How we got started


Charley McCarthy - the founder of Charley's Strays



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Before Charley McCarthy moved to Maine, he was driving a taxi in Woburn, Massachusetts. His favorite dog, Pal, was sitting in the front seat with him. The taxi company didn't permit a dog with the driver, but Pal couldn't read. Only once somebody complained, but Charley said: To my way of thinking, that was a fare I could do without. Generally most people would share stories with Charley about their pets, and many times people coming from restaurants would share their doggie bags with Pal.

Life was not kind to Charley, and eventually things got out of control. So in 1987 the "animal man" packed up his car, his 11 dogs and all of his meager belongings and moved to a parcel of land in southern Maine, given to him by a friend. Having to face the elements in the middle of winter, living in a car, his dogs in various boxes and cages, must have been an unbelievable hardship. But slowly people became interested in Charley's plight and started helping him. The first building was erected by animal lovers, Josephine and Duane Ford, who put their work and savings into the first shelter for the dogs. The Fords then constructed another building for several horses which had found their way to Charley's place.

Several years later, in 1991, Ted Murray also found his way to Charley. Ted, a schoolteacher, started to help Charley almost daily with the various many chores. In 1993 Ted bought a used mobile home for Charley. Before that Charley had lived all these years in a tiny travel trailer. But once again Charley had bad luck: Someone stole his generator, the only source of electricity. Without a generator he could not pump any water out of the well for all his animals. As everything has two sides, his bad luck turn into something good: A reporter wrote about Charley's plight in one of the larger Maine newspapers, and a couple who live 250 miles north of the Shelter decided to help him. Jim and Gabriele Brewer got involved with Charley. The Brewers saw to it that the power company installed electricity, and Jim started to build doghouses. In 1994 Jim erected a large building to house many of the dogs. The cats stayed with Charley in his trailer.

Charley kept numerous animals in addition to his dogs. There was Hamlet, a male piglet who suffered a broken leg during birth and was given to Charley a week later. He was running a high fever and no one thought he would make it, but, as Charley put it, "He has surprised us all and stole our hearts." Charley also cared for numerous cats, many dumped on his property. Butterfly, a kitten that fit in the palm of his hand, had to be fed with Gerber's baby food in order to survive. Charley also owned horses. Whiskey was all skin and bones and also had a serious foot ailment. Advised to have Whiskey put to sleep, Charley instead slowly nursed him back to health. He had Charley well-trained, and would "let out a few whinnies to get me moving," if Charley was slow to bring his supper.

Soon after his move to Maine, Charley said: "I would like this not only to be a shelter for the animals, here today, but a Shelter for the animals in the future, long after I am gone. All I have to give is my love and energy. I need your support and help to make it real." Charley died in September 1996. His legacy was 50+ animals, no money, a piece of land and a kennel building. The three volunteers who had helped Charley, Ted Murray, Jim and Gabriele Brewer, plus two ladies who had joined the taskforce shortly before Charley's death, Mary Grow and Karen Tobias, were faced with a hard decision: What to do about the animals? Many were too old to be placed with a family, so this would have meant the death penalty for most of them. So these five individuals now choose to carry on Charley's work; and are still very much involved with the caring of these animals and many more who have found their way to Charley's Strays in the years that followed.