A Brief History of spcaLA

On November 13, 1877, the voice for the voiceless emerged when six Angelenos formed Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, acting with inspiration from the founder of the spca movement, Henry Bergh.

Two newspapermen (James J. Ayers and Jesse Yarnell), two prominent physicians (Walter Lindley and D.B. Hoffman), a respected attorney (P.W. Dooner) and a financier (B.H. Upham) originally incorporated the Society to prevent cruelty to animals, women, and children.

Black and white photo of horse pulled ambulance with three men sitting in the carriage

The first spcaLA horse ambulance

1877 to 1913: Foundation

spcaLA appoints humane officers, often working at no pay, to enforce California’s first law to protect animals and children from abuse (passed in 1874). spcaLA officers and board members seek to criminalize 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 animal abusers; to better the plight of beasts of burden; and to educate the public about proper animal handling and welfare. Board meetings are held at the old Tajo building in DTLA, and seized animals are often sheltered at board members’ homes.

William S. Hart, silent film star, makes spcaLA the first organization to own a horse ambulance, that was not drawn by animals.

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

1914 to 1970s: Expansion

1914: spcaLA opens our first permanent shelter, the “San Pedro Street Station,” in Downtown Los Angeles.

1932: spcaLA opens the “Grand Hotel” shelter for pets on 11th Avenue.

1930s: spcaLA provides free veterinary clinics for those affected by the Great Depression.

1947: spcaLA forms The Southern California Humane Society and operates shelters in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Long Beach.

1949: spcaLA’s Friend for Life, Betty White, begins volunteering by bringing adoptable pets on her television show, Hollywood on Television.

1949: spcaLA opens the Jefferson Boulevard Shelter (5026 W Jefferson Blvd), featuring administrative offices, piped organ music and a state-of-the art “Dog Bar,” a first-of-its-kind dog drinking fountain. Alexander Tilley, Manager of spcaLA at the time, remarked to the Detroit Free Press (Oct 1949), “We play the tunes to cut down on barking and howling… we tried jazz but that stuff just made them irritable…so now we play them old-time favorites like ‘Sidewalks of New York’ and ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’.”

1949: spcaLA opens the spcaLA South Bay Pet Adoption Center (12910 Yukon Ave) in Hawthorne, boasting a cattery, germicidal lamps, running water, folding beds, and a special diet kitchen.

1940-50s: spcaLA creates LA’s first Lost Dog Bureau and Antivivisection League.

1952: spcaLA opens the South Gate Shelter (9330 South Garfield Ave).

1958: spcaLA celebrates its 80th anniversary with a grand re-opening the South Bay Pet Adoption Center in Hawthorne – reconstructed and remodeled to serve the needs of the community – and featuring radiant heating, skylights, separate rooms for cats and kittens, as well as a special area for puppies, outdoor exercise runs, and segregation kennels for sick animals. The same year, spcaLA opens the Laguna Shelter with facilities for livestock (20612 Laguna Canyon Rd).

1970s: spcaLA operates a pet cemetery in Calabasas.

5026 W Jefferson Blvd

1980s to Present: Innovation

1980s: spcaLA is the first organization to require pets be spayed or neutered prior to adoption (ahead of any law).

1986: spcaLA begins the Animal Assisted Therapy volunteer program, a program of the newly formalized Volunteer program (Violence Prevention & Humane Education and Fund Development Departments are also formalized at this time).

1987: spcaLA Board of Directors member, Betty Denny Smith, proposes and creates the Coalition for Pet Population Control, a coalition comprised all the animal control and private animal welfare agencies in greater Los Angeles, aimed at increasing public awareness about and access to spay/neuter. The same year, spcaLA offers $10,000 in spay/neuter subsidies through the Have A Heart program.

1990s: spcaLA opens and operates a number of Pet Adoption Centers, located in donated/discounted retail space in area shopping centers throughout greater Los Angeles. The first of which was located at 7th & Fig in Downtown Los Angeles.

1994: spcaLA creates Teaching Love and Compassion (TLC)™ our international violence-prevention program. 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. spcaLA further expands TLC’s footprint, by offering a TLC manual – used to implement the program at humane agencies worldwide.

1995: spcaLA formalizes our disaster relief program, forming the Disaster Animal Response Team (DART)™ to provide rescue, temporary shelter and front-line veterinary care for animals. The team responds to call for aid locally, nationally, and internationally. Deployments include the 2009 Station and the 2018 Woolsey fires, Hurricanes Rita, Katrina, Ike, and Harvey, as well as the Indian Ocean Tsunami, among others.

1997: The Helping Enhance Animals’ Lives (HEAL)™ program is formed, wherein 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.

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

2000: spcaLA begins offering basic obedience classes for owned animals. Today, spcaLA offers obedience, fun nose work, agility, private, and a variety of specialty classes at locations throughout Los Angeles County.

2001: Together with the City of Long Beach leaders, spcaLA brought forward Southern California’s first public-private partnership in animal welfare: the PD Pitchford Companion Animal Village and Education Center situated on 6.5 acres in Long Beach’s El Dorado Park. Now often duplicated, the Village fully integrates spcaLA, Long Beach Animal Care Services (LBACS), and all major program functions into one complex. It revolutionized the way shelters are designed and managed, setting a replicable benchmark in cost-effective, life-preserving care for abandoned and abused animals.

2004: spcaLA begins offering spcaLA Friends for Life Camp, a summer day camp for youth who wish to participate in animal-related games, crafts, and activities while learning about helping shelter pets.

2006: spcaLA breaks ground on Phase II of the Village. spcaLA fundraised for and built catteries for stray and feral cats in the care of LBACS. 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. The spcaLA Pet Hotel & Grooming Salon closes in 2020, due to the global pandemic and its accompanying economic instability.

2007: spcaLA works with then-State Senator Sheila Kuehl and other humane advocates to make California the fourth state in the nation to permit companion animals to be added to restraining orders in cases of domestic violence.

2008: At the height of the Great Recession, spcaLA re-purposes the Jefferson Boulevard shelter as a spay/neuter center, offering affordable, reliable spay/neuter services and vaccinations to the surrounding community (the Center closed in 2012).

2009: spcaLA launches 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, thus putting “puppy mills” out of business for lack of clients.

2011: spcaLA launches an offshoot of our award-winning TLC program: spcaLA Court Diversion Program for Youth, an animal-assisted intervention program specifically made for justice system-involved youth referred by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and other juvenile justice professionals.

2014: spcaLA opens California’s first PetSmart Charities® Everyday Adoption Center. Located inside the Pico Rivera PetSmart store, spcaLA adopts 1,478 shelter pets to the Pico Rivera community before closing the Center in 2018.

2015: spcaLA launches its Humane Education Elective Program (EP). The first of its kind in California, the EP brings humane education principles to the classroom at school districts in Southern California.

2015: Following a series of high-profile incidents involving law enforcement officers and family pets, spcaLA launches the Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement course. POST-certified, the course provides offices the tools necessary to determine when and if force is necessary; how to read dog behavior correctly; and how to diffuse a difficult situation involving dogs.

2017: spcaLA launches an education‐based component of Animal Safety Net (ASN) in order to expand its reach and deepen its impact within domestic violence (DV) support services. ASN Youth and Families offers animal-assisted programming for DV-affected families, in partnership with local domestic violence agencies. Further, for the first time since the program’s inception in 1998, spcaLA offers ASN to humane organizations, prosecuting attorneys, and domestic violence professionals as a free, downloadable manual.

2019: 70 years after the grand opening of the Jefferson Boulevard shelter, spcaLA re-opened the facility as the spcaLA Pet Adoption Center in the July of 2019.

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

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.