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History of the Atlanta Humane Society



Since we first opened our doors more than 148 years ago, we have always had the same core passion of fighting for our city’s most vulnerable and defenseless.


Historic photo of an animal rescue vehicle

The Atlanta Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Inc. was founded with a focus on women, children, and animals by Captain Joseph Burke and a group of his friends. We remained a child protection and animal welfare society for 79 years. As companion animals became more common, our services grew to match their needs and the needs of their families with an emphasis on animal-related concerns and advocacy.


B.B. Watkins helped track down and convict people whom Atlanta Humane believed to have mistreated animals. The Atlanta Constitution reported on February 1891 that a man named Neal Wilson was offered the choice of a fine of $50 or 6 months working on a chain gang for hitting a mule on the head and bringing it to the ground.


Reported prosecuting five cases of cruelty to animals, investigated and assisted in 261 cases of neglect, helped remove 59 disabled animals from being used as working animals, and carried seven horses in a new veterinary ambulance for treatment. Distributed 20,000 pamphlets on humane care for animals.


Organized a parade featuring work horses of Atlanta. In these years, Atlanta Humane promoted the use of animals in transportation and agriculture—as long as they were treated with dignity and humanity. The care of horses was a huge part of Atlanta Humane’s focus during the early 1900’s , and horses were viewed as necessary support to humanity, but ones who needed to be treated well, not subjected to abuse.


Continued work pushing through laws including outlawing the use of heavy whips on all animals, discouraging giving small chicks as presents as Easter, and encouraging the use of drinking fountains for animals throughout the city when many dogs were being killed on suspicion of having rabies, but were likely just thirsty.


J.P. Stevens, an Atlanta jeweler, donated a lot of land at 105 Marietta Street to Atlanta Humane to build a shelter location.

Atlanta Humane began to speak out again more loudly on cruelty to human issues including petitioning against the flogging of prisoners stating, “It is a barbarous practice . . . inhumane, inhuman, savage, demoralizing alike to the prisoner who falls under lash and the ‘whipping boss,’ as he is designated in the official prison rules, who administers it.” Not all members of the prison committee agreed, but the council approved the measure to abolish whipping for women by a bare majority, and began studies to examine if whipping of men could be abolished.

Women began to be more prominent figures at Atlanta Humane, hosting meetings to discuss about issues of the time, while men held many of the prominent leadership roles.



Acquired the first ambulance for dogs in the south to help quickly transport injured dogs to veterinarians.

1924 First Dog Ambulance


Moved onto a property at 10th and Howell Mill. This shelter began as a house with wooden pens built into the yards and wire cages on the back porch and basement for sick dogs. As Atlantans left legacies and made donations, the wooden kennels were replaced with metal pens and fencing was put around a cement floor. Thanks to Mrs. Elizabeth Armstrong, a concrete building was placed years later on this property to house animals.


Provided a free veterinary clinic to pet parents at 1035 Marietta Street. If a pet parent could pay, they were asked to do so, but if they are not able to, it was believed that with ‘its primary function being humane, it should go ahead and treat the patient while charging the fees off the book”.

Began to attract the attention of other parts of the United States.  An article in The Christian Science Monitor (April 1, 1932) discussed Atlanta Humane’s shelter for stray animals saying “these stray pets find loving care and a sure haven until those with understanding hearts may claim them as their own and bear them away to permanent home.”


The health department standards at the time called for stray dogs to be shot by county officers, but Atlanta Humane pushed back stating that “valuable household pets might be protected” and encouraged these policies to change to protect animals in the city.


Began a shift from a somewhat general approach to preventing animal cruelty and inhumane treatment of people to a more specific interest in pets- particularly dogs.


Met with organizations including Red Star Animal League, an organization for the welfare of animals during wartime and now part of the American Humane Society, to discuss helping animals who suffered during air raids or other war emergencies. The American Red Star Animal Relief was established in both Florida and Georgia under the guidance of the Atlanta Humane Society to prepare for the protection of animals from enemy attack because animals were of “sentimental value” and “monetary value”.

Became recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization


Merged with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Georgia, Atlanta Chapter Inc., and changed our name legally to the Atlanta Humane Society and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Inc.Today, we continue to open our hearts to thousands of dogs and cats each year—whether we’re connecting them with loving homes, fighting on their behalf, or providing expert care.


Atlanta Humane Society's West Midtown Building
Built a new structure at 981 Howell Mill Road complete with an operating room, recovery room, cattery, isolation ward, and X-ray equipment. Brought in veterinarians to work at the shelter on a regular, volunteer basis.


Elected our first female President, Miss Judy King after Sam Massell Jr stepped down and later became the mayor of Atlanta.


As Atlanta became more urbanized, Atlanta Humane became more and more focused on pets and specifically dogs with the motto, “We speak for those who cannot speak for themselves”. In 1972, Atlanta Humane looked into 236 reported cases of cruelty to dogs, 73 to horses, 15 to cats, 13 regarding pet shops, and 44 involving wild animals or livestock. By this time, Atlanta Humane operated in 100 of the 159 Georgia counties and processed 30,000 animals each year in addition to two animal ambulances, a pick up truck, and a horse trailer.

Hosted a mobile adoption center in Buckhead at the Sears Peachtree parking lot for 13 weeks on Sunday afternoons and found homes for more than 650 pets. The success of this mobile adoption unit led to the establishment of a permanent adoption center at 3495 Peachtree Road. 63 animals were adopted out from this location in its first two weeks.

Operated a public spay/neuter clinic at 981 Howell Mill Road.

Adopted out an average of 700 dogs and 300 cats each month.

The Women’s Auxiliary to the Atlanta Humane Society was organized and became a large source of fundraising.


Established a rule that all animals adopted from Atlanta Humane would be spayed or neutered prior to adoption.

Began offering a visiting pet therapy program where volunteers would bring pets to hospitals and other locations to help bring joy.


Launched a $2 million fundraising campaign to update the facility on Howell Mill Road.


Began to advocate of regulation of pets through licensing, spaying/neutering, and microchips.

Pushed for legal changes to the arrest and imprisonment for people who neglect pets.


Atlanta Humane Society's Alpharetta Building
Opened a new location in Alpharetta. Our Capital Campaign donors were an integral part of making this possible.


Cal Morgan began as President and CEO, creating a new strategic plan and setting the Atlanta Humane Society on the course to be the leader of animal welfare in the Southeast.


Atlanta Humane Society's Duluth Building
Opened an adoption center in Duluth, Georgia, with the support of Boehringer Ingelheim. The adoption center was successful in finding homes for hundreds of animals but closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.


atlanta animal center
Moved out of our historic location at 981 Howell Mill Road and into our new home, the Arthur M. Blank Family Animal Center, just a few miles away at 1551 Perry Boulevard.

Warrior Puppy Lightbox