More than a century of service
In 2001 the Dubuque Regional Humane Society celebrated 100 years of reaching out to residents of the tri-state community (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin) appealing to their sense of compassion, while serving as an advocate for the humane treatment of animals.
When it first began in 1901, the Dubuque Benevolent and Humane Society worked to protect the rights of animals, primarily horses, as well as children. In this era, government agencies that protected child welfare did not exist and horses were forced to do the work of today's tractors, trucks and cars. There had been laws against cruelty and abuse on the books for decades, but they were not enforced. Most people felt that how a person dealt with their children and animals was their own personal business, no matter how brutal. Not unlike today, too often people just did not want to get involved.
In 1877, things began to change nationally with the formation of the American Humane Association. Slowly, the movement gathered momentum. "Dubuque needs a society of this kind very badly…for the protection of the dumb brutes and the punishment of the human brutes!" an article read in the Dubuque Daily Herald on February 24, 1882.
And so, in February 1901, after years of planning, a group of volunteers drew up bylaws and formed a local humane society. On April 11, 1901, the first official meeting of the Dubuque Benevolent and Humane Society was held at the Second National Bank in downtown Dubuque. Membership numbered about 50. An office was set up in what is now known as the Fischer Building. Money was raised through annual dues of $1 - $10, with a lifetime membership costing $25.
From its earliest days, public education was a key element of the society's work. Pamphlets and calendars were handed out reminding farmers and teamsters of their responsibilities to their animals. Copies of Black Beauty, the classic novel dealing with animal abuse, were even distributed.
The city provided the fledgling society with some clout by designating a member of the police force to act as the humane officer, enforcing anti-cruelty laws. Several years later, the society joined with the local board of education to pay for a combined truant and humane officer. Finally, in 1904, a humane officer was hired as the first full-time employee of the society. The Dubuque Enterprise referred to the society's influence in a 1904 article, stating "Everyone in Dubuque has heard of it: and nearly everyone has some idea of what it means, even the little 5-year-old boy who…called to a teamster, 'You'd better stop whippin' your horse or you'll be 'rested by the Human 'ciety!'"
The humane officer became the alternative to the city dogcatcher, an employee of the city health department who patrolled the streets looking for strays to toss into the pound. The "pound" was a dark, basement coal room at City Hall where animals were most often shot or beaten to death. Calls to the humane officer increased, leading to the establishment of a small animal shelter, one of the first of its kind in a city the size of Dubuque. Property at 2228 Jackson Street was rented and as it developed, the safe-house for lost and stray animals would come to include a home for the caretaker, an outside run for the dogs, an adoption program and kennels for temporary pet lodging.
This arrangement lasted until the mid-1930s, when long time humane officer Charles Arendt retired and the society moved to seven acres of land outside the city limits in Center Grove Township. For a while, the shelter was operated out of a chicken coop. To further cut costs, volunteers collected scraps from local restaurants and colleges to feed the animals. At the time, the new location was a place where the society had room to grow. It allowed for a pet cemetery to be added to the traditional services established at Jackson Street. By the 1950s, after several years of continued improvements, the society had developed the shelter into what was considered at the time to be a state-of-the-art humane facility.
But activity lagged in the latter part of the 1960s, and over the course of the next 20 years, the board of directors went through two reorganizations. The first took place in 1969, but lost momentum after several years. The second, in 1988, revolutionized the shelter into the facility we have today.
Volunteers Barb Ellsworth, John Pernanoud, Dale Repass and Dr. James Stark organized the recruitment of a wide variety of community members to form a new and more active board of directors. "It became apparent that the Dubuque Regional Humane Society needed to make a change," said Dr. Stark, who has provided free veterinarian services to the shelter since the 1970s. "We weren't keeping up with what humane organizations were doing around the country."
Over the years, the Little Shelter Farm property, as it had come to be known, had severely deteriorated and needed immediate attention. Board members found themselves working at Center Grove on weekends. "We spent Saturdays painting and fixing things," said board member Tim Butler. "We invested a fair amount of sweat equity in those first days."
The board determined that a coordinator was needed to oversee the shelter and its expansion. Jane McCall was then hired as the first executive director. Jane immediately began developing ideas and long-range plans for the shelter.
Soon, the board realized these plans could never be accomplished at the current facility. Efforts to relocate the shelter began and in October 1992, the shelter moved to its present day location on North Crescent Ridge Rd. A new facility was built 2 ½ times larger than the old one to accommodate anticipated growth.
Within two years of moving to the new location, the number of animals cared for doubled. Fortunately, the number of adoptions doubled during that time as well. In 1996, a small remodeling project was completed to help ease some of the shelter's growing pains. But the numbers increased faster than anticipated, so less than 10 years after it first opened, the shelter underwent a major upgrade and doubled its number of kennels. It also created a new training center. But it may not be enough. By the end of 2000, the number of animals adopted and cared for tripled from 1992.
Today, due to outstanding public relations efforts, the Dubuque Regional Humane Society has reached household word status in the tri-state area. A dedicated staff of 30 individuals operate the shelter, open to the public 7 days a week, and provide a myriad of services (see sidebar). Through regular community outreach programs, including regular spots on local radio and TV, the adoption program is running at record levels while fundraisers like "Scruffy Scuffle", Annual Garage Sale Extravaganza and the Annual Fall Auction have created positive awareness to the society's mission.
Thanks to the vision of the Board of Directors, today's society is more regional and national in its scope than at any time in its history. It has contracts with numerous area cities and counties to provide humane services. In 1997, the shelter was chosen as one of the top six humane operations in the country.
As the Dubuque Regional Humane Society heads towards its next 100 years, the shelter is expanding its operations to include even more activities. Down the road, a Dog Park will hopefully be developed in conjunction with the City Recreation Department.
Today, the Dubuque Regional Humane Society is a multi-service shelter constantly searching for new and innovative ways to expand on its mission of the prevention of cruelty and abuse of companion animals. Though the times changed, the human-animal bond will always remain, and as long as there are animals in need, the Dubuque Regional Humane Society will be there.