History

A Walk Through History

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 Faye Thomas, it set goals and developed and adopted bylaws.

At its founding, the 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 Society placed hundreds of watering troughs throughout the city for thirsty workhorses. When a record heatwave struck in the summer of 1917, 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 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 Society’s fountains during the heat spell. During the cold icy winter the same year, the Society’s 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 Society observed its first Horses’ Christmas with deliveries of food and blankets to the city’s workhorses.

Incorporation
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 Society was directly involved in the handling of child welfare cases for the next decade. The Society also instituted a humane education campaign organizing children’s chapters, distributing humane literature, and providing lectures.
 

Legislating Humanity
In 1908, the 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 called Grand) Avenue.

The First Animal Charity Clinic 
The 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 Society’s adopted its logo in 1920. The logo was inspired by an award-winning poster that supported the Society. The poster, titled “Helping Hands” was awarded first prize in a contest by students of the Art Institute Poster Class.

The Great Depression
The Great Depression struck especially hard at America’s large industrial cities. At the nadir of the Depression, Chicago’s unemployed numbered 700,000 people; 40 percent of the workforce. For The Anti-Cruelty Society these years would bring the greatest challenges and lead to some of our greatest accomplishments.

Increasing Demand, Decreasing Funds
The Anti-Cruelty Society was hit doubly hard by the 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 Society began its open door philosophy early in our history. In 1934, The Anti-Cruelty Society 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 Society hired its first full time humane educator, Virginia Sedgwick, a former school teacher 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 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 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 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 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, the Society 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 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 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 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 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 Society to open the Bruckner Rehabilitation & Treatment Center, which is located on the second floor of the Society’s 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.

SAFE Program
In 2008, the Society began the SAFE Program. Originally, SAFE began as a way to temporarily house the pets of victims of domestic violence, since many shelters for women and children cannot accommodate animals. It wasn’t long before the program expanded to include accommodations for other domestic emergencies, such as house fires, floods, or temporary relocation.

Society Improvements 
In 2008, Dr. Robyn Barbiers became the new president of The Anti-Cruelty Society and over her ten year tenure, she oversaw a number of policy, procedure and capital improvements. One of her first initiatives was to re-examine the shelter’s kennel spaces and enrichment programs, with the ultimate goal of bringing them in-line with modern best practices and new research. The Society entered into negotiations with PetSmart Charities®, the non-profit arm of the popular pet store chain, which resulted in the Society’s inclusion in the Rescue Waggin’ ® program, as well as the opening of the Everyday Adoption Center inside the PetSmart location in Chicago’s South Loop. A partnership was initiated between the Society and Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois, which provided the Society with another adoption outlet, while giving Lambs Farm a more humane alternative for its pet store efforts. In late 2009, the Society started accepting large-scale transports of rescue animals coming from the southern United States, a practice that continues today.

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

Providing Help When Needed
In 2017, the Society took in 131 animals impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma with foster families stepping forward to help care for these pets. In addition, it focused its efforts on working with more than 200 partners to help protect and care for animals.

In 2018, the Society focused its efforts on providing support to the community by showing compassion in action. New programs such as the Reading Buddy project and puppy pop-ups became popular activities for the general public. More than 25,000 people were reached by the Society’s  outreach programs and 6,894 animals sheltered during the year. Learn more about our 2018 impact.

In 2019, the Society celebrates its 120th anniversary of caring for and protecting animals. The Anti-Cruelty Society’s comprehensive services and accomplishments range as deep as its roots. No matter the changes that have come our way since our founding, our mission of helping pets and educating people has been and will always remain the same.