More than a Century of Service

The Dubuque Benevolent and Humane Society was founded in 1901 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.

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 group of compassion humane society members pictured to the right was taken in 1919.)

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.

Volunteers Barb Ellsworth, John Perrenoud, 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 provided free veterinarian services to the shelter for many years. "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 175 North Crescent Ridge. A new facility that was built 2 times larger than the old one to accommodate anticipated growth. In 1997, the shelter was chosen as one of the top six humane operations in the country.

Within two years of moving to the new location, the number of animals cared for doubled. By the end of 2000, the number of animals adopted and cared for tripled from 1992. Over the years, this location underwent three major remodeling projects to attempt to accommodate the continual increase in animals but these efforts were was not enough. In an effort to house the ever growing number of cats that were coming into the shelter, the DRHS opened an adoption center and gift shop at the Kennedy Mall in 2008. This location closed in December of 2013 after the new Animal Resource Center was completed.

In the fall of 2013, after 22 years of service, Jane McCall retired and Maria Benham took the reigns as President and CEO on October 16, 2013.

After many years in the making, the DRHS moved into Kinsey’s Campus on October 24, 2013. Kinsey’s Campus is named in memory of a wonderful, talented and loving Golden Retriever named Kinsey (pictured right). Her owner Nan Stuart and her charitable organization, the Hadley and Marion Stuart Foundation in Longmont, CO, generously contributed the lead gift to the new center.

The state-of-the-art Animal Resource Center helps the animals and the people who are served in so many ways. Much-needed amenities at Kinsey’s Campus include: More space for the animals, dedicated HVAC systems to keep the animals healthier, private socialization/acquaintance rooms, training center, a Community Learning Center for outreach and volunteer programs, an expanded reception and welcome area, separate animal adoption and surrender spaces, multiple outdoor play areas, Hadley’s Dog Park - a private members-only dog park for the community, and an expanded surgical suite. (Kinsey's Campus first adoption was Lena the Terrier pictured here.)

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 25 individuals operate the shelter, open to the public 6 days a week, and provide a myriad of services. Through regular community outreach programs, including regular spots on local radio and TV, the adoption program is running at record levels while annual fundraisers like "Strut Your Mutt," "In the Doghouse," and the "Tails at Twilight" fall gala have created positive awareness to the society's mission.

Thanks to the vision of the staff and 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 municipalities to provide humane services.

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.