A Brief History of spcaLA

spcaLA was founded on November 13, 1877 and is the first organization to promote animal welfare in Southern California. Originally chartered to end the abuse of horses used in travel, the organization expanded to include child abuse cases and then pet abuse cases. spcaLA is an independent animal welfare 501(c)(3) charity, not affiliated with any other “SPCA” or humane society. There is no national SPCA, parent organization or umbrella group that provides support, nor does spcaLA receive any government funding.


Silent film star, William S. Hart, donates spcaLA’s first gas-powered horse ambulance

Progressive even in the beginning, spcaLA officers and board members sought to end cock-fighting and dog-fighting; to replace live pigeons with clay disks at annual skeet shooting tournaments; to pass a law against “indiscriminate vivisection;” to shelter animals; to bring charges against animals abusers; to better the plight of beasts of burden; and to educate the public about proper animal handling and welfare.

A drinking fountain for horses & humans

A drinking fountain for horses & humans

spcaLA appointed humane officers, often working at no pay, to enforce California’s first law to protect animals and children from abuse (passed in 1874). These first humane officers were the predecessors of spcaLA’s Humane Officers, laying the groundwork for what would become one of the most highly-trained, sophisticated groups of humane officers in the country.

After years of board meetings at the local YMCA, and staff often sheltering animals in their homes, spcaLA moved to a “proper” shelter at 1312 South San Pedro Street in 1914. Being the first organization to have a horse-ambulance in Los Angeles, demands on the new shelter were many. As the years progressed at the San Pedro Street “Station,” spcaLA watched the rough city of Los Angeles give way to the tinsel town of today.

To keep up with Los Angeles’ booming population, spcaLA moved its headquarters to 3612 11th Avenue in 1932. Focused on improving the human-animal bond and adoptability of pets in their care, the new facility was billed as the “Grand Hotel” for pets, visitors to the shelter found themselves in what “virtually amounted to a canine hotel or club, among cheerful dog friends and humane attendants .” As the nation found itself in the grips of the Great Depression, spcaLA worked with local veterinarians to offer a free clinic for those people who could not afford to give their pets medical treatment. Relying solely on the support of the community, spcaLA continued to protect animals and sought to end cruel practices, such as bullfighting in visiting rodeos.

Demands on the 11th Avenue shelter were great, as leash laws were late in coming in Los Angeles, the spay/neuter movement was yet to begin, and several serious outbreaks of rabies affected Angelino dogs in the 30s and 40s. In 1947, the spcaLA board formed The Southern California Humane Society and opened another shelter in South Gate. Running two shelters, spcaLA was better equipped to help the boomtown of Los Angeles.

The front-runner in animal welfare, spcaLA continued to improve the lives of both people and animals. spcaLA started Los Angeles’ first Lost Dog Bureau, participated in the Anti-Vivisection League, and brought suit against an area pound whose practices were less than humane. As the work of spcaLA expanded, it became evident the 11th Avenue Shelter was no longer sufficient.


5026 W Jefferson Blvd

In 1949, spcaLA moved its headquarters to 5026 W Jefferson Boulevard. The most modern facility yet, the Jefferson Shelter boasted a cattery, administrative offices, organ music, the latest sanitary improvements, and a state-of-the-art “Dog Bar,” a first-of-its-kind dog drinking fountain.

The growth of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, coupled with the growing support of spcaLA, gave rise to more shelters being built and operated by spcaLA. By 1958, spcaLA had opened the South Bay Shelter in Hawthorne and the Laguna Shelter (which accommodated livestock).

As spcaLA’s centennial anniversary approached, the focus was again expansion and improvements. With the combined support of the community, and the star power of animal advocates like Betty White, additions were made to the Jefferson Shelter, and both the South Gate and South Bay Shelters were enlarged and remodeled. In the 1970s, spcaLA operated a pet cemetery in Calabasas on land willed to the Society.

The 1980s gave rise to formalized Humane Education, Volunteer and Fund Development Departments, though these concepts were nothing new to the Society. spcaLA had been educating the public since its inception, handing out “Bands of Mercy” humane education pamphlets as early as 1899.


spcaLA’s Friends for Life Camp™

Still a ground-breaker in animal welfare, the Society was the first in Southern California to require dogs and cats be spayed or neutered before being adopted.

Working under the newly-formed Volunteer Department, spcaLA began the Animal Assisted Therapy program in 1986, with the goal of promoting the human-animal bond, and enriching the physical and psychological well-being of people confined to hospitals and other institutions.

After the Southland was devastated by the LA riots of 1992 and the Northridge earthquake of 1995, spcaLA formed the Disaster Animal Response Team (DART)™. DART™ is a mobile command post which helps provide front-line medical care and temporary shelter for animals in disasters. The team handles all kinds of disaster situations—from California wildfires (like the 2007 San Diego and Malibu fires) to national disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

DART members in Houston, TX

DART members in Houston, TX

Focused on preventing violence from the very beginning, spcaLA created the international violence-prevention program, Teaching Love and Compassion (TLC)™ in 1994. The curriculum of TLC™ focuses on anger management and the mastering of violence prevention tools. It is designed to assist adolescents from at-risk communities in an effort to end the cycle of violence.

In 1997, spcaLA decided a dedicated corps of individuals could do more than feed, walk and offer companionship to animals, and the Helping Enhance Animals’ Lives (HEAL)™ program was formed. Through HEAL™, the spcaLA Animal Behavior and Training Department works with shelter staff and volunteers, enabling them to teach shelter pets basic obedience and manners, in addition to other enrichment activities.

Realizing that victims of domestic violence often refuse to leave their homes out of fear for the safety of their pets, spcaLA began the Animal Safety Net (ASN) in 1998. ASN provides safe haven for the pets of domestic violence survivors so they may leave a dangerous situation.

spcaLA soon realized its mission would be better accomplished with the addition of another shelter to serve Southern California. The administration was determined once again to create something unique, and with inspiration from Masterfood USA’s Waltham Centre in England, spcaLA opened phase one of the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village and Education Center (the Village) in August, 2001.


Phil Pitchford presents Betty White & Madeline Bernstein with a check to build the Village

The first of its kind in the country, phase one of the Village boasts two open cat colonies with verandas, cottages for both stray and adoptable dogs, special glass-enclosed display areas for kittens and other small animals, special resin flooring (to reduce disease transmission) and many more new amenities. spcaLA holds a unique agreement with the city of Long Beach which enables the Animal Control Department to reside at the Village. This allows animals held by Long Beach Animal Control to be adopted through spcaLA, instead of the city, after their respective holding periods.

In 2007, spcaLA opened phase two of the Village. Phase two offers catteries for stray cats—often our most delicate population—that feature natural light, resin flooring and plenty of fresh air. The catteries help to make the transition to adoptions less stressful for the cats. Additionally, phase two boasts an expanded spcaLA marketplace and the spcaLA Pet Hotel and Grooming Salon.

spcaLA animal care attendant with dog

spcaLA animal care attendant with dog

From 2008 to 2012, spcaLA operated a spay/neuter center at the Jefferson Blvd shelter. Today, spcaLA offers spay/neuter, vaccines and other services during special events at the facility.

In 2009, spcaLA launched the inaugural Air Chihuahua™ flight. Air Chihuahua™ matches Southern California’s overwhelming supply of Chihuahuas and other small dogs with the demand for them in other parts of North America. The program allows for spcaLA pups to be adopted in a few days, rather than a few months, while at the same time reducing the demand for “Puppy Mill” dogs in other areas.

In 2011, spcaLA, in cooperation with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, launched an offshoot of our award-winning TLC™ program, aimed at juvenile offenders. spcaLA’s Court Diversion Program for Youth is a two-day, court-mandated course – a condition of probation for some juvenile offenders in Los Angeles county. Kids are paired with shelter dogs and offered intensive sessions designed to help youth from at-risk communities identify and break the cycle of violence.

spcaLA will continue to provide legal, moral and ethical consideration and protection to animals, as they are living things beyond economic measurement. spcaLA will not abandon its mission as long as animals are in need of an advocate.