Downeast Dog News

Rescue of the Month: Animal Welfare Society

A Community Driven Animal Shelter
By Susan Spisak | Jul 01, 2021

The Animal Welfare Society, aka AWS, is a private humane society based in Kennebunk. Founded in 1967, this 501(c)(3) is a 40-acre campus that boasts an animal shelter, adoption center, resident and community dog training, and a full-service Community Veterinary Clinic. AWS serves over twenty towns in York County; their staff cares for stray, abandoned, and owner relinquished animals from the region.

While local animals are their focus, as space allows, they open their doors to pets in need through their PAWS Across America program. AWS brings these companion animals to Maine with the hopes of quickly placing them in new homes. Brie Roche, Humane Educator at AWS, indicated many of these dogs come from the south and Puerto Rico.

Encompassed within PAWS Across America is Paws in Stripes. Many puppies who arrive on these transports are paired with “trainer/handler” inmates at MCC who have been hand-picked by officials at the facility. They care for and nurture the pups for six weeks with AWS staffers leading routine training sessions.

The younger generation is important to AWS. With the energetic state-certified Roche as their Humane Educator, she fills the bill to impart the importance of animal care to area youth. “I focus a lot on bringing Animal Welfare Programs to schools,” she explained. The kids and teens who volunteer at the shelter or attend their summer camps already have an interest in animals. “We’re reaching a new audience by going into the schools.”

For her educational efforts with the 5th and 6th graders at the Sanford School System, she follows Mutt-i-grees, an initiative founded by Yale University in conjunction with North Shore Animal League America. This utilizes the attraction between kids and pets to teach social-emotional skills that are important in their school and everyday life. In addition to understanding animal care, the goal is to create awareness, help them identify feelings and emotions, encourage empathy and deal with decision making. (She added that her cats were a big hit with the kids, both in person and during virtual classes.)

School officials have indicated that a few students have come forward to share that their pets aren’t cared for properly. The officials in turn communicate with parents to resolve the issue. Roche said as the semester ended, she received positive feedback from the kids. A few comments included that they’ve learned to be kind to animals, not to take their bad day out on pets, not to pull tails, and to approach pets safely. “It’s an amazing program. It’s really, really cool.”

Animals Unite Us is another innovative effort – it bridges the cultural gap for high schoolers who are new to the US and/or the English language. She visits two Portland schools for hour-long workshops, teaching the basics of companion animal care.

Visit for info on adopting, fostering, volunteering, donating funds, and to view their Amazon wish list. For info on their Summer Countdown, a program geared towards finding wonderful homes for long-time residents, visit