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A Historical Perspective of Cat Welfare in the United States
Cats as Wildlife Cats as Property Cats as Companions
Animal Shelters
Animal Control
No-Kill Movement
Cats as "Family"

1866. The ASPCA was formed marking the beginning of the Humane Movement in the United States.

1866.  First anti-cruelty law passed in New York.

1877.  American Humane Society was formed to prevent cruelty to animals and children.

1957.  Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was formed — now the largest U.S. humane organization.

1900.  Local organizations (modeled and named after the national ASPCA and American Humane Society) expanded their mission to include the sheltering if dogs and to a lesser degree cats.

Their buildings were designed for holding dogs assuming a quick turnover — with the dogs being returned to their owners, adopted out or killed within a week or so of being admitted.

A surprising number of these holding shelters are still in use today.

The majority of the animals in these traditional shelters were euthanized — passive adoption programs placed only a small fraction of their intake.

1940.  To stop the spread of rabies from free-roaming dogs, state legislatures mandated that local governments provide Animal Control services.

Only dogs with homes were allowed to live and they were required to be licensed and vaccinated for rabies.

Some municipalities set up their own shelters — others contracted out the "catch & kill" function to local ASPCAs and Humane Societies.  Stray cats were also destroyed despite not being a rabies threat.

1950.  Feral dogs (and rabies) were virtually eliminated, but the "catch & kill" treatment of homeless cats and dogs continued.

In the contect of "animals as property", this approach made sense — but the relationship of cats and dogs to people had begun to evolve to that of companions — and the public began questioning the euthanasia practice, leading to the beginning of the no-kill movement.

1944.  North Shore Animal League was formed — first major shelter to break from the Animal Control model — rescuing animals from animal control shelters and making a lifelong commitment to all cats and dogs they sheltered

1960.  Small, informal "no-kill" rescues began forming to keep cats and dogs of "kill" shelters.

1969  State laws started requiring shelters ensure all cats and dogs they adopt out were sterilized.  This was very effective in containing dog populations, but not as effective for cats because of the large numbers of free-roaming outdoor cats that were not included in the mandate and continued to reproduce.

19980.  Best Friends opened in Utah — the largest no-kill shelter in the U.S. housing about 1500 cats and dogs while still turning away over 23,000 each year.


San Francisco SPCA became the first major animal control shelter to trasition to "no-kill" — many others followed.

1990  Alley Cat Allies formed to promote the sterilization of free-roaming cats — previously only pet cat sterilization was promoted.

1999  Maricopa County, AZ, became the first government-run shelter to transition to no-kill.

1947  Ed Lowe began marketing "kitty litter" enabling the transistion of cats from yard pets to indoor pets.  With an indoor litter box, cats no longer required outdoor access.  This made them ideally suited to live a human companions — in houses, apartments and mobile homes.

1970  Shelters began mandating that cats be kept as indoor-only pets.  Because they also required sterilization, keeping them indoors was practical as they no longer were spraying, yowling and kittening.

1983  Tenants in federally-assisted housing for the elderly or handicapped are allowed by law to have pets.

1985  New Jersey started the first tax-subsidized spay/neuter program recognizing pet sterilization as a community responsibility.

1992  Illinois study of the elderly found one-third had pets and 86% of them said that dictated where they lived.

2011  A Harris Research study found 62% of Americans had pets and 91% of them considered the pet to be a family member.

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