At animal shelter, helping hands make big difference

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WESTBROOK – Every Tuesday and Friday for the last three years, Lin and Jay MacNair have walked dogs and done laundry at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook.

For the MacNairs, it began as a way to supplement their other volunteer roles at the Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church, but has since blossomed into a rewarding relationship with not only the animals at the shelter, but also the other volunteers and staff.

Both 65, the MacNairs’ volunteerism could be considered typical of their generation. According to a study by the Corporation for National & Community Service, propelled largely by baby boomers, the number of volunteers age 65 and older in the U.S. will increase 50 percent by 2020, from just under 9 million in 2007 to over 13 million. “That number will continue to rise for years to come, as the youngest baby boomers will not reach age 65 until 2029; in fact, the number of older adult volunteers should double by 2036,” the organization’s study said.

The MacNairs, who live in Westbrook, say the animals have affected their lives just as much as they have affected them.

Lin MacNair said she officially adopted a Pekingese from the shelter during her first year as a volunteer, but that the experience has also allowed her to trust larger dogs. She admitted that until volunteering, she had been afraid of larger breeds.

“I was very afraid of dogs,” she said. “I was only comfortable with ones I knew.”

But now, she said, she plays with pit bulls that Jay is mentoring.

“I wrestled with a pit bull on the floor,” she said.

Jay MacNair said he now loves pit bulls, and prefers to work with them in the mentoring program. He participates in a program called the “Pit Crew,” who take classes and specialize in working with pit bulls at the shelter. He isn’t working with a dog currently because the ones he’s worked with have been adopted. He was modest about that success.

“Well, I’m helping,” he said.

The MacNairs began volunteering some 15 years ago, when they served food at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen in Portland for about five years. Since that time, they have been regular supporters of events at their church in Westbrook, running bean suppers, spearheading an annual yard sale each summer, and growing vegetables to donate to the Westbrook Food Pantry.

Lin MacNair says the annual yard sale is one of the church’s major fundraisers.

Jeana Roth, director of marketing for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, says Lin MacNair has one of the hardest jobs at the shelter – laundering about 250 pounds of linens used for all animals each day she works.

At the same time, she calls Jay MacNair “a strong component of our dog volunteer team,” where he assists with dog walking and also “mentoring” outside of the shelter. The MacNairs have a consistent stream of dogs coming through their home.

“Jay and Lin are incredibly generous volunteers at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland,” Roth said, saying the couple rarely miss a shift. “Our volunteers are the heart of our organization. Our care and services to 4,000 animals every year is a team-wide effort, and could not be completed without dedicated volunteers like Jay and Lin. They are truly amazing people.”

Lin said many dogs come into the MacNairs’ home as “broken spirits,” and require not only their full support, but also a team effort from everyone at the shelter in order to mend.

When they have spare time during the week, they go to yard sales and Goodwill in Gorham to search for blankets and other items to donate to the shelter.

For the MacNairs, the Animal Refuge League is an easy place to be a volunteer.

“You never stop feeling like you’re appreciated for what you’re doing,” Lin MacNair said. “We’ve got more thank you’s there than anywhere we’ve volunteered.”

“Every single staff member thanks you for what you’re doing,” added her husband. “What could be better than that?”

When asked what drives the couple to be involved in an array of volunteer roles, Lin MacNair was modest.

“We’re around, we have time,” she said.

Andrew Rice is a staff writer at Current Publishing.

Lin MacNair folds sheets in the laundry room of the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. Each volunteer shift, MacNair does about 250 pounds of laundry.Jay MacNair serves as a dog walker and mentor for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. Jay and Lin MacNair also volunteer at the Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church, and grow vegetables to donate to the Westbrook Food Pantry.  

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