Janet Dakin: Dedication, Compassion & Humor

by Lee Chambers

(Photo credit: James F. Gayle / The Plain Dealer) Cleveland Plain Dealer

The history of Dakin Humane Society is complicated.  It is essentially the result of the merger of a few esteemed animal welfare organizations; the Greenfield Animal Shelter (later to be renamed the Pioneer Valley Humane Society) and the Dakin Animal Shelter (which had merged with the Friends of Amherst’s Stray Animals or FASA).  The organization that you know today was named for the late Janet Wilder Dakin, a woman many called the “First Lady of Amherst," who founded FASA.

There are several yellowed newspaper clippings about Janet to be found, and her achievements were many.  In addition to her work rescuing animals, she was the first chairperson of the Blue Start Highway, a Route 1 beautification project.  She was a charter member of the Amherst Conservation Commission from 1962-1974, and in 1970 she founded and served as Executive Director of the Kestrel Trust, a private land trust that acquired land for conservation purposes.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Carole DeMetre, a longtime Dakin volunteer, knew Janet Dakin and has fond memories of the woman whose dedication led the way for us at this organization.  We recently sat down with Carole to learn more about Janet.

Q:  How did you meet?

A:  Janet was widowed and living alone.  She was 79 years old and had round-the-clock caregivers.  She had fallen and injured her shoulder and physical therapists were coming to her home.  I was working as a personal trainer and my name came up to work with Janet.  Even though shoulder work wasn’t my area of expertise, I agreed to try.  The plan was to get her back in action, and we worked together three times a week for five years.

Q:  How did that go?  How was she as a patient?

A:   Well (laughs), she did like to sit and rest.  I would try to get her to move from room to room in her house.  We could just be going from the TV room to the living room and she’d ask “Can I have a cigarette on the way?” and that would be a no!

Q:  Did she have pets at that time?

A:  She had a little spaniel named Jolly Roger, and Tinkerbell, a cat.  Both animals were white and their fur would just coat you.  I was always wearing black and Janet would chastise me for wearing the wrong color.  I think she had a couple of horses out in the back as well.

Q:  What were her interests? 

A:  She had a beautiful garden, but would never grow pink flowers because she thought the color pink was too “sentimental.”  She came from a science background - she earned a Masters in zoology at Mount Holyoke College - but she had an interest in new age-type practices as well.  Once she read that if you took stinging nettles and whacked them against an aching knee, it would help.  She was suffering from arthritic pain and insisted I do this to her.  I couldn’t stand it, and I felt like I was torturing her, but she insisted.  We were both laughing until we cried, although I think some of her tears were from the pain!

Q:  Did you have much in common with her?

A:  We both loved animals, of course.  Once when I was at her house I spotted a framed cover of Morgan Horse magazine that was a photo of her. She explained to me that when she was a child her family briefly lived in England, and she said she had been a sickly kid.  Her doctor recommended equine therapy, and that began her love of horses.  (Note: Janet wrote a series of articles for the magazine about raising a Morgan horse which is what landed her on the cover)

Q: What were other things that you remember about her?

A:  Well, she never hesitated to tell you what she was thinking.  Ever!  She always wore skirts.  Her breakfast every day was Muesli.  She was generous, open-minded about things that weren’t considered “the norm,” and she was always a good sport about doing the things I asked her to do for her training, especially when she didn’t want to!

Q: What do you think she’d say about her name being attached to this organization?

A:  I think she’d be impressed and so proud.  This is probably much more than she ever imagined it could be.

Janet Wilder Dakin was born in 1910 and passed away in 1994.  Her beliefs, her passion and her dedication are proudly carried forward by everyone at Dakin who works hard to keep people and their beloved pets together.  Janet’s mission to help animals has resulted in hundreds of thousands of pets being rescued and adopted, and over 85,000 being spayed or neutered at Dakin’s Community Clinic.

Thank you, Carole DeMetre, for sharing your memories of this remarkable woman.

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