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A legacy 110 years in the making

If we hop in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback machine to Sept. 8, 1910, we’d learn that William Howard Taft was the President of the United States, Mary and John were the most popular baby names, and the Denver Dumb Friends League was incorporated under the laws of Colorado.

That’s right. Nearly 110 years ago, Mrs. Jean Milne Gower founded the League after learning about a similar organization in London, which she visited and sought advice to start an animal shelter here.

The motivation for incorporating likely stemmed from negotiations with city authorities to take over the city dog pound, an arrangement that became effective on Sept. 1, 1910. According to a 1911 newspaper article, the League was picking up stray dogs in Denver and housing them in Edgewater, but the city of Edgewater took the League to court for disturbing the peace, and the shelter had to move.

In 1912, the League contracted with a well-known and reputable boarding-kennel owner to run our first shelter in downtown Denver until 1920. At that time, a new facility was built on 11 lots at South Santa Fe Drive and Louisiana Street. As the incoming animal population grew, so did our need for space, and a larger shelter was built at the same site and opened in 1949. But, by 1972, this shelter was inadequate to handle its burgeoning population, and the League purchased 20 acres near Quebec Street and Evans. With construction completed in 1974, the new shelter opened, and the League still operates from this location today.

Those familiar with the League back in 1983 might recall cat and small dog adoptions through our Lakewood satellite facility. The League accepted an offer from the Animal Assistance Foundation for rent-free use of its Lucky Star Cat Shelter, and in the 1990s, the shelter evolved into an extended care center for animals recovering from illness or injury before closing in 2003.

To meet the growing demand for animal welfare back in metro Denver, in 1986 and 1999, the League expanded the Quebec Street Shelter, which is now the Leslie A. Malone Center. As part of the League’s first major capital campaign in 1999, a new shelter for Douglas County was built, and in 2002, the Buddy Center opened in Castle Rock.

Throughout the metro Denver community, the Dumb Friends League is a familiar name. Perhaps lesser-known but as critical to the welfare of animals throughout the state is the Colorado Humane Society (CHS), a program of the League. Since 2010, CHS works to prevent and investigate cases of animal neglect and mistreatment and promote animal welfare throughout Colorado, giving pets and equines a second chance.

Abused and neglected horses, ponies, donkeys and mules that have been removed from their owners by law enforcement officials were able to find the rehabilitation, care, training and new loving homes they needed when the Dumb Friends League Harmony Equine Center opened in Franktown in 2012.

The year 2017 was a big one for the League. The Dumb Friends League Solutions – Cat Spay/Neuter Clinic opened in Denver to provide free spay/neuter surgeries for all cats to reduce pet overpopulation. And, we embarked on a major renovation and construction project at the Leslie A. Malone Center. The $40 million Building a Better Way Home project and capital campaign upgrades the oldest and most heavily used parts of the facility while expanding and enhancing other critical areas of the shelter. When completed, the new, state-of-the- art shelter will provide the architecture and infrastructure to exponentially increase our collective impact on animal care, treatment and well being for years to come.

As history shows, the League has always had its pulse on animal welfare needs. When the demand for veterinary services to underserved pets increased dramatically, the organization was ready to help. In 2018, the Dumb Friends League Solutions – Veterinary Hospital opened in Denver to prevent and alleviate suffering in pets whose caretakers would otherwise be unable to provide this care.

The Dumb Friends League is poised to build on the legacy of its organization’s strengths and commitment to end pet homelessness and animal suffering. We’re proud of our history, community and the good we all do together.

What’s in a name?

When our organization was founded in 1910, it was named after an animal shelter in London, England, called Our Dumb Friends League. Back then, the term “dumb” was often used to refer to those who were unable to speak. While language has evolved over the past 110 years, and “dumb” is not generally used with that meaning today, we’ve kept our name because it has significant recognition in Colorado, and it represents our commitment to provide a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Because we’re so well known, we believe changing our name could put animals at risk. People who know us by reputation might have trouble finding us under a different name—whether they want to report animal mistreatment, or they’ve found an injured pet that needs our help, or they want to adopt a pet, they need to be able to find us quickly. Also, because we rely on donations and not government support, it’s crucial that people who want to contribute don’t get distracted by having to look for us under a different name. Lastly, we do a lot of advocacy work at the state capitol. Our name and reputation serve us well when we are working to benefit Colorado’s animals through pet-friendly legislation.

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