Comfort for Critters

~ Celebrating 13 Years & 110,000+ FREE Pet Blankets ~

The History of Animal Sheltering

I just love delving into the history of caring for animals, to learn how the treatment of pets has improved so dramatically over the years. It’s inspiring to read about the people along the way, who carved a path, where there truly was none. This is the story of today’s animal shelter.

The history of animal shetlers can be traced back to 1869, and a woman named Caroline Earle White. Caroline’s parents made sure she received a good education, something which was unusual for girls at that time! During her childhood, she witnessed the inhumane treatment animals received in her area, and it changed her. It wasn’t endured by pets so much, but by the horses and mules which would pull heavy wagons down the streets of Philadelphia. Drivers would beat, and otherwise abuse, the animals to get them to keep going, or to move faster. Caroline never forgot those scenes, and when she married an attorney in 1854 who supported her concerns, her “animal activism” began.

She formalized her activism by joining the board of the newly created Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1867. After being relegated to non-management roles at the PSPCA, she decided that her future would have to be with an organization where women were in charge.

Caroline, along with 29 other courageous women, started their own branch of the PSPCA in 1869, with a focus on helping the many stray dogs in the area. The “Women’s Animal Center” became the first animal shelter in the United States, and is still open today in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.

Among the many things this first shelter, and Caroline White, accomplished was the establishment of the American Anti-Vivisection Society (1883), the installation of water fountains in cities (so that the horses and mules had clean drinking water), the opening of the first clinic in the US which provided free veterinary care for those unable to pay, and promoting legislation in 1907 that enforced the humane treatment of animals being transported on the country’s railroad system. Wow, what an amazing group of ladies! It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Of course, the Women’s Animal Center went on to care for cats and other animals. They promoted the concept of “sheltering animals,” which inspired many other towns and cities to follow suit. Tremendous growth happened in the 20th Century when towns established two important roles for shelters. They were to provide care and protection for homeless pets as their primary goal. They also were tasked with protecting citizens from any dangers posed by homeless pets, including pet bites, attacks and zoonotic diseases.

Today there are roughly five thousand animal shelters in the United States. Since it’s an unregulated industry, specific statistics are difficult to find. Amazingly (at least to me) there’s simply no national reporting agency for animal shelters.

There are approximately 90 million dogs in the country and 94 million cats, but only about 25-30% of those pets go through the animal shelter system. These shelters will see 6 to 6.5 million pets come through their doors in a typical year. Of these, roughly half are cats, and the other half dogs.

These are the little lives we endeavor to comfort with our quilted, sewn, knitted, crocheted or tied blankets. We make a variety, to be sure, matching the variety of lives that pass through the shelters in our program. We owe a debt of gratitude to Caroline Earle White. I think she would be proud of every CFC volunteer and admire every blanket!

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