PROSPECT HARBOR, Maine — A Prospect Harbor couple is helping area families in need keep their companion animals.

Susan Burke and her husband, Bill Leonardi, launched Hardy’s Friends to provide temporary assistance such as dog and cat food, cat litter and veterinary care for families in need in the Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor areas.

“Our whole mission is to keep family pets out of shelters,” said Burke.

The idea for the organization came from a column in the Bangor Daily News that mentioned a military veteran who left a dog at a shelter with a note because he couldn’t take care of it.

“I thought that shouldn’t happen to any human and it certainly shouldn’t happen to any animal,” said Burke.

At the time, the couple was looking for a way to honor Hardy, a Newfoundland they lost in 2008.

So Burke and Leonardi opened a bank account with $250 they won in a football pool, thinking Hardy’s Friends would be done when the money ran out.

“Then we had put up posters, so people started calling,” she said. “It was pretty much hand to mouth there for awhile.”

Since Jan. 1, the organization has worked with about 18 families. Some come back for help seasonally while others only seek help once or twice a year.

“We’re a small organization and we have no storage facility and we’re not endowed enough to ever become a permanent source of food and veterinary care for families,” Burke said.

Hardy’s Friends helps only people in the Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor areas because that is where the financial support comes from.

“We are fortunate to live in a place where there are a lot of animal lovers,” Burke said.

When a potential client calls, Burke and Leonardi screen out those from outside the area. They ask about the family’s animals and then arrange to meet the caller personally.

At first, they were providing only food and cat litter.

“Then we realized, because we have vet bills of our own, how expensive it is,” Burke said.

If someone can’t pay to have animals spayed or neutered, for example, the animals breed and the costs of care grow with the population, she said.

Burke puts such owners in touch with The Ark, a shelter in Cherryfield, that assists with a spay/neuter program. The shelter provides a coupon which covers a third of the cost of the procedure. The participating veterinarian contributes a third, leaving the owner to pay only the remaining third.

Hardy’s Friends is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a board of directors that includes Burke, Leonardi and Gouldsboro Police Chief Glenn Grant.

Grant also serves as animal control officer, which makes him a perfect addition to the board.

Burke said when a stray is picked up, the Gouldsboro police have to drive it to Ellsworth, pay a fee to leave the animal with a veterinarian there and then drive back. In addition, owners who want the animal back must also drive to Ellsworth and pay a fee to reclaim it, she said.

Grant suggested the town would save money by having a clean, safe place to house animals overnight while officials try to find the owner.

The police chief received a grant through the Schoodic Community Foundation to convert a small, wooden building into Hardy’s House.

All in all, it’s a nice way to remember and honor a dog who helped the couple make friends.

For more information on Hardy’s Friends or to make a donation, email Burke at susanburke44@gmail.com.