Keeping a 96-Year Old Promise


Safely tucked away in the green rolling hills of West Windsor, Vermont, there lies a sort of heaven on earth for cats, dogs, horses, and the occasional rabbit. An idyllic haven complete with a pond, trails, and fenced meadows, Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society is a joyful place where surrendered animals live contentedly until they find a final home. Animals have been calling Lucy Mackenzie “home” for over 96 years, but it wasn’t always what it is today.

The world was a different place one hundred years ago. In 1915, the time of Lucy Mackenzie’s founding, the world was still feeling the echoes of the Industrial Revolution. As the United States became more industrialized, factory owners hired children for many tasks. Horses were regularly used as work animals, and life could be harsh. What humanity needed was a champion. For the U.S., in 1916, it was the Keating-Owen Act, which prohibited “the sale in interstate commerce of goods manufactured by children in the United States.” For the valleys of Vermont, it was Lucy Collamer Mackenzie.

Wife of a prominent Woodstock, Vermont, businessman, Lucy was a caring woman with a “practical interest in humane work and in the various social and religious activities, which always appeal to one of her sympathies…(and a) readiness to do helpful things at every opportunity.” Mackenzie quietly worked to support those who needed help. Upon her death, Mackenzie’s husband established the Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society to care for “abused (and neglected) children as well as animals including horses.”

In a large Victorian building at the center of Woodstock, Vermont, dogs, cats, horses, and children found a refuge where they lived in harmony, well-cared for, when the world let them down. Half a century later, the building moved to another location in Woodstock, and the need to serve children was no longer necessary. After almost 100 years, and now located on 14 semi-wooded acres in West Windsor, so much has changed, yet the heart of Lucy Mackenzie remains the same.

Abandoned animals of Vermont and New Hampshire still find respite at Lucy Mackenzie, receiving the medical care, socialization, and affection they need. Hundreds of cats and dogs come through the doors, but many hundreds have been adopted. The society maintains a “no kill” policy “to insure that every adoptable animal in (their) care is given an opportunity to find a safe and happy home.”

The spirit of Lucy is alive today at the shelter. Each year there are multiple sessions of Kids Camp, which teaches humane care of animals to children 6-10 years of age, and seeks to influence positive behavior toward animals for generations to come. Dog training classes are offered throughout the year, and dogs at the shelter are often recipients of training themselves, providing them with the tools and preparation they need for life in their forever home. The happenings at Lucy Mackenzie are many, and they continue to grow each year.

This past spring, what began as a routine renovation project to turn former horse barn space into a new educational and multi-use facility, turned out to be much more. If the noise of the outside world and economic woes had sought to distract all from everything but day to day tasks, a force much more powerful took hold and reminded all involved with Lucy Mackenzie of its greater original mission. When work on the barn was needed, Trustee Dow Davis suggested Lucy Mackenzie consider using a work crew for inmates from Vermont’s Southeast State Correctional Facility.

After interviews with the head of the program, and positive recommendations from towns that have used the crew for other projects, work on the barn began. The President and Vice President of the Trustees provided home-cooked meals for the crew while on site, the work crew and shelter staff came together for lunch time meals, and what transpired was a series of conversations that left all at Lucy Mackenzie inspired by humanity and filled with hope for the future.

Some members of the work crew who visited with animals at the shelter while on breaks, saw something in the animals that struck a chord deep within themselves. As low-risk offenders, they have been incarcerated for various reasons for varying lengths of time, but each person, in one way or another, felt a connection with the animals that someone not having the experience of being behind bars would not feel. Each saw himself in the animals at the shelter. Some described the kinship of waiting; waiting to go home one day to be free; waiting to go home to a loving family they missed so badly it hurt. One crew member said he could see it in the dogs’ eyes. Perhaps it is something only they can see; they also share the knowledge of what it is like to be unwanted by society.

The cats and dogs that make their way to Lucy Mackenzie are like other cats and dogs at other humane societies, in that they share similar histories of once being loved and wanted, and then set aside when a divorce came, when it was time to move, or when a new child came into the household. Seeing visitors come to Lucy Mackenzie during the day and eventually follow-through and adopt a dog or cat, gave the work crew hope as days passed. Knowing that the work they did each day would help to shorten their sentence, gave them hope to know that they too, would soon go home, and that they were better off having been through the experience. So too, are the animals at Lucy Mackenzie. Sometimes receiving extensive emergency medical care, sometimes receiving one-on-one rehabilitation, they serve their time at the shelter well, in a place where what may have been viewed by past owners as flaws, are worked into positive attributes.

As Lucy Mackenzie looks forward to its 100th anniversary in 2015, and reflects upon its history, so much has changed in the world. We can say that Lucy Mackenzie has been successful- we are reminded of that each time an animal is adopted, and we realize we are making a difference in helping animals to achieve their freedom. But, at the same time, so much remains the same. We won’t be able to say we have done our job until the need for humane societies no longer exists. Until then, we will keep the promise made to those in the care of Lucy Mackenzie from its very beginning; we’ll remain committed to our mission of “enhancing the bond between animals and people by providing shelter and care for homeless pets.” We will treat the animals in our care as if they have found their own personal slice of heaven until they finally do reach it.


Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society is one of the country’s oldest continually operating humane societies, and is dedicated to enhancing the bond between animals and people by providing shelter and care for homeless pets, and educating people about the care and training of animals in a humane community. It is located ¼ mile from the intersection of Routes 106 and 44 at 4832 Route 44 in West Windsor (Brownsville), Vermont, and can be reached at 802-484-5829