When I ran into Tracy Dionne for the first time, she was down on the floor folding laundry in one of the many rooms at the back of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston. I figured she was one of the shelter volunteers, but no. She’s actually an animal care technician just chipping in to help with the work load. 

Around the corner in what’s known as The Cat Room, I encountered 20-year-old Mykayla Greenleaf scrubbing food dishes at a row of sinks. She’s an animal care associate, as it turns out, lending a hand to two other workers who stood at the sink, their arms submerged in the soapy water to get those dishes and bowls cleaned just so. 

Volunteer Kelly Simmons, meanwhile, floated into The Cat Room, saw that the dishes were under control and floated right out again to see if any help was needed elsewhere: laundry that needed to be moved from washer to dryer; food and water bowls that needed filling; litter boxes that required changing . . .

I ran into Angela Poulin, the shelter’s foster coordinator, doing the same thing. She checked on this, checked on that and talked to her various colleagues to see if assistance was needed anywhere. 

It was nearing the end of the business day on a sleet-soaked Monday and the Humane Society was a beehive buzz of activity, with staff and volunteers meshing expertly to ensure that the shelter was in good shape for any visitors who came in looking to adopt pets. 

And there was your bottom line. Ultimately, everything that’s done at the shelter — every piece of laundry washed, dried and folded, every food dish filled and every cage scrubbed — was done for a specific purpose: to give each dog, cat, rabbit or other animal in the shelter the best possible chance of being adopted. 


“What we want to do is to make sure that when people come in here, they get the impression that we really care about the animals here, because we all do,” says Sandy Graul, whose task at the shelter is to coordinator the dozens and dozens of volunteers. “Our main goal is to get the animals out the door. To get them adopted. Some of these animals come from some pretty hard times and we want them to have good homes.” 

Every staff member I talked to that afternoon at the shelter was chipping in to help with the work, even as closing time loomed. And they were grateful, because as every one of them made clear, without so many people volunteering their time for free at the shelter, most of this important work could not be done at all. 

Ken Schlichting prepares to administer medication to a cat recently at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston. “The volunteers are vitally important to what we do,” he said. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

How many volunteers are we talking about? Graul has a spreadsheet that lists the names and particulars for 77 of them. That’s 77 men, women and teenagers who donate their time and perform sometimes unpleasant tasks at the shelter mainly because they love animals and those animals deserve good homes. 

“During the week, Monday through Friday, I’d say we probably have a dozen volunteers here throughout different parts of the day,” says Dr. Ken Schlichting, operations manager at the shelter. “Weekends can vary, but on Saturdays in particular, there might be even more than that.” 

Katie Lisnik is the executive director of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society. She praised the many volunteers at the shelter who “allow us to expand on a lot of the core functions of the shelter. They allow us to do a lot more than we can with just our staff.”  Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal 2019 file photo

The volunteers, Schlichting says, “are vitally important to what we do. They do everything from animal husbandry, cleaning duties and socializing with the animals, particularly the cats — if you want to know something about one of our cats, ask a volunteer first because they’re very familiar with them.” 

Also floating around the shelter that day was Katie Lisnik, executive director of the shelter. Overhearing Schlichting’s remarks, Lisnik is quick to echo them. 


“The volunteers,” she says, “allow us to expand on a lot of the core functions of the shelter. They allow us to do a lot more than we can with just our staff.” 

I went in to spend a few hours at the shelter intending to write a story specifically about volunteers. But as I watched the work being done at the shelter — and being done with such seasoned efficiency — it became clear that there’s much more to the story. What I found was an all-hands-on-deck type operation where the lines between staffer and volunteer were very blurry indeed. 

At this shelter, everyone pitches in regardless of title because to NOT do so would be to cheat all those dogs, cats and others out of their best chance of finding homes. And for people who love animals, that notion is just not to be considered. 

These are the people I met as I wandered the halls of the Humane Society building in Lewiston, getting eyed, poked and invariably charmed by the many animals that reside there awaiting forever homes. And the folks listed here represent only a small portion of the body of workers who make things work as well as they do.

Sandy Graul, Greater Androscoggin Humane Society volunteer coordinator, holds Walnut the rabbit Thursday afternoon at the Lewiston shelter. Walnut is a mini lop that was found on the streets of Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Sandy Graul, volunteer coordinator 

Graul has been working at the shelter for 11 years and has been in charge of volunteers for 11 of them. A friendly and ebullient sort, she is quick to point out the incalculable value of the volunteers she oversees. She talks about the small legion of volunteers who come in every morning to see that everything is in order before the shelter opens for customers. 


“The volunteers are the worker bees. Their job is to just go through the whole shelter and find what needs to get done: trash removal, sweeping, mopping, keeping all the germs out of our shelters so we can keep the animals happy and healthy,” she says. “We’re assessing the animals and making sure they’re healthy. If we have diarrhea or vomiting, we’re going to address that. We’re going to clean it up and the animal may have to go back and get some medical treatment. We’re also making sure that all cages and kennels are presentable in the morning, before we open at 11.” 

Graul has yet to meet a volunteer who doesn’t have an outright passion for the welfare of animals. 

“The volunteers want what’s in the best interest of the animals,” she says. “They want to help us as best as they can no matter what it involves. They’re all here to make a difference. And I try to give them all the data to show them that they ARE making a difference. They need to know that, because the volunteers are our bread and butter.” 

Graul doesn’t only manage the volunteers, she recruits them, and she recruits with all the ardor and zeal of a professional baseball scout. 

When someone gets in touch to express a tentative desire to volunteer at the shelter, Graul quickly refers them to savingpetsinmaine.org. From there, they will find the next steps that need to be taken on the road to becoming a volunteer. That includes an application, which Graul gets straight away. 

“And I respond quickly,” she says. “That’s the key. Don’t let the volunteer’s passion hang. I refer to it as fishing. You’ve got to catch them. I wait for them to bite and then I real them in.” 


You can hardly blame her. While the shelter has a healthy number of volunteers — in addition to the 77 regulars, there are volunteers for events, volunteers in the foster program and volunteers for special circumstances. 

But those numbers fluctuate, and when the shelter needs volunteers the most, they might find themselves with a dearth. 

“Summer is my enemy, Graul says. “My nemesis. Because people have been cooped up all winter and when spring and summer hits, they’re going camping. They’re exploring. They’re doing this and they’re doing that, and we’re here with kitten season because kitten season is in the spring. So we’re getting a bunch of animals getting pulled out into the adoption floor and I’ve got all these people saying, ‘I’m going camping this weekend.’ It’s feast or famine with volunteers, it really is.” 

Graul is part of a shelter volunteer group that meets quarterly. She also has a Facebook group for volunteers at the Lewiston shelter specifically. 

Four years ago, Graul adopted a dog from the very shelter she works in, but that’s such a good tale, I made it its own story. (See “It’s me or the dog.”) 

In addition to taking care of the animals, there are some not so pleasant things that need to be done at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society. One is handling the copious amounts of trash generated each day. Staff member Mykayla Greenleaf does it with a smile on a recent Saturday afternoon. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Mykayla Greenleaf, animal care associate 


Just 20 years old, she’s new on the job having started roughly four months ago in the part-time gig. 

Does she like her job? 

“I love it,” Greenleaf answers quickly, smiling even as she scrubs at a particularly dirty pet bowl. “I mean, it’s such a teamwork environment that it’s more like a family around here, and I feel like we make a huge impact on not only our team’s lives, but the animals’ lives. They come to us in various stages and once we give them their proper care, like food and water, warm beds, proper medical treatment and all that, it makes us really happy. Just giving them little tuna enrichments or even some catnip, that’s the best thing to watch ever. 

“Every day we come in here, it’s not just the same old routine,” she says. “It’s really intriguing. It’s entertainment and it’s also very warming to the soul, too.” 

Greenleaf says she didn’t have a whole lot of experience with animal care before she began working at the shelter. But she has been learning as she goes — learning about things like vaccine administration, intake procedures and obscure data such as the obesity scales. 

“You’re constantly learning . . .” Greenleaf says. “I’m going to stay because you can constantly grow here. It’s really great.” 


She has gleaned a great deal of that knowledge, she says, from a team of veteran volunteers known with affection as The Golden Girls, older ladies who work primarily in the mornings. 

“They’ve been here for years. They know the drill. They know what they need to do and they know how to do it. We love them to pieces. They do things to make our lives less stressful throughout the day, especially with the high fluctuations that we get.” 

For the record, Greenleaf has four dogs and a cat at home. 

“I love my rescue babies,” she says. 

Kelly Simmons fills a cat’s water bowl on a recent Saturday afternoon at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Kelly Simmons, volunteer 

Simmons has a full-time job, but she still manages to get to the shelter every Monday afternoon to do whatever she can to help out. 


“My work is flexible,” she says of her outside job. “I usually get done at 3:30 p.m. and then I head over here. I’m doing it, not because I have to but because I want to. I choose to come here and that makes a difference. Sometimes if there’s a holiday or another staff member can’t come in the mornings, I’ll volunteer to come in. During the summertime they have vaccine clinics so I’ll come in and help with those.” 

Simmons is one of the more veteran of volunteers, having come aboard 9 years ago. 

“I had some extra time on my hands and I care about animals,” she says. “I’d done this in college at a couple different shelters, so I figured, why not?” 

When I met Simmons for the first time, she was in The Cat Room helping out with dishes. She was not surprised to see that most of those dishes and bowls were already cleaned, thanks to a couple staffers who had been chipping in. At the shelter, that’s just the way it works 

“We tag team around here,” Simmons says. “There’s a lot of teamwork.” 

Since it’s impossible to guarantee every animal a happy ending, I asked her if there’s anything about working at the shelter that particularly bothers her. It didn’t take Simmons very long to answer. It’s seeing those older, long-term cats who get passed for adoption day after day because of their advanced years. 


“You want to help them,” Simmons says. “You just can’t take all of them home.” 

It was a depressing thought. Fortunately, I talked with volunteer Jean Keefe a short time later. 

Greater Androscoggin Humane Society volunteer Jean Keefe holds Spaz, a tiger cat, Thursday afternoon at her home in Greene, where she is fostering the skittish feline until Spaz is ready for a permanent home. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Jean Keefe, volunteer 

Keefe has been volunteering at the shelter for an impressive 10 years. She remembers how it all got started when she made a routine stop at the shelter years back. 

“I had lost my elderly cat,” Keefe says. “I went there to find a pet and it just happened from there. I went back and back and back to the shelter and finally just ended up going every week.” 

Like Simmons, Keefe has a soft spot for the older cats, who don’t get adopted as easily as their younger, more energetic kin. She’s just thankful that the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society is a “no-kill” shelter. 


“I couldn’t possibly work at a shelter that wasn’t,” Keefe says. “I’d end up with 40 cats.” 

As it happens, she took home quite a few, anyway, giving many of those older cats a nice home until it was their time to go. 

“I ended up with seven elderly cats,” Keefe says. “Because of my age, I won’t take a young cat because they’re going to outlive me. So I took seven elderly cats and one by one, they passed away.” 

Keefe goes to the shelter on Friday mornings and with other volunteers, will clean cages and kennels, wash dishes and bowls, clean litter boxes and make sure every animal has fresh food and water. She has no plan to stop doing it any time soon, either. Like others, she describes the environment at the shelter as one of great camaraderie where everybody has the same goals in mind. 

“You’re working with other people who really like animals — nobody does this work if they don’t,” she says. “And the staff is so dedicated to the animals. Nobody is getting rich working here.” 

Tracy Dionne folds towels recently at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, where she has been working for about four months. “It’s not really work here when you are taking care of the babies,” she said. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Tracy Dionne, animal care technician 


It was Dionne whom I found squatting on the floor and folding laundry as I made my rounds of the shelter facilities. She had a lot of laundry to fold, did Dionne, but she was smiling the whole time. 

“I absolutely love it here,” she told me. “Everyone here is really caring and considerate. And we’re all here to make sure that the animals get good care while they’re here. And so it doesn’t feel like work — we come in and we just take care of the babies all day.” 

Dionne tends to float around wherever she is needed. The work suits her. There’s always something that needs to be done, she says, and she likes keeping busy. If she’s not in the middle of something, she’ll find a volunteer or staff member to see if they need help. 

“We all do that,” Dionne says. “We reach out to each other and help each other. It’s a nice little community.” 

Want to take a guess at whether or not Dionne is an animal lover? Spoiler: She is. She has a cat of her own, which she describes as “kind of a butt. 

“He doesn’t like other cats,” Dionne says. “He’s lucky, though, because if not for him, I would have brought three or four more home.” 


At the end of the day, Dionne is there for the animals: dogs, cats and critters that are the very center of the Humane Society universe. She loves those animals, Dionne says, and wants to see every one of them matched to just the right home. 

“All the animals are just so great,” she says, folding yet another towel and setting it aside. “We have grumpy ones and shy ones and we spend time trying to make them feel better about themselves, and to be prepared to be out in the big world. We do a lot of work to make sure that people have good, happy families when they come in to adopt.” 

Greater Androscoggin Humane Society foster coordinator Angela Poulin lets Mulder out of his enclosure on a recent Saturday afternoon. “I love that cat so much,” she said of Mulder. “He wants to be the center of attention. Very dramatic. Cats like that, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. He would be in my house if I could do it.” Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Angela Poulin, foster coordinator 

To get a word with Poulin, I had to chase her around a bit. She was here, then she was there and a moment later she was somewhere else. Like everyone else that day, Poulin went wherever she was needed. 

Four years ago, Poulin came to work at the shelter. Two years into it, she took over the foster coordinator position, one of the most important at the shelter. 

“And it’s been great,” Poulin says. “We’ve grown a lot and it’s been a of of fun.” 


Last year, 1,300 animals were placed by the shelter with temporary foster homes, a system that has been praised many times over. In years previous, something more like 400 animals would go into foster care. 

“It’s grown a ton just because we have so many more people interested in becoming foster homes with us,” Poulin says. “So we’re able to help a lot more animals because of that system.” 

Working so closely with homeless animals, says Poulin, “absolutely can be emotionally draining. But it’s also very rewarding. Getting to see them go from this little kitten who completely relies on people to being their own, independent cat.” 

Now, Poulin already has four cats and two dogs at home. It would behoove her to keep herself from falling in love with any particular animal at the shelter, but that’s often easier said than done. As it is, Poulin already has developed a strong affection for a particularly gray, long-haired cat housed in The Cat Room. 

“There are always certain animals that kind of force you to bond with them,” she says. “Mulder? The one you see the second you walk into the cat room? I love that cat so much. He wants to be the center of attention. Very dramatic. Cats like that, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. He would be in my house if I could do it.” 

And like so many others with paying jobs at the shelter, Poulin just can’t say enough about the people who work so tirelessly for free. 


“We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without volunteers,” she says. “I think we really came to realize that in 2020, because we weren’t legally allowed to have volunteers in here. It was just staff doing everything. So it really cast a light on just how much they do for us and how much we rely on them to get general day-to-day stuff done, like cleaning. It was rough. We’re very happy to have them all back.” 

Greater Androscoggin Humane Society volunteer Abby LaMarche with her dog Jade this past summer at an ice cream stand in Norway. Submitted photo

Abby LaMarche, volunteer 

LaMarche is just 16 years old and volunteering at the shelter. If she’d had her way, she’d have been volunteering years ago. 

“So, when I was 12, we went there to get a cat,” she recalls. “I saw a couple volunteers working and I realized that I could do that, too. But they told me that I couldn’t until I turned 15. So as soon as I turned 15, I got on the waiting list to volunteer.” 

Nearly two years ago, that was. She started by working with small animals and dogs, but then transitioned to the shelter’s Pet Food Pantry program, which collects pet food and provides it to pet owners who may be struggling. 

In 2020, the pet food pantry gave out more than 2,800 bi-weekly supplies for cats and more than 1,000 for dogs. 


“Working Pet Pantry, which I’m doing now, is mostly social work,” LaMarche says. “There can be a lot of people coming in at once. But then you have down time where you either continue bagging more food for the pantry or you go and help some of the other volunteers.” 

LaMarche has formed a bond with other volunteers on the pantry. They have fun doing their work together. They get excited to see one another.

She also has an affinity for many of the older volunteers at the shelter. 

“They’ll just take you under their wings and they’ll say, ‘This is how you do it.’ They’ll tell you if you’re doing a good job,” she says. 

So we come to the same old question: Are you an animal lover, Miss LaMarche? 

Duh, right? The teen has three dogs that “I love a ton,” she says. 


But she also fell rather hard for a bunny named “Carrie” she encountered at the shelter. 

“I saw her, and she has this little white heart on her rear leg,” LaMarche says. “And you know, she was named after a horror movie, so I was like, I have to have her.”

And so now she has a rabbit, too. 

James Spencer of Auburn is a former volunteer at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society who still appreciates his time spent volunteering there. This picture was taken at a pet adoption event in Portland a few years ago when Spencer was still volunteering at the Lewiston shelter.

James Spencer, former volunteer 

For four years, Spencer walked dogs, cleaned kennels and did whatever was needed to help the animals. He got done as a volunteer only reluctantly and recalls the joys that came with helping out critters in need — while also helping himself. 

“I found it rewarding,” Spencer says, “and also a stress reliever. I enjoyed walking the dogs and playing with them and also helping out with the pet pantry. I didn’t do it because I had community service or anything like that. I just genuinely did it because I really enjoy working with animals. And they did a lot of great things over there.” 


Of course, the ugly side of shelter work is seeing the horror stories that occasionally unfold: animals that were abandoned or worse, abused. In those situations, the Humane Society does whatever it can to bring the animal back around, not just physically, but emotionally. 

“And to see them rehabilitated and be friendly again, and loving, is absolutely amazing,” Spencer says. 

Spencer doesn’t volunteer at the shelter anymore, but he knows there are plenty who do, and he knows that every one of them has the best interest of the shelter inhabitants in mind. 

“I’m really glad,” he says, “that they are there for the animals.” 

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.