The History of Pet Shelters

Have you ever wondered how pet shelters came to be? We happened to be discussing the topic of pet shelters the other day at Hillrose Pet Resort, and someone asked, “when and how did pet shelters get their start?” To be honest, none of us really knew, which made us all curious, so we thought we’d do some research and find out a little more about the history of pet shelters. Here’s what we learned:


One of the first bits of information that came up in our research was the term “animal shelter.” We found it very interesting to learn how this term came to be. Most likely, if you are of a “certain age” you grew up hearing the words “the pound” or “the dog pound.” The word “pound” has its origins in the animal pounds of agriculture communities. These were corrals or pens where livestock were held or “impounded” until their owners came to retrieve them. How’s that for a bit of trivia?

Over time, this word grew to have very negative connotations and was typically associated with the place where animals were eventually killed. In more recent years, the term “pound” was replaced with the term “animal shelter” or “animal rescue shelter.” That just sounds so much more positive and hopeful does it not?

Thankfully, we now live in a time where stray or lost animals are protected, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Here is an historical timeline of how pet shelters came to be:

1824: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is formed in Britain, giving birth to an organized welfare group for dogs. This sets the foundation for a shift in people’s perspective about dogs.

1866: The SPCA makes its way to the US. Henry Bergh forms the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Most people ridicule and oppose him, or simply show indifference towards animal welfare, but the ASPCA continues to grow.

1869: The very first official animal shelter in the country is formed by the Women’s SPCA of Pennsylvania.

1877: The American Humane Association is formed.

1954: The Humane Society of the United States is formed.

1960s and 1970s: Private animal shelters are formed in addition to the municipal ones available in an effort to bring in strays and find them homes. Public opinion about strays starts to shift and people begin to view them as potential pets rather than public health hazards.

                                                                                                Source: A Brief History of Dog Rescue

It’s difficult to imagine a time when stray animals were seen as a public health hazard, but that is exactly how they were seen and therefore taken out of the public square to prevent problems. Thankfully, we have shifted away from the dreaded “pound” to “animal shelters” whose mission it is to care for, return  or  re-home lost or neglected pets. Not only that, but today’s shelters have reached out to the veterinary community seeking help and guidance on both the physical and behavioral health of the animals in their care. This has eliminated the stigma that animals in shelters are unhealthy and diseased; instead, the general public now understands that shelter animals have been well cared for and are great candidates for pet adoption.

So there you have it! A brief yet concise history of the wonderful endeavor of pet shelters.

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