Dane County Humane Society Centennial Celebration: The Beginning

Photo by Wisconsin Historical Society

The success of every organization is the result of great vision and hard work. For Dane County Humane Society (DCHS), the desire to create an organization dedicated to the welfare of animals was strengthened by its president, Ida Kittleson, and her compassion and determination. Kittlesons vision for DCHS grew out of her good work and the efforts of those who followed in the path of her passion.

Kittleson, wife of Madisons mayor in the early 1920s, served as president of DCHS for more than 30 years from the time of its incorporation in 1921. The start of her work with animals began when a neighborhood music teacher found a stray cat and brought it to Kittleson in a violin case. She kept the cat as a pet and soon set her mind on doing something for all strays. So she started looking for homes for them. During those first years, many animals were kept in the basement of the Kittleson home and in the homes of volunteers and several local veterinarians until a permanent shelter could be built. But that wouldnt occur until 1965.

In a 1966 interview, Kittleson talked about riding the streetcar to pick up stray animals or trudging up and down stairs to collect contributions to DCHS in the days before the permanent shelter. When friends at DCHS were ready to give up, Kittleson wouldnt hear of it. A close friend who worked with her on community projects said, Mrs. Kittlesons personality kept the Humane Society alive through the years. When it was necessary, she carried the burden alone, for she has always been able to accomplish anything she puts her mind to.

Not one to shy away from politics, Kittleson announced her candidacy to be a member of the state assembly from the first district of Dane County in July 1926. She said, When suffrage was granted [to women in 1920], it brought duties as well as opportunities. Voting and holding office become a part of womens share in government. But a month later she withdrew, citing that she would be away from the city for most of the time before the primary election. Kittleson was serving as vice president of the American Humane Society at that time and would be presenting a paper at the national convention in August. Kittleson served on the Board of the American Humane Society for 17 years and was the first president of the Wisconsin Federation of Humane Societies as well.

Upon her retirement from the Board of DCHS at the annual meeting in January 1954, Kittleson clarified she was not leaving DCHSjust stepping down as president. During my years here I have learned a lot, and it has made my life very full. I know there are differences within the Society, but I know, too, that in the good American way, the program will be carried out and all will work together for the success of the organization.

In the late 1940s, Kittleson received a Golden Rule award for her public service from a local radio station program sponsor. Then in the 1960s, Kittleson was recognized for her humanitarian work, including service to Kiddie Camp, the Neighborhood House, DCHS, and other community projects, receiving a national Good Neighbor award. The Capital Times noted about Kittleson, Children and animals are always her first concern. In 1969, Mrs. Kittleson, the proclaimed Madisons First Lady, died. She and her late husband had no children.

Even before DCHS was incorporated, Dr. J. W. Quinn, a local veterinarian and the countys first humane officer, offered his services for no compensation. His only payment was an occasional donation and a chicken and dumpling Sunday dinner prepared and served by Kittleson (because she thought it was the least she could do).

Probably one of the best ways DCHS had to get the word out about its work during the first 50 years was through the voice of Education Director Alexius Baas. Baas, a Renaissance man of his time, wrote the All Around The Town column in The Capital Times for 25 years. It was a column that dealt with Madisons past and presentespecially when it came to stories about animals.

Photograph provided by Capital Times File Photo

In his role as education director, Baas visited and spoke to children in Madison and Dane County schools to increase the childrens interest in, and encourage their kindness to, animals. His programs consisted mostly of telling children stories about animals, singing for them, and his own dogs displaying their tricks. Baas said, I believe that interest will grow into love for animals and, if affection for all living creatures is once established, kindness to them inevitably follows.

Beginning in the 1940s, Baas broadcast the weekly Sunday program Pet Corner on WIBA radio on behalf of DCHS. The show featured animal-related material, such as poetry, interviews, and individual animal feature stories. One episode introduced Jimmy the Crow, a talking crow that lived near Plainfield. Additionally, Baas had the WMTV program Dogs I Have Known. Following Baas retirement, his wife, Evelyn Baas, who was a board member and membership chair for DCHS, continued the radio broadcast.

A wonderful example of the influence of Baas was the 1946 donation of $35 from men imprisoned at Waupun Correctional Institution. Two years prior, Baas performed a concert at the prison, which led to his correspondence and friendship with a prisoner who was the editor of a magazine written and published by the prisoners. The man became interested in Baas DCHS work and convinced fellow inmates to each contribute $1 to the organization.

In 1968, The Capital Times columnist Frank Custer wrote, [Baas] has been an outstanding figure in his native Madison a singer, actor, teacher, Shakespearean scholar, poet, composer, music and theater critic, newspaper columnist, and fighter for humanity to man and animal.

After Baas death in 1970, Miles McMillan, executive publisher of The Capital Times, characterized him as an extraordinary man. Thousands will remember him as the champion of helpless animals, others for his fight to stop pollution of Madison lakes. He was one of the most popular columnists ever to write for The Capital Times. Madison is a better place to live because of Lex Baas.

Evelyn Baas was another great early advocate for animal protection and was honored by the American Humane Society twice. The second time, in 1973, she was recognized for her 35 years of meritorious service to DCHS and outstanding work for the humane movement. Not only did Baas serve DCHS, but she was a director of the Vilas-Oneida Wilderness Society in northern Wisconsin, honorary vice president of Protect Animal Life in Pewaukee, and a contributing member of animal societies in the United States and England.

Today, education work is an important part of DCHS. Whether it is a weeklong summer Camp Pawprint experience or a school-year day camp, children are encouraged to connect with animals. Youth can volunteer and complete service projects to help animals in need or earn an animal-related Girl or Boy Scout badge. And a birthday party at the shelter is as educational as it is fun. In 2019, DCHS conducted 242 humane education events for 7,000 adults and kids.

Surely Kittleson, A. Baas, E. Baas, Dr. Quinn, and all the people involved in the early years of DCHS would be proud to see how their legacies have grown.

Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.

Photograph by MOD Media Productions

Be sure to go back and read The Introduction article in the March/April issue of Madison Essentials, and watch for the July/August issue, where well highlight the growth of DCHS that led to opening the Pennsylvania Avenue facility in 1965.