Our History

The organizations that came together over time to form today's Animal Humane Society trace their roots back more than 140 years.

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In the early 20s, the League began to see the need for their own shelter. With a generous bequest from Mrs. Charles M. Loring, the Animal Rescue League purchased a five-acre lot in the Village of Golden Valley in 1924, and received a license to build an animal shelter in 1925.

The Florence Barton Loring Animal Shelter was completed in 1926. It included 60 separate runs for dogs, each with its own 30-foot runway. As the shelter expanded its services, it continued to grow. The Florence Barton Loring shelter also boarded dogs for $1 per day. In 1957, it hired its first full-time veterinarian and began its first program for vaccinations against distemper.

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In February 1878, the Minneapolis and Saint Paul branches of the SPCA broke off from the statewide organization. The first St. Paul SPCA office stood at 141 E. Ninth St., pictured here.

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In June 1882, the Minneapolis SPCA, now named the Society for the Prevent of Cruelty to Children and Animals, set up office in the Lumber Exchange building, and hired its first humane agent, Wilbur Tatro. His salary was $250 per year. In 1897, the St. Paul SPCA followed suit, hiring their first humane agent, J.A. Moak.

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The S.P.C.A. was instrumental in placing feed and watering troughs like this one at busy intersections in downtown Minneapolis. They also kept a horse harness and an ambulance to help fallen horses.

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On April 23, 1891, the Minneapolis SPCA officially became the Minneapolis Humane Society. Late that year, it purchased 300 copies of Black Beauty which they sold for fundraising, earning $78.76.

An excerpt from the Minneapolis Humane Society’s first annual report in 1892 shows the kind of work the early organizations focused on.

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For the early part of the 20th century, both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Humane Societies partnered with local police departments to help children who were abused and neglected. They advocated for a new juvenile court system and helped reduce child homelessness. They also aided in cleaning up baby farms, where illegitimate children were born. In this 1914 photo from the Minnesota Historical Archives, children wait in the Humane Society office.

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In the early days, dogs weren’t as loved as they are today. Stray dogs were kept at the city pound near the Mississippi River. Dogs that weren’t claimed after three days were drowned in cages, often up to 10 at time.

The humane societies intervened and created an adoption process, charging a $3 adoption fee per dog. In this photo from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, H.J. McQuade stands with a group of dogs at the original St. Paul shelter on Eva and Morrison Streets.

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In this photo from the 1925 Annual report, an Animal Rescue League employee makes use of the modern sanitary facilities to bathe dogs in the Florence Barton Loring Animal Shelter — an endeavor still undertaken today by our puppy bathing volunteers!

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With a similar need for improved shelter space, the St. Paul Humane Society built a shelter at its current location in 1954. The street leading up to the shelter was named for Miss Beulah Bartlett, who served as the society’s executive secretary and director from 1923 to 1963.

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By 1956, two modern, radio-dispatched trucks patrolled the streets and answered calls from city residents eight hours a day, five days a week. The numbers continued to grow until 1963 when the Animal Rescue League regularly maintained six trucks to serve the growing animal community. In order to better support their new work, the League stopped animal control work in Minneapolis in 1967. This allowed the League to concentrate on acting as humane agents rather than as city representatives.

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Our partnership with WCCO began in 1961 with a weekly feature on the “Treehouse.” The leader of the League’s education programs, Wilma Mae Wakefield or “Miss Willie” is pictured here next to local children’s TV personality Carmen the Nurse (Mary Davies). These initial contacts would evolve into our yearly telethon and bi-monthly Pet of the Week feature.

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In the 1960s, the Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County published a new set of adoption rules for adoptions. It wouldn’t place intact females, animals with a “bad” history or with a man and wife who both work, or allow minors to adopt pets.

Our focus on responsible breeding continues today — all animals at AHS are spayed or neutered prior to adoption. Additionally, we perform more than 8,000 low-cost spay and neuter surgeries every year through our veterinary centers and community outreach programs.

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The first “Be Kind to Animals Week” was celebrated in May of 1915. As part of a national effort to increase the humane education of children, local humane societies held events such as a poster contest to encourage empathy and compassion toward animals. Glenn Matsumoto (standing) and David Rask (sitting) were the 1961 winners of the local contest. More than 2,100 entries were received that year — and the tradition continued well into the 1980s, when Minnesota Governor Al Quie signed a proclamation declaring the first week in May as Be Kind to Animals Week.

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On May 11, 1965 the League officially became the Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County, a name believed to better reflect the organization’s activities. At the same time, ideas around the proper way to house shelter animals were changing. Dogs were mostly housed outside, exposed to Minnesota’s frigid winters and toasty summers.

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The Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County built a new, 25,000-square-foot Animal Care Center, which opened on April 1, 1967. The new building had enough space to hold adoptable animals as well as provide veterinary care needs such as x-ray, surgery, recovery rooms, and even a whelping area for maternity cases.

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The new Golden Valley shelter, touted as being one of the most up-to-date facilities of its kind in the country, featured offices, a large auditorium for education, and adoption areas. Here, one of the humane educators works with Rags the dog to teach children about shelter animals.

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In 1991, the Humane Society of Hennepin County opened an addition that nearly doubled the size of the Animal Care Center. State of the art medical and grooming areas were an integral part of the design. In addition, the building contained a larger adoption area, kennels, a special puppy section, and cat “condos,” as well as a modern administration wing and education center. Private visiting rooms and three outdoor pens made it much easier for people to meet with a potential pet.

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While we now focus almost entirely on companion animals, for years the Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County held an annual horse jumping competition and fundraiser. The inaugural Annual Hunter and Jumper Horse Show was held in June 1970, growing into a five-day event that continued into the 1980s.

Original animal cruelty law, passed in 1871

The original 1871 law that made animal cruelty in Minnesota illegal.

February 2, 1878

The Minneapolis Society for the Prevention of Cruelty (to animals and children) is established. This organization will formally incorporate as the Minneapolis Humane Society in 1891.

February 19, 1878

The St. Paul Society for the Prevention of Cruelty (to animals and children) is established. This organization will  change its name several times over the next century, becoming the St. Paul Humane Society in 1955, the Humane Society of Ramsey County in 1978, and the Humane Society for Companion Animals in 2000.

April 23, 1891

The Minneapolis Society for the Prevention of Cruelty is formally incorporated as the Minneapolis Humane Society. This organization will become the Animal Rescue League in 1916 and Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County in 1965.


Minnesota Cruelty to Animals Law is enacted. Humane societies across Minnesota assist in the enforcement of laws to prevent wrong-doing to animals. The law defines new requirements for the care of pets, companion animals, and service animals.

Outdoor display for Animal Rescue League

An outdoor display promotes the Animal Rescue League and it's first shelter, the city dog pound, at 28th Avenue North and the Mississippi River.

Cute animal photos have always been in style!

Cute animal photos have always been in style! A worker captured this photo of a kitten riding a puppy at the Animal Rescue League shelter in 1925.


The Minneapolis Humane Society becomes the Animal Rescue League. The name change marks the separation of care for children and animals. This name will remains until 1965 when it is changed to The Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County.


The Animal Rescue League's Florence Barton Loring Shelter is built. The finished construction on France Avenue in Golden Valley was made possible through the generous bequest of Florence Barton Loring. The building contained 60 dog kennels, and new technology to remove waste.

St Paul shelter in 1954

The St Paul shelter when it opened in 1954.


Present St. Paul shelter opens. The building will be expanded in 1964, 1978, and 1988.


St. Croix Animal Shelter is founded in Afton. The organization will open a new facility in Woodbury in 1998 and merge with the Ramsey County Humane Society to form the Humane Society for Companion Animals in 2000.


Animal Rescue League forms a relationship with WCCO. Wilma "Miss Willie" Wakefield becomes a weekly feature on the “Treehouse” program, where she informs the public about caring for their pets and being kind to animals.


Animal Rescue League becomes the Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County. The name change better reflects the mission and work of the organization, as well as the changing attitudes of the public.


Animal Humane Society launches its first capital campaign to replace the aging Florence Barton Loring shelter.


The U.S. Animal Welfare Act is put into place. The first federal law in the United States to regulate animal welfare is enacted to protect animals used in testing facilities.

The Golden Valley shelter, circa 1967

The 25,000-square-foot Animal Care Center opened on April 1, 1967, at the same site as the current Golden Valley shelter.


Present Golden Valley shelter opens. The new 25,000-foot shelter featured areas for X-rays, surgery, recovery wards, cheerful adoption spaces and meeting rooms.


Animal Humane Society hosts its Inaugural Walk for Animals. The Walk for Animals brings thousands people together to raise money for animals in need.


Dog fighting is outlawed across the U.S. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands outlaw dog fighting.


The average placement rate for animals in shelters is between 10-15 percent. Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County’s placement rate is 30 percent.


The Humane Society of Wright County is established in Buffalo, Minnesota. It will become the Greater West Metro Humane Society in 2004.


Golden Valley shelter is expanded. The remodel incorporates state of the art medical and grooming areas into the facility and is nearly twice the size of the original building.


Woodbury shelter opens. St. Croix Animal Shelter moves into this building from its original location in Afton.


Inaugural Wine Dinner is held. The first event was known as the “Winemakers Dinner” and included a wine tasting. It was renamed “Wine Dinner” in 2000.


The Humane Society of Ramsey County merges with the St. Croix Animal Shelter in Woodbury to become the Humane Society for Companion Animals.


Animal Humane Society announces plans to acquire and renovate the shuttered North Metro Humane Society shelter in Coon Rapids. North Metro Humane Society was forced to close due to financial problems earlier in the year.


Animal Humane Society opens its renovated and expanded shelter in Coon Rapids. The updated facility is expanded to 10,000 square feet.


Inaugural Whisker Whirl is held.  Although Whisker Whirl has ties to the “Black Tie & Tails Benefit Auction,” which began in 1994, Whisker Whirl got its official start in 2006.


Three Minnesota humane organizations merge. Animal Humane Society, Humane Society for Companion Animals, and West Metro Humane Society merge to create one organization, known as Animal Humane Society.


AHS moves to surrender by appointment. Accepting animals by appointment allows AHS to gather important information about animals and provide resources to their owners, which could potentially help them keep their pets. Better managing how and when animals arrive to the shelter also allows AHS to do more for each individual animal, including finding them a loving new home more quickly.


Kindest Cut is founded in partnership with AHS. The program begins providing low-cost sterilization surgeries for pets of families with limited means through a mobile clinic. Kindest Cut begins a partnership with Leech Lake Legacy to provide low cost spay/neuter services to the pets of Leech Lake Reservation residents.


Melrose Clinic opens at Golden Valley AHS location. The brick-and-mortar location allows Kindest Cut to provide additional services to more animals including wellness and dental services.


Feral Cat Colony Ordinance passes. Minneapolis allows for feral cat colonies as long as caretakers register with an approved non-profit group, like AHS. Caretakers are responsible for feeding, care, and health of the cats.


Minnesota Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation Bill passes. The new law creates licensing and inspection requirements for commercial breeding facilities to enhance the care and safety of animals.


AHS placement rate tops 90 percent for the first time. AHS’s annual placement rate reaches 91.2 percent, a record number of placements of animals in our care.


Kindest Cut is integrated into the operations of Animal Humane Society. The program performs its 50,000th spay/neuter surgery.


AHS reaches a record placement at 96.6 percent, and a record number of animals adopted (20,062). Buffalo shelter closes on Nov. 1, 2017.


AHS completes construction of a dog habitat prototype and begins testing the new space. The goal is to create group housing for dogs that can be replicated, reducing stress and improving quality of life for our canine friends living in shelters.


AHS announces that its St. Paul shelter will not reopen after closing due to COVID-19. The changes required to make that facility safe and functional under COVID-19 restrictions were not feasible given the building’s remaining useful life.

AHS opens brand new, full-service public veterinary clinic on University Avenue in St. Paul. The new clinic opened its doors to patients on September 1, 2020.