Our Heroes: Pet Rock Fest 2021

Each year, we ask the public to nominate people who have shown exemplary actions on behalf of our beloved animals. We look for the heroes who work tirelessly to protect the welfare of animals, or someone who has performed an act of pure kindness to save or protect an animal. Heroes come in all forms, and this year, Pet Rock Fest honors three humans and one animal who have shown amazing work and are worthy of our applause and attention.

Let’s meet this year’s heroes:


JOANN GRIFFIN, founder, president and volunteer team director of Central Massachusetts Disaster Animal Response Team (CMDART), established the organization in January of 2003, and it became a nonprofit in February of 2007. This team is made up of more than 100 volunteers throughout the Worcester County region.

The mission of CMDART is to provide information, training, support, supplies and personnel to help plan, prepare and respond to aid animals affected by man-made or natural disasters such as fires, tornadoes, ice storms, hurricanes and even pandemics.

Griffin, a licensed social worker (LICSW) and critical incident responder, has community development experience, served with American Red Cross of Central Mass, and responded to national and local disasters. She has trained with The Humane Society United States (HSUS), American Humane, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Noah’s Wish, Red Rover and SMART. She is a former board member and shelter volunteer of Dog Orphans Humane Shelter.

Recently, she aided emergency animal sheltering for the Great Dane incident in NH. During the Merrimack Valley gas explosion, she readied volunteers and equipment but ultimately only needed to supply goods to some of the shelters in the area. She organized delivery of N95 masks, personal protection equipment the organization had in inventory to medical personnel, and got pet food to local food pantries during the Covid-19 pandemic. She makes sure CMDART attends the Pet Rock Festival yearly to promote personal emergency prevention education for pet owners ahead of disasters, and also hosts the popular agility course at the event.

Besides being the team lead and founder of this organization, she coordinates and works closely with local animal control officers and other local organizations to find placements or re-unite animals with their owners following an incident.

“JoAnn’s compassion for animals and their families is evident each and every time she puts on her CMDART shirt and begins working on whatever is necessary to help animals through an incident,” says Patriciann Porter Adams, who nominated Griffin along with the entire CMDART volunteer team. “Just listening to her talk about the organization makes one realize how much this dynamic woman cares about animals and educating the public on CMDART’s mission. This award is a testament to her dedication to animals and their families in Worcester County and beyond.”


ANJIE COATES is a true hero for the animals. As an ACO, she once helped rescue a beagle who had decided to chase after a porcupine and got himself caught in a culvert for two days. Without hesitation, but with savvy smarts, Coates tied a rope to her ankle and went in headfirst to rescue the dog. The story is a typical one for Coates, one of the “behind the scenes” unsung animal heroes who quietly devotes lots of time to the welfare of animals. Coates has numerous grooming certifications and is a certified pet first aid and CPR instructor, too. Not only does she keep pets looking good at her grooming salon, but she keeps them safe and makes them feel comfortable---she has even helped many pets overcome skin problems.


Carving out time to volunteer at Worcester Animal Rescue League, she grooms animals waiting for their fur-ever homes. In fact, a year ago, she met Cricket at WARL, and he stole her heart. Cricket had lost all his fur. Coates adopted him and applied her groomer skills to treat Cricket‘s skin issues. Rodeo, G and Allister welcomed him into the Coates family. After a lot of love and patience, Cricket is a happy, hairy little guy now. He has his own Facebook page documenting his journey.


MADDISON (aka “Maddi”) has been a therapy dog for 15 years, helping to comfort those facing life challenges from age or illness. Bringing Maddison to see her aunt, NANCY AMBROSE saw the healing touch this sweet chi dog could have on people and turned this visit into a lifelong mission: Maddison’s Mission.

“When we talk about someone having a lifelong mission, Maddi of Maddison’s Mission is the model of that,” says Gail Fairbanks, who leads animal advocacy group Burt’s Brigade and nominated Maddison (and Ambrose) for the award.

Maddison has worked as a therapy dog with the elderly and young adults challenged by critical illness. She is the primary therapy dog for Care One Nursing Home of Millbury, MA, which she visits every Monday, and Brookdale of Eddy’s Pond in Auburn, MA, where she goes every Friday.


“Maddi seems to have a sense as to who needs her the most and gravitates to the elderly patients that prefer to remain in their rooms,” continues Fairbanks. “Her happiness to be patted and cuddled is just what is needed to help ease their feelings of isolation. Maddie is always excited to see her nursing home and rehab friends and actively ensures that no resident or patient is forgotten during the holidays.”


Ambrose runs a yearly fundraiser to gift the nursing homes with individual presents, arts and crafts supplies and much needed Alzheimer’s support dolls. Some 250 stuffed toy


Chihuahuas were gifted to nursing home residents one Christmas Eve so that everyone had their very own Chihuahua cuddle when Maddi is not around. When Maddison is not engaging with her nursing home friends, “her thoughts of helping them are never far away.” Maddi also participates in yearly fundraising walks for the Alzheimer’s Association and her cancer survivor friends of Bark For Life. Although Covid sidelined Maddison from visiting her friends this past year, Maddison has now returned to her mission with the same excitement she started with more than a decade ago.


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