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Grassroots guardians

Vermont group tackles cruelty from all angles

From Animal Sheltering magazine March/April 2014

 GMAD president Sharon MacNair—with rescued dog Otis—has been volunteering with the group since 1983.

Sharon MacNair was in line at her local hardware store in South Burlington, Vt., when a woman approached the cashier to complain. At the back of the store were baby chicks for sale. One chick was bleeding and being pecked by the others, and the woman’s two children were upset.

An employee promised to take care of it, but when MacNair asked how, “he just snapped his hands like he was breaking a handful of spaghetti in half. So he was going to break her neck.”

But by applying the calm tenacity she’s known for, MacNair was soon on her way, toting a cup of feed and a box with the bloodied chick inside. And Green Mountain Animal Defenders’ chick rescue program—which has saved nearly 50 baby chickens, turkeys, and ducklings from hardware and feed stores—was born.

“Our tagline is ‘working to protect all animals,’” says MacNair, the group’s president and a volunteer since it was founded in 1983. “It’s a huge task. But we’ve not really ever turned down a campaign. … We try our best, no matter what the need is, to do what’s feasible.”

GMAD has a reputation for making things happen, says HSUS northeastern regional director Joanne Bourbeau. “Whenever there’s a cruelty case, they’ll find volunteers to help out. Whenever legislation needs a push, GMAD is the first group that contacts me and asks how they can help.”

In the 1980s, the organization launched the state’s first low-cost spay/neuter clinic, which has sterilized more than 74,000 cats and now runs independently. Goldfish and other small animals are no longer given as prizes at county fairs, and several fairs have canceled exotic animal acts. The fur stores in Burlington have all shut down, in part due to pressure from GMAD. The organization has also helped strengthen state animal protection laws, including one that established a spay/neuter assistance program for low-income pet owners.

To help dogs left tethered outside around the clock, GMAD started the PAWS (Providing All Weather Shelter) Project. Students from Burlington Technical Center (a vocational program for high school students and adults) and Rosie’s Girls (a summer camp that teaches trade skills to middle school girls) build doghouses, which PAWS gives to an anti-chaining group, the Friends of Vermont Dogs. The Friends group places the doghouses and constructs fences on properties where dogs are chained full time—provided the owners agree to untether their dogs. In its first two years, the project tapped the talents of about 80 students and produced eight doghouses.The project further engages the community by taking tips about chained dogs from members of the public, who may remain anonymous. “So many times, people don’t know what to do,” says PAWS coordinator Jill Jacobelli. “They feel bad, and they just shake their head, because they’re like, ‘What am I gonna do? I’m not gonna knock on this guy’s door and tell him he better put his dog inside.’” The project also encourages people to report dogs chained outside without shelter to their local animal control officer.

PAWS is expanding to provide shelters for homeless cats. Two wooden cat shelters—which include insulation and linoleum—have been built, and more are on the way. The colonies that receive shelters have caretakers, and GMAD ensures as best it can that the cats are spayed or neutered.

GMAD volunteers have also set up tables in downtown Burlington to raise awareness of factory farming, pet overpopulation, animals in research, and more. They rescue animals in crisis, intervening to stop lethal trapping of beavers, transporting rescued goats to a new home, or saving pigeons caught in netting in parking garages. They also coordinate a cat spay/neuter program, pet food drives, a wildlife response network, and more.

Several wildlife rehabilitators in Vermont are able to do their work because GMAD funded their training or provided cages and medical supplies. Now, the rehabbers are happy to repay the favor, says MacNair, by treating the twisted legs or broken wings of baby birds from the chick rescue program. “We’ve done so much for the wildlife rehabbers, they can’t help us enough.”

How does a volunteer-based organization accomplish so much? By enlisting students from area colleges. Since 2003, students have shared their graphic design, computer, event planning, and other skills in exchange for college credit—and a robust education in animal protection.

GMAD is widely respected as a friend to the friends of animals. “We’re actually invited to most humane society functions,” says MacNair. “They all know that if they’re in a pinch, we’ll come to their aid.” Says Anne Ward, director of operations for the Central Vermont Humane Society: “Without GMAD, we would be stretched more than our resources can stretch.

About the Author

As senior editor of the award-winning Animal Sheltering magazine, Julie Falconer writes and edits articles for the sheltering, rescue and animal control fields. Before joining the staff of the Humane Society of the United States, Julie was a longtime volunteer with rescue and animal advocacy organizations in Central Virginia. She spends much of her free time assisting with trap-neuter-return programs for community cats.