The Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, New England’s premier shelter for horses, like many social service organizations, is thankful year round for its donors and volunteers. Each day its community of individuals contributes to the resources that support the rehabilitation and rehoming of Maine horses who were once abused and neglected. Thanksgiving Day 2017 at the MSSPA was unique. In addition to all the daily chores taking place on the farm, one special volunteer, Jenna, coordinated a community Thanksgiving dinner at our River Road farm. With her husband Jesse and their young sons, Jenna organized a feast for fifteen around a seasonally decorated table to celebrate and thank everyone for their work on behalf of the animals. With direction from Jenna, staff and volunteers helped to prepare the traditional meal, which included many donated foods.
Special guests at the dinner included MSSPA volunteers from the Southern Maine Women’s Re-entry Center. The incarcerated women, many of whom volunteer at the River Road farm each day, are an important part of the shelter’s work force and regularly participate in activities at the farm beyond daily chores. MSSPA staff work side by side with the SMWRC women caring for the animals and the facility. When time permits, volunteers who wish to learn more about horses and about themselves work with MSSPA staff to groom and handle select rescue horses in a program of equine assisted learning. Because horses are sensitive to those around them, volunteers working with the horses quickly recognize that positive interaction depends on controlling one’s emotions and understanding unspoken cues. Those same skills can help facilitate a successful reentry to life beyond the Center.
The collaborative relationship between the Society and its neighboring Maine Correction Center, which includes the Southern Maine Women’s Re-entry Center, is mutually beneficial for the horses, the non-profit animal shelter, and the women. Some volunteers from the Women’s Center have been hired as full-time MSSPA employees and remain as part of the staff following their release from incarceration. Meris Bickford, CEO of the horse shelter, is thankful to everyone working to make the program the success that it is. “We are grateful to all the wonderful people who volunteer at River Road farm, in particular those women from the SMWRC, who help make life better for the horses. Rehabilitation from any type of abuse requires genuine caring among those involved in the process. The volunteers truly care about the animals who have suffered. The horses respond to that with trust and affection, which helps recovery. Everyone feels better when they can help someone else.”