About Anti-Cruelty

An Open Door to Compassion

Anti-Cruelty has been on the forefront of animal welfare and humane education since it was founded in 1899. As one of Chicago’s oldest animal welfare organizations, our history is as large as our hearts. What started with just a single meeting would grow to be an entire community selflessly committed to helping pets and educating people.

The Initial Meeting 1899
Four compassionate women from Chicago met on January 19, 1899, to discuss Chicago’s forgotten animal population. From that conversation emerged a society of devoted and caring people helping animals. 

In 1899, when The Anti-Cruelty Society elected its first president, founding-member Rose Fay Thomas, it set goals and developed and adopted bylaws.

At its founding, The Anti-Cruelty Society had three primary goals:

  • To suppress cruelty to animals
  • To educate the public on humane treatment
  • To create a refuge for strays

Small Animal Shelter Opens
In 1904, The Anti-Cruelty Society opened the doors of its first small animal shelter at 1898 N. Clark St. The shelter provided refuge and adoption services for Chicago’s small animal population.

Helping-Hand for Workhorses
By 1905, The Anti-Cruelty Society placed hundreds of watering troughs throughout the city for thirsty workhorses. When a record heatwave struck in the summer of 1917, The Anti-Cruelty Society volunteers worked tirelessly on behalf of the city’s horses. In addition to maintaining the watering troughs throughout the city, a man with a watering hose was stationed in front of The Anti-Cruelty Society's headquarters to wet down the horses as they came to drink from the three fountains in front of the facility. It was reported that more than 2,000 horses a day made their way to the The Anti-Cruelty Society's fountains during the heat spell. During the cold icy winter the same year, the volunteers came to the aid of poorly shod horses that were having difficulty on the icy streets by distributing shoe covers made of canvas and old carpet. In the mid 1920s, The Anti-Cruelty Society observed its first Horses’ Christmas with deliveries of food and blankets to the city’s workhorses.

On December 6, 1906, The Anti-Cruelty Society received a charter from the State of Illinois to conduct protective work with animals as well as children. In addition to its work with animals, The Anti-Cruelty Society was directly involved in the handling of child welfare cases for the next decade. The Anti-Cruelty Society also instituted a humane education campaign organizing children’s chapters, distributing humane literature, and providing lectures.

Legislating Humanity
In 1908, The Anti-Cruelty Society joined representatives from major meat packing houses in a series of meetings that lead to the development of voluntary guidelines for humane butchery.

Providing Refuge for Animals
In 1911, The Anti-Cruelty Society purchased its first four-wheeled rescue vehicle and opened its first permanent building at 155 W Indiana (now, Grand) Avenue.

The First Animal Charity Clinic 
The Anti-Cruelty Society opened the first Charity Clinic in the US in 1916, at a time when veterinary facilities for small animals were almost nonexistent.

Developing the Logo
The Anti-Cruelty Society adopted its logo in 1920. The logo was inspired by an award-winning poster that supported The Anti-Cruelty Society. The poster, titled “Helping Hands” was awarded first prize in a contest by students at the Art Institute Poster Class.

Increasing Demand, Decreasing Funds
The Anti-Cruelty Society was hit hard by the Great Depression as the demand for its services went up astronomically while its revenues significantly decreased. In 1935, a record 38,000 animals were taken in. This number continued to increase throughout the next decade, the peak year being in 1941 when 60,820 animals were taken in. Demand for the Charity Clinic services tripled.

An Open Door To All Animals
The Anti-Cruelty Society began its open door philosophy early in our history. In 1934, we took in nine black bears from menagerie owners who could no longer feed their animals. 

Marion and Horace E. McConnell Memorial Building 
Built in 1936, The Anti-Cruelty Society’s new home featured a modern clinic, surgical facilities, and a large auditorium.

Growing the Humane Education Program
In 1937, The Anti-Cruelty Society hired its first full time humane educator, Virginia Sedgwick, a former schoolteacher in the Gary, Indiana schools. The first humane education program was held in a Chicago public school on March 7, 1937.

Supporting The War Effort
In 1942, Society president Dr. Wesley A. Young served on the Veterinary Committee of Dogs of Defense. Nine dogs were sent to join the war efforts from The Anti-Cruelty Society during the first year of WWII.

From Then Until Now
Post-war Chicago brought many new challenges to The Anti-Cruelty Society. Huge tracks of residential land were cleared for urban renewal projects, public housing developments, and expressways. Thousands of people lost their homes, and many abandoned their pets and the number of stray animals in Chicago increased dramatically. This problem was exacerbated by a rabies outbreak in 1953 and 1954 that resulted in many changes as thousands of frightened pet owners relinquished their dogs. In 1954, the Illinois Rabies Law requiring mandatory vaccinations went into effect, causing more pet owners to relinquish their dogs because of the additional expense. In addition, many landlords began adopting “no pets allowed” policies.

The Hulburt Memorial Annex
Relief from the overcrowding in the shelter came in the form of a generous bequest from Mrs. Emily Hulbert, which allowed The Anti-Cruelty Society to build a new addition to the existing shelter. The Hulbert Memorial Annex, which opened on February 5, 1954, provided additional kennel space and isolation areas. Renovations were also made to the clinic and existing shelter.

Supporting Anti-Cruelty Legislation
In 1952, newly-appointed managing director, J.J. Shaffer, began work with the meat packers on the humane slaughter of animals. This led to the passage of the Federal Humane Slaughter Bill signed by President Eisenhower in 1958. The Anti-Cruelty Society was also the major proponent of a state law passed in 1957 that made abandoning animals illegal in Illinois. Continuing its legislative efforts, The Anti-Cruelty Society was a principal advisor during the formulation of a 1965 State Law regulating the operations of Illinois pet shops and dog dealers.

Launching the Spay Subsidy Program 
In 1975, The Anti-Cruelty Society took the bold step of limiting clinic services to low-income clients. In addition to providing free spay and neuter services for all adopted animals, we launched a spay subsidy program to assist low-income pet owners with the cost of private spay or neuter surgeries.

Launching the Volunteer Program
In 1976, the volunteer program was launched. Within its first year, volunteers in the Lost Pet Program reunited hundreds of pets with their owners, volunteers in the Pet Therapy program visited many local hospitals with small companion animals, and volunteer humane educators brought our traveling SPCA bus to schools and community sites to deliver educational programs.

Building a New Home
With the help of Robert R. McCormick and other funders, planning began for a new landmark shelter, which would be developed by noted architect Stanley Tigerman. Plans were unveiled in the spring of 1979. In addition to being a state-of-the-art facility, it was also designed to create a more inviting atmosphere for the public. The Anti-Cruelty Society hoped that the appealing design would do for shelters what removing the bars from exhibits had done for zoos. Groundbreaking on the first phase of the project took place on June 21, 1979.

Mobile Vaccination Van
In April of 1987, The Anti-Cruelty Society's Mobile Vaccination Van made its debut. It traveled to some of Chicago’s neediest neighborhoods to provide free vaccinations.

Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic Opens
In 1994, The Anti-Cruelty Society opened its low-cost spay/neuter clinic. Recognizing that prevention is the future of the humane field, this change allowed us to make a significant impact on Chicago’s pet overpopulation problem in the years to come.

Education and Training Center Opens
In 1999, the decision was made to build an education and training center. The center would allow The Anti-Cruelty Society to dramatically increase the number and variety of educational programs offered to the general public. 

Bruckner Rehabilitation & Treatment Center and The Virginia Butts-Berger Cat Clinic Open
A generous donation from Charlotte Schmidt in 2004 allowed The Anti-Cruelty Society to open the Bruckner Rehabilitation & Treatment Center, which is located on the second floor of the administration building. This center, which is still operational today, would allow staff members to rehabilitate cats suffering from upper respiratory infections, and it has room to accommodate up to 100 sick felines. The Bruckner Center was so successful that The Anti-Cruelty Society added another one in 2007. The Virginia Butts-Berger Cat Clinic doubled the size of the shelter’s existing rehabilitation space, helping many more sick cats and greatly reducing the need for euthanasia in the process.

Renovation Efforts
In 2010, a series of renovation efforts begins with the renovation of the shelter facade. During a span of 6 years, The Anti-Cruelty Society added a new clinic with state-of-the-art technology, a redesigned private admissions department, a renovated counseling area, and a refurbished courtyard for year-round use including a snow-melting technology.

The Next Chapter of Anti-Cruelty

In 2024, The Anti-Cruelty Society, now known as "Anti-Cruelty," celebrated 125 years of providing the BEST Care to the community. No matter the changes that have come our way since our founding in 1899, Anti-Cruelty's mission remains the same: building a happy and healthy community where pets and people thrive together. Now, we look forward to next chapter in our 125 year history.