There are people who are passionate about their jobs, and then there’s Sandy Graul.

The Sabattus resident has been the volunteer coordinator at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston for 11 years, not taking a single day for granted. “People spend their whole lives searching for something they’re good at,” Graul said. “I was lucky enough to find something that I love.” 

The nonprofit organization aims to protect and find homes for stray animals. It was established in 1885 by former Maine Gov. Nelson M. Dingley Jr. of Lewiston and today helps more than 3,500 animals get adopted every year. Graul started her career at the shelter doing cat care, became volunteer coordinator and has “been in love ever since.” 

“She truly goes above and beyond her position of volunteer coordinator,” Samantha Sainte Marie, a volunteer at the shelter. “Sandy is one of the few individuals in a director/coordinator role that actually gets down in the trenches with the volunteers. She is always involved and always (has) a smile on her face.”

Graul is in charge of running outreach programs and fundraisers that promote pet adoption in the region, such as the society’s Clear the Shelter, which strives to get every animal adopted on one day.

“We would have lines out the door, people waiting to come and adopt,” Graul said of past events. In 2019, the end-of-summer effort saw a 100% success rate. 

Pet adoptions have fared well during the pandemic. According to a poll taken by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, one in five households adopted a pet since the start of the pandemic. With the expectation that people would slowly return to work, however, shelters braced for a large number of surrenders coming to them.

The Lewiston shelter staff didn’t need to worry. Many pet owners have opted to continue working remotely, as well as whole companies. The same ASPCA poll found that the majority of those new pet owners have kept their pets: 90% for dog owners and 85% for cat owners. 

Graul adopted her dog, Nina, from the shelter. “She was here for four years. There was one event at Petco (in Auburn) where she was one of the 12 dogs that were adopted, but someone brought her back.”

Having been attached to the dog, letting it roam and hang out in her office, Graul took the opportunity to adopt her outright. “My husband knows not to push it with me when it comes to animals, because it’s either him or the dog, and sorry to say but sometimes, I’m gonna pick the dog.”

Graul’s dedication to her job cannot be easily discouraged. Feeling fatigued and apprehensive to go to work one morning, she found a PBS documentary flipping through channels. It was about animal euthanasia practices in Illinois and it depicted the gassing of several golden labs. “I said, ‘I guess I’m going to work today!’” 

The ultimate goal of shelter staff is to find a home for each of the animals in their care. Pets are paired with owners the same way they are matched with volunteers to take care of them: by gauging their temperament and comfort level. For Graul, placing the right person in the right spot in this line of work is integral; that way you know that they will stay and flourish.

“When I set up volunteers to take care and help the staff take care of these animals, it’s very important that I can read their hearts,” Graul said.

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