A Look Back on 15 Years
Written by Robert Fisk   
Wednesday, 20 February 2013


Over the past 15 years, we have seen a lot happen in animal welfare in Maine. With a marked increase in education and advocacy, animal protection also moved into Maine’s legislative arena. We have seen and advanced many positive changes, as attested to by our second place national rating for animal cruelty laws. We have also experienced disappointing set backs, but through it all has come a major shift and understanding of many animal protection issues that were not even on the radar screen 15 years ago. Equally encouraging is the corresponding level of activism. MFOA alone has 1,500 members and supporters across the state.

In the 1980’s, the state’s Animal Welfare Board was an independent agency where animal welfare was rudimentary, but nonetheless presence. On that board were the early voices for animals: Lawrence Keddy (Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals) and Betty Sawyer of Jonesport. Unfortunately, the state’s Animal Welfare Program (AWP) was a low priority in the Department of Agriculture and things got progressively worse for Maine companion animals. In the late 1990’s, the public’s outcry was overwhelming that the AWP was not doing enough in handling animal cruelty cases.

In 2001, emergency hearings and legislation brought about a revamping of the AWP with new director Norma Worley and an Animal Welfare Advisory Council (AWAC), resulting in significant improvements. AWAC Chairs Anne Jordan, Deb Clark, Christina Perkins and Sharon Secovich worked effectively with the AWP. AWAC is now plagued by poor attendance and too many members who have a financial interest in animals and miss meetings unless there is something on the agenda that affects their interests, which can supersede the mission of animal welfare. The AWP and its humane agents continues to lead the prosecutorial arm to Maine’s animal protection.

In the early 1990’s, Maine’s only animal protection group was the Maine Animal Coalition (MAC), with a dynamic board comprised of Ken Shapiro, Linn Pulis, Toni Fiore, Sue Walker and myself, all of whom remain actively engaged in the cause.

MAC continues to provide strong education and advocacy under the direction of Beth Gallie. The genesis of Maine Friends of Animals (MFOA) in 1997 was in recognizing that there was no comprehensive voice for animals to bring the education and advocacy into legislation, especially in countering special-interest opponents. Bringing protest to policy. A second goal was to emphasize bringing animal welfare, animal protection and animal rights advocates together to be more effective. MFOA has submitted over 50 pieces of legislation in eight legislatures including 11 successful bills improving the lives of Maine’s companion animals, particularly dogs. In addition, it has brought animal protection discussions fully into the legislative realm.

One of MFOA’s most memorable pieces of legislative action was the four-year campaign to ban circus elephants in the state. With an extraordinary effort by a Maine legislator on an animal protection bill, sponsor Rep. Chris Muse of South Portland helped lead the first in the nation passage (84-52 vote in the House) of a ban on circuses with elephants in a state, but the bill was ultimately defeated by the circus lobby in the Senate.

In recent years, national organizations such as the HSUS and the ASPCA have had a state presence, most notably when HSUS and MFOA teamed together on the bear referendum in 2004. Maine’s animal shelters have for a long time engaged and occasionally sponsored legislation led by the well-organized Maine Federation of Humane Societies. And today there are many small groups like Spay Maine and individuals like Carol Reynods and Lynne Fracassi of Scarborough, speaking to municipalities about Maine pet stores that are selling dogs from mid-western puppy mills.

Wildlife issues, although often more egregious in cruelty, are more challenging for animal protection advocates in most states. Maine’s wildlife decisions are made in an unholy alliance between the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, its legislative oversight committee, and the hunting lobby, all of which are connected politically, ideologically, financially and socially. Despite its close ties, our concerted efforts in confronting trapping, coyote snaring, bear hunting with bait, hounds and traps, and canned hunting has brought significant debate and public awareness to the real nature of these practices.

The pendulum is swinging our way albeit, like many social movements, too slowly. As noted above, the brightest hope for animals is the growth of the activism in the state and all the educational seeds that have been planted over the past 15 years,not only in the legislature, but in the minds of the general public at large and the media. As much as we confront cruelty and affect change, countless Maine animals still are needlessly suffering. The greater the effort we now put into what has been already been done, the sooner we will move our issues into  mainstream thinking while continuing to make Maine a leader in animal protection.