The Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals has been a pastoral site on River Road for decades now, but the organization’s roots go back much further than when it first came to Windham. After the Civil War, an animal welfare movement began in this country as people started seeing images of mistreated horses that served their country during the war between the Union and the Confederacy.

That movement made its way to Portland in 1872 when socialite Julia Clapp Carroll started a campaign to help the plight of the horses that pulled Portland’s streetcars and fire engines. The daughter of real estate developer Charles Quincy Clapp and wife of tobacco merchant John Bryce Carroll, Julia Clapp Carroll played an influential role in Portland society at the time. She resided in the opulent Carroll Mansion on Park Street and used her standing in the community to help found the Portland Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on May 22 of that year.

The MSSPA Farm on River Road in the last century. Contributed / Windham Historical Society

In 1891, the Portland organization merged with the Maine State Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the MSSPA was formed. In the early part of the 20th century, the MSSPA began lobbying for the humane treatment of animals that were transported via railroad cars. They also worked towards making sure that sheep on Maine’s coastal islands had access to proper nourishment and shelter. With the help of the MSSPA, local school children began learning about compassion toward animals in Windham classrooms and classrooms across the state. Later in the century, the organization helped pass a bill that prevented people with roadside stands from keeping wild animals in inhumane cages.

The MSSPA made its move from Portland to Windham in 1978, but it really came into its own in the 1980s when Lawrence Keddy purchased a 124-acre farm on River Road and donated it to the society to help provide a safe haven for mistreated or unwanted animals. The farm was managed by Keddy’s life partner, Marilyn Goodreau, who succeeded him as the society’s president. In 2007, she hired Meris Bickford to help modernize the business functions of the farm. Meris developed the Buy-A-Bale fundraiser to raise money for the horses living at the shelter. Buy-A-Bale has become a favorite with MSSPA donors and raises funds year-round.

The society’s volunteer program began in 2011 when Bickford became the first CEO. It was also at this time that the society’s focus shifted to rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of horses exclusively. In 2018, an indoor training facility and visitor center was built. In addition, the society expanded its collaboration with the Southern Maine Women’s Reentry Center, which works to transition prisoners from state correctional facilities into their home communities. Over time, larger numbers of the facility’s residents, located just across the road, began caring for the horses as a part of their rehabilitation. This successful enterprise continues today and has proven to be extremely beneficial for both the inmates and the horses alike.

Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals on River Road has been caring for animals for 150 years. Haley Pal / For Lakes Region Weekly

In July 2021, Maine law enforcement agents seized a herd of abused horses from a farm in Springvale and recruited the MSSPA to transport and care for the animals. Most of the horses, known as “The Neglected 20,” have been adopted, although sadly, some had to be euthanized. Three of the herd were wild mustangs that recently traveled to Sky Dog Ranch and Sanctuary in Oregon, where they can once again run free on 9,000 acres with other wild horses. Visit msspa.org to read more about this amazing story of compassion and love for our equine friends. There is also a video you can watch that aired on WCSH’s “207” by reporter Peggy Keyser. It will warm your heart and could well bring a tear to your eye.

This year, the MSSPA turns 150 years old and continues its ongoing mission of protecting the health and welfare of neglected animals. The society receives no government funds and is sustained by a combination of donations, bequests, private foundation grants and fundraising. It does not charge for its shelter services. Most of the animals that come to MSSPA have been abused in some way. The goal for each horse is to be brought back to health and adopted into a loving home. If horses cannot be matched with a suitable home, they remain at the River Road farm and receive lifetime sanctuary services.

If you would like to learn more about the society, make a donation, learn about how to volunteer to work with the horses or report suspected abuse of an animal, contact the MSSPA by calling 892-3040 or emailing [email protected]

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and an active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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