Monadnock Humane Society Puts the Animal-Human Bond Front and Center

 “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”—Madeleine L’Engle

For over one hundred and forty years, Monadnock Humane Society has served the Monadnock region of New Hampshire providing compassionate care and aid to abused and homeless animals. The citizens who banded together in 1875 to form The Keene Humane Society had no idea that their actions would reverberate into a new millennia. They came together because they recognized that cruelty is the enemy of civilization and they wanted to alleviate suffering.

The Society was a push-back against the day’s fashionable credo of letting the unfortunate fail, suffer, and die in a process of “natural selection.”  As New Hampshire overcame the economic depression and social upheaval caused by the end of the Civil War, many members of this community saw a need to advocate for others. Their spirit of compassion is a legacy that has guided Monadnock Humane Society throughout its many changes from yesterday to today.

What’s in a Name?

Although the founders’ initial vision was succor for cruelly mistreated animals in Keene, the Society’s first years saw an expansion of services to include aide for women and children throughout Cheshire County. In 1914 the board renamed the organization The Cheshire County Humane Society. By 1931, the Society’s energetic Humane Agent, Jennie B. Powers, reported on 202 cases, almost half of which involved abused or neglected children. (Mrs. Powers served as Humane Agent for thirty three years--from 1903 until her death from pneumonia contracted while caring for some neglected cows through a bitter winter’s evening in 1936.)

While Powers’ name is the one remembered in Animal Welfare circles, the Monadnock region has benefited from hundreds of Humane activists over the years. These were volunteers who served as the Society’s officers and board members; volunteers who opened their homes, pantries, and pocketbooks to help people and animals in need.

By mid-century, the local landscape was changing with regards to those in need. State and local agencies focused on human troubles, which allowed the Society to return its focus to the animal population. Needs here had changed as well. Gone was the ubiquitous draft horse pulling heavy wagons to market. Subsistence farming was less commonplace.  Cars and trucks sped along paved roads. Animal overpopulation was of growing concern. Stray dogs and feral cats were normal sights, often causing mischief and sometimes spreading disease.

Once again, the Society led the response and community members responded to the need. In 1967, the Jennie B. Powers Memorial Shelter was opened by the Cheshire County Humane Society on almost 250 acres of mostly donated land in Swanzey, NH. The property included a 1774 farm house which was renovated to become offices. With the new building came a re-envisioning of the organization’s purpose and further expansion of the Society’s service area.

A new name, in 1970, reflected this growth: Monadnock Region Humane Society. Members of Monadnock Region Humane Society endeavored not only “to provide for the humane treatment of animals and helpless persons,” but also to “disseminate information for this purpose.”  Focus began to shift to animal welfare, rather than cruelty prevention. People began to think about the relationship between animals and humans.

Over the next twenty eight years, the Society would be blessed by amazing volunteers who navigated the currents of the animal welfare movement and our communities’ needs. By 1992, the Society’s orientation pamphlet could state that MRHS had over 800 members and that “all adoptable animals are given every opportunity to find homes.” Heartbreakingly, this still meant that “ultimately 30% of the animals received at the shelter were euthanized…”. Lack of space led to overcrowding, inadequate quarantine areas, and the inability to implement behavioral interventions continued to provide challenges.

Animals as Companions

That 1992 orientation reflects a big change in thinking about animals. This focus on giving “adoptable animals every opportunity” was part of a revolution. It reflects a shift in public thought from cat as vermin killer working in the barn--to puss purring in your lap. It moves dog from guardian chained outside watching for intruders--to beloved family member. Once you perceive an animal as a possible companion, the idea of killing one for the crime of being homeless becomes excruciating.

Unsurprisingly, the Society’s members once again stepped up to the challenge of re-envisioning what it meant to alleviate suffering and overcome cruelty in the Monadnock region at the end of the 20th century. The Society’s outdated facility limited its ability to deliver the programs and services for which the community cried out.

The board and staff envisioned a place that was more than a room of cages. They imagined a home for the community; a place where animals and people would spend time together. A place that would offer a warm soft bed, medical care, adequate food, and companionship to animals waiting to find homes. A place that would welcome people to learn more about caring for the animals with whom they shared their lives. As this vision of a Learning and Adoption Center solidified into a plan, the organization that could bring the plan to fruition needed a new name. In 1995, Monadnock Humane Society, Inc. resolved that [they] “believed the greatest gains can be made for animals by working though collaboration and consensus building... [to]…create a more humane community.”

In 1999, MHS broke ground on the building where it’s currently housed at 101 West Swanzey Road. Designed not only to shelter animals, but to bring together a community of people who would advocate for the welfare of those animals, the Learning & Adoption Center features a large space for dog training classes, a comfortable Community Room with full kitchen, as well as both individual and communal living spaces for cats and dogs, a full veterinary clinic, and more on a beautiful campus that welcomes the community to explore its trails and fields. Moving into this building in 2000 allowed MHS to reach a goal of zero euthanasia for adoptable animals. No longer would an animal in MHS’ care have a clock counting down the days remaining in its life.

Back to the Future

Today, sixteen years after moving into this remarkable space, MHS continues to hold the animal-human bond at the center of all its work. Neighbors in need can turn to MHS for help to keep their beloved pet in the form of community cat & dog food pantry, low-cost spay and neuter, emergency boarding, and behavioral consults. Pet care services such as dog training, dog daycare, and pet boarding provide both a community resource and a source of funding to help support shelter services. As an open admissions shelter, MHS is ready to receive any homeless companion animal. As the place the Monadnock region looks for leadership on animal welfare issues, MHS continues to refine its programs to deliver what the region needs.

The heart of animal welfare is the people involved. Volunteers and staff at MHS work ceaselessly to advocate for every single animal and animals in general. These generous individuals are the key to ensuring the humane treatment of those who can’t speak for themselves. Accomplishing this work requires a community of volunteers—both the people who spend time at the building, and those who advocate for the organization and the humane treatment of animals throughout the community.  In this moment, MHS celebrates one hundred and forty years of amazing people.

As MHS celebrates its one hundred and fortieth year, it continues to hold the door open to everyone in the Monadnock region and invites them to join in its mission to foster a compassionate community by promoting and providing for the well-being of animals.