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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » MAINE » The Other Maine
Cally, A Chocolate Labrador, Laying in the Snow
The Other Maine

A New Leash on Life

By Alex Seise | January 25, 2012

Previous Article in this Series

Around the world, pets are revered as humans’ best friends.

Paw Prints in the Snow

Aroostook County is no exception to this long-standing unwritten rule; furry four-legged friends are lifelong companions to those residing in the northern reaches of the Pine Tree State. But, like most aspects of life, the custom has a heavily regionalized twist in these parts.

One of the most striking aspects of pet ownership in the Other Maine is how close the bond between man and animal becomes over time.

With long, harsh winters, humans are forced inside for months on end. Sitting beside them are loyal dogs, cats, birds and a myriad other domesticated beasts.

When many people go out to visit friends, their pets come along for the trip. In fact, aside from stores, businesses and houses of worship, it’s uncommon to see a dog owner without their canine companion close at hand. It’s simply a way of life; animals are treated much like children, and most homes embrace the pets of family and friends as such.

For the past several years, David and I dreamed of adopting a pet from the shelter, but our apartment in New Jersey just wasn’t conducive to a medium-sized dog. We wound up waiting three months after moving to Madawaska before venturing down to the Central Aroostook Humane Society in Presque Isle.

Vaccination Tags from the Central Aroostook Humane Society in Presque Isle

When we entered the tiny building, tucked away in an industrial park, we were greeted by friendly staffers who showed us where the dogs for adoption were located. In the kennels, several large pooches greeted us with loud barks. We were taken aback by how few dogs were there.

We stepped back into the hallway, slightly dismayed that the handful of canines didn’t include a medium-sized breed. As we started to head toward the door, David motioned for me to step into one of two cat rooms with him.

Inside, about twenty felines greeted us with meows and extended paws. We opened the cages one-by-one, meeting and greeting each cat. A particularly fluffy black cat with a large, bushy tail caught our eye; as soon as his cage opened, he dashed out and proceeded to hit each of the other cages with his large paw, rattling the occupants into a frenzy. It only took a moment of playing with him to make our choice.

“He’s the one,” I said, and David nodded in agreement.

One of the most striking details about the day was counting how many black cats were available for adoption in the shelter. Well over 50% of the cats for adoption were either entirely black or had large black markings. The staffer who helped us explained that in Aroostook County, where religion plays such a strong role in people’s lives, black cats are avoided due to long-held superstitions.

Salem (Near) and Moose (Far) Lounge in their Favorite Spot, the Laundry Basket

Other breed favoritism is evident in the area; with the abundant winter trails and dog sled races, huskies and other large dogs are often quickly adopted into homes. That’s not to say that small dog breeds are ignored, though; they, too, find happy homes in the region and are welcomed just as warmly as their larger brethren.

With our six-month old kitten in hand, who we named Salem during the hour and a half car ride back north to Madawaska, we started our journey of pet ownership in the County.

One of the first steps was to find a veterinarian. We asked around and eventually settled on the only veterinary practice in the Saint John Valley, the Fort Kent Animal Hospital. And while dedicated pet shops are few and far between on the American side of the border, many of the larger stores have amply stocked pet aisles to satiate owners. Shop owners aren’t alone; during the coldest months of the year, announcers on the county-wide radio station, Channel X, advise pet owners to be vigilant for symptoms of hypothermia in their animals.

About nine months after adopting Salem, we returned to the shelter for a second visit. On the way down, about ten miles outside of Caribou, we saw a large bull moose standing in a small pond about five yards from Route 1.

When another black cat charmed us with his sweet, boisterous personality and large, perky ears a few minutes later, it was evident that we’d found ourselves another pet. And, in the spirit of both his large ears and the recent wildlife sighting, we named him Moose. It was nearly too convenient, almost as if the Other Maine had planned it all out for us.

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