LEWISTON — On Christmas Eve, a lack of cooking skills and opposable thumbs won’t prevent the animals at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society from enjoying a sumptuous, homemade holiday feast.The many boarders at the shelter will be celebrated in holiday fashion by the staff with individual home-cooked meals.

About 30 dogs, 25 cats, four guinea pigs and two rabbits will partake of a species-appropriate repast, thanks in part to food and a $25 gift card donated by the North Monmouth Community Church food pantry.

Pastor Ed Spencer said he sees no difference between partnering with the shelters for homeless people the church supports and helping a homeless animal at a shelter.

“A shelter is where homeless beings of any kind find themselves until they can get into a real home,” he said recently. “When you look at what pets mean to people, taking care of them is just as important.”

Among church-donated ingredients are four large chickens, acorn squash, potatoes, applesauce, peanut butter, green beans and apples. The Christmas Eve menu for the shelter animals also includes: tuna and egg cat croutons; pup cakes made with apples, peanut butter and bacon bits; small animal salads; and raisin, peanut butter and crushed pellet wheels.

Apple “kongs” — frozen, hollowed-out apples stuffed with Greek yogurt, peanut butter and pumpkin — will also provide dogs with vitamin- and protein-rich snacks to last into the evening.

Society behavioral and enrichment coordinator Maria Ochs brought the idea of a holiday feast to Executive Director Katie Lisnik after seeing a Southern shelter’s Thanksgiving celebration posted online. With Thanksgiving in the past, Lisnik thought everyone still needs something to celebrate this year. Animals — often confined to kennels longer than usual due to fluctuating COVID-19 restrictions on adoptions — are no different.

“It may very well become an annual tradition,” she said, “possibly moving it up to Thanksgiving in 2021.”

Helen Hitt, right, helps Maria Ochs pick food items at the North Monmouth Food Pantry on Wednesday. Ochs picked up food that she will use to help feed animals at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston on Christmas Eve, as well as for people in need that Ochs keeps an eye on. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Already in knee-deep potato prep duty herself, she enlisted the support of volunteers to help make snacks in anticipation of the Christmas Eve feast, with the brunt of the cooking, baking and assembly to take place in the coming days in Ochs’ kitchen as part of her own family’s Christmas preparations.

Among the shelter’s everyday priorities is creating an environment of enrichment for all animals, especially for those who are fearful and withdrawn. Along those lines, Ochs regularly provides stimulation that includes classical music and a bubble machine.

“Studies also show enabling a dog to use olfactory receptors can greatly help to reduce respiratory infections and maintain good health,” she said. “We do that by utilization of spices and scents in-kennel. The Christmas Eve dinner will provide more of that, helping them get out of the mundane shelter routine by treating them to smells and tastes they don’t typically get, which can lift their spirits considerably.”

Lisnik said the shelter’s annual giving tree, normally inside the lobby and festively decorated, has been moved outside in light of the pandemic. Typically, people take a paper ornament from the tree with a wish-list item, returning with their donation as soon as possible.

“We’ve had costumed mascots outdoors on two separate Saturdays to get everyone into the holiday spirit, thanking them, handing out candy canes,” Lisnik said.

Donations including paper towels, pet food, fleece blankets, detergent, and funds to buy prescriptions, medical supplies and other items normally not available off the shelf are put to immediate use. So far, the shelter has received quite a lot of what it needs, Lisnik said, but not as much as last year. “We can certainly use more.”

Dinner with the animals — Santa may make an appearance — will be streamed live on the society’s Facebook page beginning at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 24. Recipes for animal treats are posted under pet tips on the website at www.gahumane.org.

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