County, there's an anti-tethering law, making it illegal to have a dog tied up for more than four hours at a time and no more than eight hours a day.

State law says that people must provide food, water, medical care and basic life-sustaining support. And for dogs kept outside, that means shelter.

"A lot of times we have to go educate people about dogs without shelter," Bombard said. "There's the state law under the animal cruelty law that dogs have to have dog houses. And they have to be adequate. They can't just be a truck cap on the ground. It's supposed to be a dog house. It's supposed to be insulated."

Bombard sees abandonment, hording and neglect, and each of these cases can lead to an increase in the dog and cat numbers at the humane society. So can phone calls about feral cats or dogs on the loose. After rounding up stray animals, Bombard places them at the animal shelter. If they are not claimed by owners within five days, they become the property of the humane society and are available for adoption.

Then there are animal abuse cases.

"Those are the hardest to go on," Bombard said. "I still do it because it's my job and I want to help animals."

While dealing with animal abuse can be one of the worst parts of the job, Bombard said it can also be one of the most rewarding. Once the abused animals are safe at the shelter, getting cleaned up, fed and receiving medical care, she knows those pets' lives are going to be better.

"It's like roller coaster days when we have something bad happen and then we just have to kind of go with it and hope that everything turns out good. And in the end, when those adoptions happen, that's the best day ever."


Animal shelter

At the shelter, Bombard said her job is fairly easy.

"I love this job. Taking care of animals, I've done that since I was a kid. I grew up around animals. My mom was an animal lover, and we had dogs, cats, horses, chickens, ducks. There was a donkey at one point, too, in my life. So it was always a passion of mine to help animals."

Finding forever homes for pets isn't as simple as "We have pets, come get them and take them home." There are many tools that Bombard, her full-time staff of four employees, board of directors and volunteers use to make those adoptions happen.

The Tri-Lakes Humane Society's goal is to get as many pets adopted as possible, and the first step in achieving that goal is to make it a no-kill shelter.

"We don't euthanize any healthy, adoptable animals based on age, breed, disability," Bombard said. "Back in the day, it was sad. They had to euthanize healthy animals to make room for more coming in, and there was no reason other than that. There just weren't enough homes for them all."

They only euthanize animals when are beyond veterinary care or when they are overly aggressive with humans.

"We cannot safely place a dog that has a bite history or wants to attack people," Bombard said.

At the shelter, 96 percent of the animals leave through adoptions or being claimed by their owners, and the other 4 percent are ones that are euthanized or die while in care. A no-kill shelter means that pets that are not adopted can remain at the humane society for many months, even years.

In order to round up feral cats, the humane society has a trap-neuter-return program. People can contact Bombard if they believe there's a feral cat hanging around that they want to get some medical care for or spay/neuter. They've had a lot of success with feral cats.

"The room we're in right now," she said about the visiting cat room, "most of these cats were feral cats, and we've been able to tame most of them. Some of them are still very timid, but they make really good house cats now that they've been living here."

Stray dogs and cats that arrive are tested for diseases such as leukemia, FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) testing for cats and heart worm testing for dogs, plus Lyme disease. Medical attention is given to all the pets that need it.

"Their spay/neuter surgery has been done, microchipping has been done, and vaccinations are all up to date," Bombard said.

In order to attract potential adopting families to the humane society, the staff puts photos and brief bios of the pets on, their Facebook page and in the local newspapers, the Lake Placid News and Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

The adoption application is fairly basic. Staff members conduct a quick interview to gather details about the household. Adoption fees are 80 dollars or less.

When the pet population soars, the shelter sometimes cuts the adoption fee. Last summer, for example, a hording case with 30 cats drove the number up to 107 cats. They also had a maximum of 26 dogs. So in order to free up space as quickly as possible, they held a sale.

"We had a really big push for adoptions starting back in September and October," Bombard said. "We actually had lowered our adoption fee to 30 dollars, and it helped. The promotions really helped kick off a bunch of adoptions."

The humane society also helps pet owners with special needs and education. Bombard said that one of the challenges of her job is finding pet owners who don't understand proper care or nutrition for animals.

"So I do my best to go out into public, and I offer assistance. We talk about the spay/neuter assistance program. We have a pet food pantry, so if people are having a hard time feeding their pets, we actually can provide food, cat litter if we have a surplus of cat litter. A lot of times we can keep an animal in their home if we provide some services."

Bombard answers phone calls about all kinds of pet issues, including how to deal with cats that are misbehaving. While there are dog-training programs around, finding cat-training facilities is more difficult. So she offers advice based on her experiences and what she's learned from others.

Bombard also visits elementary school classrooms with her humane education program, bringing pets along to show the kids. Messages include dog-bite prevention and being kind to animals.

"That's the easier part, talking to kids," she said. "They want to absorb it. They're like sponges. ... If we start at a young age, usually something might stick. I've had teenagers come back to me and say, 'I remember when you came to my second-grade class."

Bombard, 38, grew up in Lake George and moved to Saranac Lake in 1998 to participate in the Wilderness Recreation Leadership program at North Country Community College. She's always had an affection for animals, even at a young age, and quite possibly - without her knowing about it - she was meant to take care of animals for the rest of her life.

Bombard said that someone sent her a newspaper clipping of an interview she had done after collecting baby kitten formula and donating it to an animal shelter. She was in elementary school at the time.

"I don't even remember doing that, but that was something from my past when I was like 5 or 6 ... so it was kind of destiny that I ended up doing this for my job."



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