“Have you a stray pet or lost animals?” the 1951 ad reads. “Please Notify Mrs. R. M. Price.” A four-digit phone number follows her home address.
My friend Mary, who volunteers at Lawrence’s Watkins Museum, recently brought me a copied collection of newspaper articles she had discovered, all dealing with the history of the Lawrence Humane Society. The first dated to the 1880s; the last one was Aug. 15, 1988.
It seemed particularly appropriate inasmuch as we celebrated our 59th birthday this past Friday, and although this article set was far from complete, it provided an interesting look at the shelter’s beginnings.
Lawrencians in the 1880s, for example, read this article in the Lawrence Daily Journal:
“Marshal Prentice is making the dog ordinance loom. He showed us this noon a receipt book of which nothing was left but the stubs, and told us they represented the number of dogs for which taxes had been paid for the ensuing year. To-day he is canvassing to receive the taxes, and to-morrow he will canvass to shoot all the dogs unlicensed. That’s business.”
Actually, the article went on to say, only those dogs who didn’t belong to anyone would be shot. “There are a large number of worthless curs in the city that should be disposed of, and many valuable dogs that should be checked,” it said.
Doubtless this attitude would have set badly with those Lawrence residents who organized the shelter in 1951 under its original name: the Douglas County Humane Society. An Aug. 15, 1988, article by Lawrence Journal-World staff writer David Toplikar provided an interview with Irene Armstrong, who started the organization with her husband, Raymond. Together, Toplikar wrote, they “provided a shelter for as many as 17 dogs at a time at their former home at 424 Ind.”
Many of the names of those who helped the Armstrongs through the initial difficulties of setting up a shelter are those still known in Lawrence today: Arly Allen, Nancy Boozer, J.A. Burzle, Cora Downs, Rose Greaves, Dr. “Penny” Jones, John McGrew and Jim Postma.
That first year provided the shelter its first real crisis: the great Lawrence flood of 1951. As we still see today, the animals then suffered a great deal, but a Sept. 20 article offered the services of the new shelter:
“The people of the Humane Society of Lawrence are reaching out to help, in whatever practical way they can, the lost animals of the flood, hoping to comfort some of those who have not only lost all the big and the little things of material life which made home precious to them, but also to aid in finding and restoring to their lonely masters and mistresses the still surviving lost four-footed pets.”
Several years later, the shelter was able to purchase four acres on E. 19th Street — the Humane Society’s present location — and its greatest boon came in 1958. At that time, charter members Dr. and Mrs. John Ise provided a $35,000 grant in memory of their son Charles, who had been killed in a plane crash. This donation allowed the shelter to begin construction of its original building.
From 1959 to 1968, Vic and Helen Melton ran the operation, which changed names in 1963 to the Lawrence Humane Society. A 1966 article by Mike Shearer in the Lawrence Outlook noted that at that time, the shelter was “rated the best in the nation as a small shelter by both the American Humane Association and the Humane Society of the United States. It also ranks with both organizations as the best in Kansas and ranks among the top 16 shelters in the nation.”
The Meltons left Lawrence in 1968, and for a brief time the city had no contract with the shelter, but by 1969 the Lawrence Humane Society was going strong. The operation was able to add a new addition in 1979, at which time the staff initiated the spay and neuter subsidy voucher program. In 1986 the 24-hour emergency animal rescue service went into operation.
Ground was broken in 1995 for the building that stands today at 1805 E. 19th St. We named the 11,700 square-foot facility the Charles Ise Memorial Animal Shelter, and the 5,800 square-foot addition constructed in 2000, from which we operate stray animal intake and housing, honors longtime shelter supporter and staff member Linda Watrak. Our 2007 renovations added 1,500 square feet to the building to provide larger holding areas for those dogs and cats waiting to move into the adoption areas.
It’s been a long and varied 59 years, but we’re looking good for our age. Join us in celebrating our history of caring for companion animals, and in looking forward to helping even more pets find forever homes in the years to come.
— Sue Novak is vice president of the board of the Lawrence Humane Society.