It was the middle of the night and the middle of winter when Beverly Russell found herself rushing out of her burning apartment building.

She and her cats made it out safely, but all of her belongings were destroyed. She was surrounded by neighbors, all elderly or with disabilities, who were in the same situation: Many also had beloved pets who couldn’t stay with them in hotels.

Even as she tried to figure out where she would go and how to replace all she’d lost, Russell’s focus was on others. She leapt into action – just like always – and helped ensure the displaced residents were placed in temporary housing with their pets or, when that was not an option, found foster families to care for the animals temporarily.

For those who know Russell, they’ve come to expect nothing less from the woman who is known in Old Orchard Beach as a tireless advocate for animals and seniors.

Russell, 72, has spent the last five years volunteering with Community Animal Watch, a group that catches stray animals and raises money to help cover the cost of food and veterinarian bills.

Louise Reid, assistant town manager, calls Russell the “soul” of the Community Animal Watch Committee and the epitome of selflessness in Old Orchard Beach.


“She spends, literally, every day addressing the needs of our seniors and their animals, recognizing that for many, their animal is indeed their family,” Reid said. “She drives them to the vet for medical care, she sits with and consoles them when one’s loving pet needs to be put down, she reaches all parts of the community in finding lost animals, and for those who have no home, she reaches out to find them that forever home.”

Russell, a grandmother and retired bartender, has always been drawn to helping others. She grew up in New Hampshire, where she and her sisters had cats, dogs, chickens, goats and a rooster. She has two cats now, and regularly opens her home to foster strays before they are placed in forever homes. Many of the strays come to her traumatized, so she focuses on helping them adjust and making them more adoptable.

“They want love. They need love. Slowly they come around,” she said. “The hardest part is parting with them after.”

Some of the work Russell does is heartbreaking, especially sitting with people as their pets are put down, but there are also incredible rewards. When a stray cat or dog is found, Russell helps activate a network of community members to find the owner. In one case, a cat was reunited with the family that had lost her five years before.

“It’s wonderful, especially when you see not only how happy the person is, but how happy the animal becomes,” Russell said.

When people draw attention to her volunteer work, Russell is quick to point out she couldn’t do much without the help of others, and credits among them Dr. Pierre Giroux at Saco Veterinary Clinic, the staff at the Animal Welfare Society and other volunteers in town. Modest by nature, Russell agreed to an interview with a newspaper reporter only to draw attention to Community Animal Watch.

A heart condition is prompting Russell to step down from her role with Community Animal Watch in May. She knows it will be hard, but she hopes others have the passion and time to step in and help.

“Old Orchard Beach is one of the best towns I’ve seen as far as volunteers,” she said.

Mainers to be thankful for

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