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A Historical Perspective of Cat Welfare in the United States
Cats and Dogs as Property Cats and Dogs as Companions
Animal Control
1866. The ASPCA was formed, marking the beginning of the Humane Movement in the United States. First anti-cruelty law passed in NY state.


1877. American Humane Society formed to prevent cruelty to animals and children.


1957. HSUS formed -- now the largest U.S. humane organization.

1900. Local organizations, modeled and named after the national ASPCA and American Humane Society, expanded their mission to include the sheltering of dogs and to a lesser degree cats.

Their buildings were designed for holding dogs assuming a quick turnover -- with the animals being returned to their owners, adopted or killed within a week or so of being admitted.

A surprising number of these holding shelters are still in use today.

The majority of the animals in these traditional shelters were euthanized -- passive adoption programs placed only a small fraction of their intake.

1940. To stop the spread of rabies from free-roaming dogs, state legislatures mandated that local governments perform Animal Control.  Only dogs with homes were allowed to live and they were required to be licensed and vaccinated for rabies.  Some municipalities set up their own shelter -- others contracted out the "catch & kill" function to local ASPCAs and Humane Societies.  Stray cats were also destroyed despite their not being a rabies threat.


1950. Feral dogs (and rabies) were virtually eliminated, but the "catch and kill" treatment of homeless cats and dogs continued.  In the context of "animals as property", this approach made sense -- but the relationship of cats and dogs to people had begun to evolve to that of companions -- and the public began questioning the euthanasia practice leading to the beginning of the "no kill" movement.

1944. North Shore Animal League was formed -- first major shelter to break from the Animal Control mold -- drew from animal control's 'death row" making a lifetime commitment to all cats and dogs they sheltered.   So far, they have adopted out over a million cats and dogs.


1960. Small, informal "no kill" rescues developed to keep cats/dogs from streets and out of animal control shelters.  Many were fostered in homes for the first time.


1980. Best Friends opened a sanctuary in Utah -- largest no-kill shelter in U.S. -- now houses about 1500 cats and dogs -- but they turn away over 23,000 each year.


1989. SF SPCA turned animal control back to the County -- the first animal control shelter to become "no kill" -- many others followed.


1999. Maricopa County, Arizona, Animal Control became the first government-run shelter to adopt a no-kill policy.

1969. State laws were passed requiring shelters to ensure that all cats/dogs they adopted out were sterilzied.  It was a very effective program for dogs, but less effective for cats because of the large numbers of feral cats that were not included in the mandate and continued to reproduce.


1976. SF SPCA opened one of first low-cost spay/neuter clinics beginning a drive to sterilze all pet cats and dogs -- even those not adopted from the shelter.


1985. New Jersey started the first tax-subsidized spay/neuter program recognizing that pet spay/neuter is a community responsibility.


1990. Alley Cat Allies formed to promote the sterilization of feral cats -- previously only socialized cat were routinely sterilized.


1999. Maddie's Fund began giving communities million dollar grants to end the killing of healthy cats/dogs -- largely through increased cat sterilization.  This was the beginning of community-based no-kill efforts as contrasted with individual shelter efforts.

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