The Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals (MSSPA) had a very successful “Buy a Bale” fundraising campaign this year, raising $103,700. “Buy a Bale” is just one of the ways the community can support MSSPA, New England’s largest horse shelter.
The facility on River Road houses the main operations for MSSPA. It was built in 1972, starting with six stalls, according to president and chairman of the board, Marilyn Goodreau, who has been part of the organization since that time. “It became evident that there were a lot more horses than were going to fill the six stalls, so in 1989-90 we built the big building,” she said. Currently the River Road facility can house up to 45 horses.
With foster care and other donated space, the organization has had as many as 90 animals in their care at once, added CEO Meris J. Bickford. Currently, their head count is 57 animals.
“We have structured ourselves in a way that we can expand and contract our capacity as we need to,” said Bickford.
MSSPA was originally founded in the city of Portland in 1872 said Bickford, with a primary mission of providing after service care for the horses that pulled fire engines and streetcars in the City of Portland. When the need for these horses became obsolete with the advent of the gasoline engine, the organization faded, but in 1972 Lawrence J. Keddy became the president, and wanted to do more. His personal generosity and hard work revived the Society and helped shape it into the thriving organization it is today.
The Society receives animals when law enforcement officials in the state have investigated abuse/neglect complaints and seized the horses from their owners. “The state doesn’t operate any animal shelters,” said Bickford. “They have no place to put them.” That’s where the Society comes in.
Horses at River Road receive top notch care, provided by a mixture of paid staff, a robust volunteer program, and inmate labor from the prison across the road. The property spans 124 acres, providing enough turnout space so every horse can go out for part of each day unless there is a medical reason preventing this Bickford said.
The Society uses 20,000 bales of hay per year to feed the animals they care for. About half is made from their own hay on the property, with the rest being purchased. Funds raised from the Buy A Bale program pays for making and buying this hay. Each year, their budget for hay is approximately $100,000. This year’s campaign exceeded that goal with tremendous support from the community.
“Windham is a wonderful community for us to be located in,” said Bickford. “We get a lot of support from the businesses and individuals here.” The Society is also active with humane education in the schools in Windham, making presentations and sometimes taking a horse to school. School groups often do some fundraising for the Society as well. This year, for example, the Manchester School fifth graders did a “Hearts for MSSPA Horses” campaign and raised over $500, said Bickford.
Before and after photos of horses posted in the barn clearly illustrate the difference the Society makes to these animals. Their goal is to rehabilitate the horses, train them if needed, and find them a permanent home. They have been quite successful in this goal, said Bickford. In the last twelve months, approximately eight horses have been placed. Finding homes can be tricky, considering that a horse is an expensive proposition. A basic yearly budget to care for a horse is estimated at $3,000/year, and that doesn’t account for any emergencies or health issues that may arise.
MSSPA is a no kill shelter. “The only time animals are euthanized here is when there is a medical necessity that it takes place because they have incurable suffering,” said Bickford. “Otherwise we tend to spare no expense in terms of getting them what they need to make sure that they recover as fully as possible. Those that can’t be adopted out remain here for the balance of their natural lives.”
The annual budget for MSSPA is around a million dollars per year, and the organization receives no government funding. The Society is a 501(c)(3) public charity, and receives funding from membership dues, donations from individuals and businesses, grant funding, and fundraising efforts including Buy A Bale, and a Support a Stall program, which allows someone to donate on a regular basis and have a stall in the stable designated as “theirs”. This allows people to build a relationship with the animals at the facility, and is a great option for someone who doesn’t have the capacity to adopt, but wants to help in an ongoing way. “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a metropolis to run a horse rescue facility,” said Bickford.
The facility is open to the public daily, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. from June through August, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. the remainder of the year. There is no admission cost, and the public is welcome to bring a picnic lunch, walk the property and see the animals. Anyone over the age of 16 can volunteer at the facility, and younger volunteers are allowed with a parent/guardian. For more information on the Society, visit www.msspa.org or call 892-3040.