Dane County Humane Society Centennial Celebration: The Shelter

Photo by Capital Times

“Dedicated to all things helpless and to the noble cause which aims to make the way easier for them—such is Dane County Humane Society.” — Ida Kittleson in 1926, five years into her three decades plus as president.

When Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) began, stray and unwanted pets were kept by volunteers (like Kittleson) in their homes until suitable owners could be found, and later handled in quarters provided by local veterinarians. DCHS operated several temporary shelters in its early years, including one at 426 S. Park Street for a decade.

As DCHS approached the 25th anniversary of its incorporation, the board sought an appropriate location for a permanent shelter. While they leased the Park Street facility for the shelter, the DCHS office was downtown. Then the need became critical when the shelter suffered its second fire in three weeks on February 1, 1945.

There’s an important side note to this fire. The first person to reach the fire was 15-year-old Darrell Swetmore, whose home adjoined the shelter. He was housing homeless pets in his basement after the first fire on January 10. The Capital Times reported that Swetmore disregarded police orders against entering the building, forcing his way in through a rear shed to release dogs that were dangerously near the flames. Fourteen dogs were saved.

In March 1945, DCHS board members sought a new shelter location near the Vilas Zoo. They wanted a new building that would attract public attention and accommodate offices and educational programs. Unfortunately, the area was zoned residential, and Madison’s Plan Commission only permitted pet shelters in commercial or light industrial areas. Making a difficult situation worse, in November 1945, the Park Street shelter was closed and quarantined for a week by the state veterinarian because several animals had distemper. The shelter was fumigated, the infected animals removed, and the shelter reopened.

A rendering of a new DCHS shelter and headquarters was published in its January 1946 annual report: “To be true to its boast as one of the nation’s most beautiful, most attractive cities, Madison must have as a home for its Humane Society … a building which in utility and attractiveness measures up to the high standards which our city has set for itself for kindred activities.”

Then in September, DCHS requested a zoning change from residential to commercial from the County Board Zoning Committee for a parcel in the town of Madison. The land was off Fish Hatchery Road just north of the North Western railroad tracks (today’s Cannonball Path). Area residents, along with members of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Arboretum Committee, including Aldo Leopold, signed a petition protesting the zoning change. The Arboretum group explained that the UW hoped to expand the arboretum to include the area in question. The DCHS request was denied.

DCHS continued leasing the Park Street location for several more years under protest. In August 1948, a petition signed by 53 area residents was filed with Wisconsin’s attorney general and Dane County’s district attorney asking that the shelter be removed by court action as a public nuisance because a stench emanated from the shelter. Harold Wilcox, Dane County’s humane officer, declared, “That may have been true several years ago when there was only a shelter keeper, but it has not been true since the society employed a full-time veterinarian two years ago. The shelter is disinfected every morning, and the exercise run for the dogs out-of-doors is also disinfected and washed every morning.”

Wilcox noted that DCHS spent $600 for a new fence, gravel floor for the exercise run, and the cages were painted white inside once a month. And while the shelter’s capacity was for 30 dogs, they only averaged 8 to 10 at a time. Wilcox added that DCHS had been negotiating for new locations for several months. Then less than a year after the complaint, DCHS moved to the Candlin Pet Hospital at 702 W. Wingra Drive, a facility owned by Dr. Paul Candlin, DCHS first veterinarian. The shelter remained there for more than 15 years.

In early 1965, DCHS announced that a permanent shelter and office would be built at 2250 Pennsylvania Avenue. A sketch by Madison-based architectural firm Krueger, Kraft & Associates was published in local newspapers, and then DCHS bylaws were changed to conform with IRS regulations to allow tax-exempt donations for a building campaign. The new building would provide space for 150 adult dogs, separate rooms for kittens and puppies, an area for preliminary examinations of rabid animals, and an educational section for teaching school children about the care and training of animals. And the medical needs of animals would be served by a rotating panel of four veterinarian members of the Dane County Veterinarians Medical Association.

Fundraising for the $50,000 needed began, starting off with an anonymous $5,000 gift from a Madison donor. Alexius Baas, DCHS education director and a columnist for The Capital Times, wrote regularly about the new facility needs, encouraging public contributions. By the end of June, a little more than $15,000 had been raised.

Seeking funds, DCHS representatives also contacted Dane County village and town boards. The Dane County Board passed a September 1965 resolution to contribute $5,000; the City of Madison followed with $4,000; the village of Shorewood Hills gave $750; and a variety of groups and associations kicked in, including Dane County Veterinarians Association ($50), Sun Prairie Jaycees ($44), Shorewood Hills Garden Club ($25), and UW surgeons ($200). Groundbreaking occurred on August 6, 1965. The new facility, a one-story stone-and-concrete structure, opened to the public on December 30, 1965, and animals at the Candlin Pet Hospital were moved to the new shelter the next day. A week later, at the DCHS annual meeting, it was reported that $56,185 had been raised.

It didn’t take long for DCHS to outgrow the Pennsylvania Avenue facility. They cared for 4,200 animals in 1966, 6,800 in 1967, and more than 8,000 in 1968. So in January 1969, construction began on an addition. The entire project—additional land, construction, equipment, and a parking lot—would cost approximately $64,000. More than $15,000 remained from the previous building campaign, and a fundraising goal of $50,000 was set again.

DCHS had gained the confidence of the community. Contributions to the building campaign came quickly, and the addition was completed in May 1969, giving DCHS a facility twice the original size.

Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.

Photograph by MOD Media Productions

If you missed them, be sure to read “The Introduction” article from Madison Essential’s March/April issue and “The Beginning” article from the May/June issue in the archives at madisonessentials.com . And watch for the September/October issue, where we will feature innovations and the need for today’s Voges Road facility.