Maine Friends of Animals has been Maine’s largest and leading animal protection organization for over 25 years. They promote and advocate for the humane treatment of animals. Shaw’s has supported Maine Friends of Animals through the GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program.
Tell us about Maine Friends of Animals.
Maine Friends of Animals (MFOA) is a statewide 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We were founded in 1997 by Robert Fisk, Jr., who remains President today. He ran the nonprofit with just one part-time office assistant for the first 25 years of the organization’s existence. In January 2022, I joined as Executive Director and an Office Manager who also serves as our Volunteer Coordinator was hired.
The organization’s focus has been to educate the general public, advocate through legislation and promote the humane treatment of animals. We don’t have a brick-and-mortar shelter that rescues animals. Rather, we work primarily legislatively and in terms of education to advocate for companion animals, farm animals and wildlife species in Maine.
The organization’s focus has been to educate the general public, advocate through legislation and promote the humane treatment of animals.
Robert had always been involved in and concerned about animal welfare and humane responsibility. And it became apparent to him that Maine, known widely as a hunting state, had very little legislation generally protecting animals and minimal legislative protections for wild animals. To combat this, Robert, at one point, became a member of the Maine legislature. And then, from there, he formed a nonprofit that became very actively engaged in introducing animal welfare legislation within Maine. He has had a great deal of support.
Since the organization’s founding, Robert has advocated for animals within every legislative session. He has championed new legislation to protect companion and farm animals, as well as wildlife and bring restrictions to humanely treating animals throughout the state. It’s made a huge difference.
What services do you provide to the community?
Our primary focus is public education. We are now reintroducing a program called Pet Club, which advances student and community education regarding the care and protection of companion animals. Prior to the Covid pandemic, Maine Friends of Animals conducted this successful program in schools around the state. We had to pause the program due to Covid, but now that schools are fully back in session, we are re-establishing our Pet Club. This program is designed for ages eight to thirteen and will now be hosted in public and private schools, local libraries and community centers statewide.
Pet Club is offered at no cost to organizations, and we provide a whole curriculum to participants. One of our Maine Friends of Animals volunteers is available to guide them through the curriculum, answer their questions and help them in any way.
What sets your organization apart from other nonprofits in your community?
A terrific thing about MFOA is that we work very closely and collaboratively with organizations aligned with our mission of the humane treatment and welfare of animals in general. We work with shelters throughout the state, engaging their education efforts and endorsing their work. We work at the state level with Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the Animal Welfare Program, Animal Control Officers (ACOs), and other recognized animal protective organizations that are similarly aligned.
Through our leadership in terms of legislation, Maine has been ranked number one in the nation three years in a row by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). The ALDF is the preeminent legal organization speaking out for animals nationwide. We are also only the second state in the nation to institute a humane advocacy statute named Franky’s Law. The law gets its name from a beautiful little pug stolen in Winter Harbor, Maine, that was tortured, shot and eventually drowned. This law engages attorneys and law students who volunteer to provide data and information in the interests of justice and humane advocacy. It’s heartbreaking, but we try to bring this kind of awareness to the public, not to make people sad, but to make them empathetic and to engage them in our work.
Through our leadership in terms of legislation, Maine has been ranked number one in the nation three years in a row by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).
Tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.
One of the greatest success stories that Maine Friends of Animals has achieved is introducing a piece of legislation we call Dogs Chained for Life. This strictly regulates how animals that are kept outside year-round must be treated. We’ve educated animal control officers throughout the state and engaged the public to be alert and report abuse when animals are chained outside, especially because we’re a state with very harsh winters. Some people think, oh, my dog loves the cold; they love to be outside. This notion is incorrect, unreasonable and irrational regarding animal health and welfare. If you see abuse, say something! Maine Friends of Animals encourages people to report what they see to their local animal control or call us, and we will lead them in the right direction.
The other piece of legislation important to Maine Friends of Animals is the ending of puppy mills. These survive because of pet stores that sell primarily dogs and cats. We passed legislation in Maine that has permanently outlawed the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. It was well worth it, and they can never reopen the sale of domestic animals.
The other piece of legislation important to Maine Friends of Animals is the ending of puppy mills.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
Our legislative accomplishments are outstanding achievements. What can be challenging is that we are working in the universe of intangibles. Public education and legislative impact are intangible but powerful efforts. We are not helping just one animal or a type of animal. Through legislation, we are helping to protect tens of thousands of animals. This is a unique concept to try to market because it is conceptual or, as noted, simply intangible. The benefits of the work we do are critical at a visceral level. Maine Friends of Animals has changed the lives and the plight of countless animals in our state.
What do you want people to know about Maine Friends of Animals?
That Maine Friends of Animals exists! We are very low profile with a meager operating budget. Every penny spent is on something that we know will reap an actual reward. Our founder is a former legislator, and we have a legislative committee comprised of highly engaged board members; we do all our lobbying effectively. We don’t have an advertising agency to market Maine Friends of Animals because there is no budget. We rely on the kindness of media organizations or the press to cover a story about the legislation we’re pushing through. Any public exposure, such as Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS program, is a godsend to us. It puts our name out there and makes people suddenly aware that this little organization within their state makes a huge difference in the welfare of so many animals.
How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?
We have applied the funds from Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Bag Program to the creation of the curriculum materials that we’re sending out for our Pet Club program. We create and produce each one of the Pet Club packets in-house. These are pretty complicated packets with around 20 to 30 custom-designed pages.
The humane treatment of animals begins with education. Studies have shown that children raised with pets have fewer social and emotional problems in terms of relating to other kids and adults than kids who are raised without animals. Our team believes that programs like Pet Club start a child thinking about what it is to be compassionate and reliable at a young age. Having a pet is not just fun; it’s a responsibility. A pet needs all the same things that we do. They need shelter, food, water, healthcare and love. All these things are universal needs for life. One of the greatest lessons Pet Club can teach is tolerance, patience, compassion and, importantly, that love isn’t just about feeling good yourself or having fun.
Our team believes that programs like Pet Club start a child thinking about what it is to be compassionate and reliable at a young age.
Maine Friends of Animals is pleased to use Shaw’s funds this way. The contribution makes a huge difference. As we send out our new curriculum for the Pet Club and reinitiate that program, Shaw’s can know they’ve been an essential part of getting it out to educators and kids across Maine once again.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I want to encourage people to go to our website: www.mfoa.net. There you can explore what we’ve done and consider donating. We’ve initiated a program called MFOA Protectors for monthly donors who contribute $10 or more monthly. These donors get a beautiful mug with our Maine Friends of Animals Protector logo. This is a small way for us to thank you for your support and remind you that your donation is truly making a significant difference.
Published March 23, 2023.