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Morris's place in the history of animal shelters!
August 20, 2020
elizabeth morris portrait

The Morris Animal Refuge and the history of animal shelters:

Morris: a Key Player in the Development of Animal Welfare and Shelters as We Know Them Today

We are very proud to say that we were the first animal shelter, as we would call it today, in the United States. And since then, we have always been at the forefront of the animal welfare development in this country.

Let’s take a look back in time to see how animal shelters evolved in the US, what ideologies were growing when we were founded, and how we continue to move in the best direction for the animals we care for every day.

1858: Elizabeth Morris begins using her own home to take in and care for animals.

1866: The first animal welfare organization in the United States is established, the ASPCA, with a focus on horses rather than dogs and cats. Soon after, dog licenses are invented to help fund animal control programs, which existed to protect public health and private property rights.

1874: Morris leases a small house so she can begin taking in more animals, opening Morris Refuge Association for Homeless and Suffering Animals. Women’s Philly SPCA is opened in the same year. Both groups focus on the humane treatment of animals, making history as the first animal shelters as we know of them today in the United States.

1877: The American Humane Association is founded.

1878: 1242 Lombard St is opened to accommodate Morris’ need for more space. This is the same location we operate out of today!

1884: The first veterinary school is opened at the University of Pennsylvania. This comes 26 years after Morris began her humane work with animals. Helped by her friend Ann Waln, she provided humane care to each of the animals she took in.

1886: Once again in need of more space, Morris purchases 1238 Lombard St to expand into.

1898: Morris begins working with the pound, she offers to house animals that have not been claimed to give owners an extra two weeks to find them before the animal is euthanized.

1907: Elizabeth Morris passes away at 80 years old, leaving behind an organization that would continue to grow and lead over the next century and beyond.

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

1960s: Private shelters start to join with municipal shelters and public opinion on strays changes from seeing them as public dangers to viewing them as animals that need our help.

1964: Morris’ first spay and neuter program begins.

1970s: Veterinarians begin getting actively involved with the shelter to promise animals humane treatment and care.

1989: One of the first articles on the care of shelter animals is published in Current Veterinary Therapy X.

Today, Morris is the only privately funded, open admissions shelter in Philadelphia. We are proud to say that we help, on average, 1,500 animals each year! In the United States, there are an estimated 5,000+ animal shelters, and there exist many kinds of organizations devoted to saving animals, including: shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries. The world of shelters now places emphasis on spaying and neutering, microchipping, and providing quality enrichment to all animals at the shelter.

As a community committed to the humane care of our nation’s homeless animals, it is exciting to imagine where the future will take us. With so much great change over the past 150 years, who knows what is in store for the next century!