Our History
Elizabeth Portrait
First Ambulance
Second Ambulance

Remembered by her dedication to animal welfare and her innovative thinking, Elizabeth Morris (1827 - 1907) was truly a legend in her own time. A Philadelphian distinguished by her concern for stray and unwanted animals, her legacy lives on today through the programs and services performed through the Morris Animal Refuge at 1242 Lombard Street.

Originally known as the Morris Refuge Association for Homeless and Suffering Animals, we are America’s first animal shelter. The first year of operation brought in 860 animals -- today, approximately 1,500 animals pass through the doors of the Refuge annually. From that first day in 1874, the Refuge developed quite a reputation and, in keeping with Philadelphia tradition, established a number of “firsts” in animal welfare.

Veterinary care for pets in those days was virtually unheard of, but it was Elizabeth Morris and her friend, Annie Waln, who began taking home and caring for unwanted dogs and cats. The first veterinary school, located at the University of Pennsylvania, wasn’t started until 1884, 26 years after Morris and Waln began their humane work.

In 1888, Elizabeth Morris acquired a horse and wagon, the Refuge’s first “ambulance” for cats and dogs. In 1898, it began working in conjunction with the City Pound, taking all dogs thought to have been pets in order to give their owners two more weeks to claim them before being euthanized.

The Refuge is unique in its early attempt to humanely treat pets, particularly cats. Additionally, it served as a model for many similar organizations, here and abroad, such as the Dublin Home for Starving and Forsaken Cats.

Over the years, the Refuge has become one of the focal points in the region for animal welfare advocates, offering innovative and high quality care for cats, dogs and other small animals. Today the Refuge provides a full range of preventive, protective and adoption services for homeless animals. In more than 140 years, no animal has ever been turned away from our door!