Carrying on her legacy

Women’s Humane Society celebrates its 149th anniversary with special fundraising event April 14

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Paw power: On April 14, Women’s Humane Society will celebrate its 149th anniversary. Founded by the pioneering Caroline Earle White, the shelter’s mission is to treat all animals with kindness until they find forever homes. Source: Women’s Humane Society

The year was 1869, and a small group of women in their Sunday best stood on the streets of Philadelphia, large water-filled pails in hand. They wanted to make sure the city’s horses were hydrated after a daunting day of pulling carriages through the cramped streets. At this time, most of society didn’t view animals as deserving of kindness and care. They were exclusively for industrial purposes, and inhumane treatment was commonplace. That is, until these ladies came along.

Led by the pioneering Caroline Earle White, this group founded the Women’s Humane Society, the country’s first animal shelter. Originally situated in Philadelphia, it moved to Bensalem in 1994, and has been thriving there ever since. On Saturday, April 14, the shelter will celebrate its 149th anniversary with a special fundraising event at its 3839 Richlieu Road location. The public is invited from 7 to 10 p.m. to learn about Earle White’s legacy, the shelter’s expansive services, and of course, mingle with some furry friends available for adoption.

The Times sat down with Women’s Humane Society CEO Catherine Malkemes, who explained in-depth how the shelter continues to uphold the mission of its founder almost a century and a half later. First and foremost is the daily practice of Earle White’s belief that all animals should be treated with kindness. Just as she helped the horses of Philadelphia stay hydrated, even erecting 35 drinking fountains throughout the city, the shelter makes sure its animals are comfortable until they find forever homes.

“Life in a shelter can be hard,” Malkemes explained.

Foreign noises, strange people and limited space can be a stressful experience for any animal, especially new arrivals. To make them feel more at ease, WHS practices a number of initiatives. In the dog kennels, a calming music is played that Malkemes said is clinically proven to reduce stress in animals. Each dog is also part of the Shelter Dog All Stars, an in-house obedience training program that awards them with treats for good behavior. As for the shelter’s feline friends, they reside in “cat condos,” which have miniature balconies built into them. According to Malkemes, when a cat is elevated, its risk of respiratory infection is significantly reduced.

WHS was recently accepted into the fall class of the Cat Pawsitive program, an initiative created by Jackson Galaxy of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell. Through clicker training that positively reinforces good behaviors, a volunteer or staff member can reduce the stresses of living in a shelter that might keep a cat from connecting with an adopter. Too often, a shy cat hiding in the corner under a blanket is passed over for a more outgoing one. Malkemes hopes this training will get the cats out of their shells and into loving homes.

A large portion of Women’s Humane Society’s efforts revolve around education, especially of children. In 1874, Earle White enlisted the help of a group of kids she called the Band of Mercy. As members of the first formal animal education program in the country, they were taught the importance of treating animals with kindness. For Earle White, education was the best weapon to combat animal abuse.

Her passion for instilling this lesson in the country’s youth continues today. Over the past few months, a number of local schools have gotten involved in helping WHS’ animals find homes. On a large cork board in the main hallway are dozens of persuasive essays written by Albert Schweitzer Elementary students in the voices of the animals, who are explaining why they should be adopted.

During the week, schools are invited to partake in Story Tales, a program that allows students to read to animals at the shelter. Not only do the animals get to interact with humans excited to pet and play with them, but the kids are able to practice their reading skills on a non-judgmental audience.

“We’re keeping the future generations involved in animal welfare,” Malkemes said.

Attached to the main shelter is WHS’ hospital, which boasts state-of-the-art X-ray equipment and top-notch veterinarians. In December 2016, it became certified by the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), one of the only nonprofits to receive this accreditation. The hospital offers preventative care such as spaying and neutering, which Malkemes explained helps decrease the number of homeless animals.

On-site, WHS staff provides dental care, vaccinations and prescribes and fills medications, all for what Malkemes said is an affordable cost. As Earles White intended, WHS works with owners so they don’t have to give up their companion due to a high medical bill. Last year, the hospital treated 10,000 animals while the shelter housed 3,000. These numbers are a testament to the work put forth by more than 100 volunteers as well as the WHS board of directors, which is comprised entirely of women. While the shelter does have a number of male volunteers, Malkemes said WHS’ rich history in female leadership is one of the key aspects that sets it apart.

“It shows what can happen when women come together to make a difference,” she said. ••

If you go…

The Women’s Humane Society 149th anniversary celebration will take place Saturday, April 14, from 7 to 10 p.m. at 3839 Richlieu Road in Bensalem. Cost is $75 and includes food, beverages, a tour of the shelter and entertainment by local band Looseleaf. Proceeds benefit the shelter. For information, visit womenshumanesociety.org or call 215–942–6825.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com