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Maine Horse Rescue Celebrates 150 Years of Success Stories

Help the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals continue its legacy of caring for neglected horses and adopting them out to loving new homes.

The nonprofit Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals (MSSPA) has been a leading voice for the voiceless since the 1870s, when a nationwide animal welfare movement was spurred, in part, by images of suffering Civil War horses. Since its founding, the organization has tightened its focus to equine welfare and expanded the ways animal lovers can contribute to horse-rescue efforts. Follow the MSSPA’s 150-year trail of success stories and learn how you can pitch in, from purchasing a bale of hay to adopting an equine companion.

1872

Julia Clapp Carroll spearheads a campaign to protect the horses that pull Portland’s streetcars and fire engines, culminating in the founding of the Portland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on May 22. Overshadowed by prominent men who served on the board, Carroll’s role is largely obscured until it’s rediscovered in the 21st century.

1891

The Portland SPCA merges with the Maine SPCA to form the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals.

Early 1900s

The MSSPA lobbies for the humane treatment of livestock transported on railroads and works to ensure that sheep pastured on coastal islands have access to proper food, water, and shelter.

1910s

In collaboration with the Maine Society for Humane Education and Maine’s Bands of Mercy, the MSSPA works to ensure Maine’s schools teach the compassionate treatment of animals.

1920s

Maine becomes one of the first states to pass legislation regarding treatment of animals by the burgeoning film industry. Reports from Rome estimate 100 horses died on set of the 1925 silent film Ben-Hur.

1937

MSSPA introduces a bill to prevent roadside stands and zoos from exhibiting bears, raccoons, foxes, and other caged wild animals. This bill was successfully passed in the Maine state legislature.

1978

The organization relocates from Portland to a state-owned farm on River Road in South Windham.

1980s

Lawrence Keddy purchases the 124-acre River Road farm for fair market value and donates the land to the MSSPA, ensuring a safe haven for horses and a lifelong home for those that prove unadoptable.

2000

Marilyn Goodreau becomes president of the MSSPA after serving as the Society’s farm manager since the 1970s.

2008

The first MSSPA website goes live, expanding visibility for the organization’s mission and work.

2009

The Buy-a-Bale fundraising program is introduced to keep horses happy, healthy, and well-fed.

2011

The MSSPA’s volunteer program is launched. It now has nearly 200 active participants. Meris Bickford becomes the MSSPA’s first CEO.

2012

With many excellent organizations handling small-animal rescues in Maine, the MSSPA focuses its mission on rescuing equines and formalizes its fee-free adoption program.

2018

A new indoor training facility with visitor’s center is built at the River Road farm, and the MSSPA partners with Southern Maine Women’s Reentry Center to help residents heal through their work with horses that, like them, need a second chance.

2021

The number of horses sheltered at the farm nearly doubles on a single July day, when a herd of 20 arrives in urgent need of care. A record 27 horses were adopted to loving families.

2022

The MSSPA celebrates its 150th birthday with the post-pandemic reopening of its farm to visitors by reservation. Family-friendly Horsing Around events are planned for Saturdays in September.

Unbridled Love

Apollo’s mother, a working horse in the Midwest, was kept perpetually pregnant for the production of estrogen drugs. He was separated from her prematurely, bounced between a shelter and several unsuccessful adoptive homes, and, as a two-year-old, surrendered to a Maine animal-control officer by an owner whose only other option was unthinkable. Like many horses seized by law enforcement, Apollo’s next stop was the one that saved him.

When he arrived at the MSSPA’s River Road farm in South Windham, he was aggressive, underweight, parasite-infested, and suffering from ulcers and overgrown hooves. By the time prospective adopter Dorothy Shawkey browsed the MSSPA’s website for available horses, though, the four-year-old was quite a handsome fellow. He was benefiting from his time at Horses with Hope, an organization that partners with the Society to retrain rescued horses, when Shawkey met him. Her first test ride didn’t go perfectly, but “I knew there was something there,” she recalls. Ride two, after her adoption of Apollo was approved, “went 100 times better, and it’s been a great ride ever since.”

The two spend hours together five or six days a week, following snowmobile trails and exploring woodlands near Shawkey’s Vienna home. “When I ride him, every day is a new adventure,” she says. She’s rekindling her passion for horses, which she began riding as a toddler, and making up for the 17 years she didn’t ride while raising a family.

Apollo now answers to Ziggy Stardust: a name inspired by his rock-star performance in rehabilitative training and by his zig-zaggy early missteps. “I couldn’t make him go straight at first. He was all over the place,” Shawkey explains.

This spirited horse is still green, with lessons to learn. “His personality is like an Eddie Haskell,” says Shawkey, referring to the mischievous character in the 1950s sitcom Leave It to Beaver. “He can be really, really sweet, but you’ve got to be constantly wondering what his plan is. Once I’m on his back, he is probably one of the safest horses I have ridden.”

Her advice to those considering adoption: Be respectful of what these horses have gone through and prepared to work through problems. They need more time and care than a horse that has had a safe, stable upbringing. Make sure you understand the costs of horse ownership. Then, be ready for one of the best trips of your life.

She praises the “wonderful group of people” at the MSSPA, who endure “the heartache of seeing so many animals in such distress.” As the organization marks its 150th anniversary, she promises: “I will do whatever I can to help.”

Surprisingly, Shawkey believes her once-troubled pal now keeps her out of trouble. “Ziggy has taught me patience,” says the former event rider, who was accustomed to a more physical, tense style of horsemanship. “He’s taught me to breathe deeply and relax and go with the flow.” The biggest discovery? “Just how much love I have to share with him.”

Learn more, and join the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals for another 150 years of lifesaving with a special sesquicentennial donation to the horses, at msspa.org/150-for-150.

MSSPA is grateful for the support of People’s United.