Dakin's First 50 Years

Animal sheltering - The beginning

A black and white photo of three small black and tabby kittens sitting on newspaper
The management and care of animals have been ingrained in our society for centuries. Founded from “pounds” in the 1800s, animal shelters have evolved into critical care and resource centers for both animals and humans in need. 19th-century animal pounds were originally used in the collection of wandering livestock in colonial towns. These animals carried significant economic value and were sheltered accordingly. In 1828, the State of New York passed the first law against animal cruelty. In line with the Northeast’s progressive nature, Massachusetts quickly followed by enacting a similar state law in 1835.

As knowledge of animal welfare and public aversion to animal cruelty increased, focus set in on the prevention of unwanted breeding in the 1930s. The start of the spay/neuter message began to address the crisis of unwanted animals being euthanized in shelters due to a shortage of adoptive homes. In the 1970s, the invitation to the veterinary community sparked a new frontier of preventative care and medical management of then-homeless animals.

Janet Wilder Dakin

A scan of a Hampshire Life newspaper cover that features a photo of Dakin founder Janet Wilder Dakin

June 3, 1910 – October 7, 1994

Janet Wilder Dakin is the cornerstone of what Dakin Humane Society is today. Originally a native of Berkeley, CA, she settled in the Pioneer Valley. For her philanthropy, work as an educator, and dedication to the welfare of animals, Janet Wilder Dakin is remembered in western Massachusetts as The First Lady of Amherst. Janet went on to become the founder of Friends of Amherst’s Stray Animals (FASA).

Sister of playwright Thornton Wilder and poet Charlotte Wilder, Janet was a highly educated woman with a passion to teach and solve the problems in her own backyard; animal overpopulation. After receiving her B.A. in zoology and M.A. in biology, she earned a Ph.D. and taught zoological studies at Mount Holyoke College. In 1941, Janet married accomplished lawyer Winthrop S. Dakin.

Developing standards - The Animal Welfare Act

An old black and white image of a small child sitting on a step with their arm around a cat
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) of 1966 is the foundation of animal welfare legislation in the US.  The original Act was aimed at the regulation of sales and transport of animals.  The AWA is enforced by the USDA, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and the Animal Care Agency.  Federal animal care standards mainly cover humane handling, housing, feeding, sanitation, shelter from elements, adequate veterinary care, and handling during transit.

Breaking ground

A scan of a newspaper image of a group of people watching a German Shepherd sniff the ground at a shelter groundbreaking event

On January 20, 1968, an eight-acre tract of Greenfield along French King Highway was donated by Greenfield resident Mrs. Florence Harding. The Greenfield Area Animal Shelter was to serve as the region’s first animal shelter. The land had originally been purchased in 1861 by John Wunsch, Harding’s grandfather. Onetime Greenfield industrialist Frank J. Wells left $100,000 of his estate to the shelter in memory of his mother, which helped build the shelter in 1969 on the donated land. In its 36 year history, the Greenfield Area Animal Shelter served over 36,000 pets and people and became Pioneer Valley Humane Society.

Friends of Amherst's Stray Animals

A black and white photo of two white cats with black patches
Janet Wilder Dakin founded Friends of Amherst’s Stray Animals (FASA) in 1982. FASA ran a hotline for spay/neuter and help with lost animals. At this time, Janet sought a physical shelter to house and care for animals using the principles of innovation she held close. She founded the organization because there was “a terrible void in Amherst as far as animals were concerned,” she told The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

The Trust

An outdoor photo of the side of the Leverett Adoption Center
In February of 1991, the FASA Shelter Trust was established. The trust was made possible with $200,000 from a number of FASA supporters and Richard Woodbury, the first chair of the Anthropology department at UMass Amherst as one of the five original trustees. In the fall of 1994, FASA used part of the funds to purchase what was then known as the Arundel Kennel nestled in a rural section of Leverett. The structure and accompanying land were purchased for $120,000.

Gifts left behind

An aerial image of Dakin founder Janet Dakin Wilder's former home
Janet Wilder Dakin passed away on October 7, 1994, at 84. Her life’s work and the work of her late husband led to accumulated wealth. Janet left a sizeable bequest of $100,000 to FASA. The Dakin Estate on Pleasant Street in Amherst was donated to UMass Amherst and is currently in use as The Renaissance Center for Academic Research for Hampshire Shakespeare Company. A single, original cat door in the home was left intact in memory of Janet.

The Janet Wilder Dakin Animal Shelter

A scan of an original version of the Dakin Animal Shelter logo with an illustration of a dog and a cat
In an effort to continue Janet’s legacy, the Friends of Amherst’s Stray Animals organization opened the Dakin Animal Shelter in 1995. The shelter inhabited the land purchased in Leverett the year prior. That winter, Leslie Harris was hired as Shelter Manager and in May, opened the aptly-named Janet Wilder Dakin Animal Shelter. The shelter embodied Janet’s hope of “care and concern for all pets.”

Teaching for a humane community

A person holding out a domestic rat for two children to touch and interact with
In 2000, a Humane Education program was established. Elements of the Humane Education program included educational day camps for children, public education on animal welfare, and training programs by industry experts. This program allowed Dakin to partner with other local businesses and groups aligned in the same values and grow as an organization.

Nonprofit milestones

A black and white film photo of a cat and a stuffed animal sitting together on an old fashioned medical scale
Dakin Animal Shelter became incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2001.  At this time, the organizations known as FASA and Dakin operated under one name, “Dakin Animal Shelter.”  Falling in line with Janet Dakin’s hotline for spay/neuter messaging back in 1982, Dakin Animal Shelter began participating in Feral Spay Day Sunday in 2002.  Over the next four years, 3,000 cats would go through the program, making tremendous headway in population control in western Massachusetts.

Animal Transport Program

A staff person hands another staff person a small animal carrier from inside of an animal transport vehicle

Janet's vision came to fruition in 2003 when Dakin Animal Shelter launched its Animal Transport Program. As the northeast led the country in spay/neuter and Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR), it was soon realized that there was room to help others in need. Through a network of partner shelters, volunteer foster homes, and drivers, the transport of dogs to New England from the south began.

Many areas in the south do not have access to high-volume spay/neuter services to combat overpopulation. Barriers such as affordability, transportation, and distance play big roles in accessibility to help. With nearly constant warm weather throughout the year, animal welfare organizations in the south get very little relief from active breeding in their communities. The Animal Transport Program allows New England shelters to pull dogs from overpopulated shelters that would otherwise be at risk for euthanasia. With a healthy demand for dogs in the northeast, the birthplace of the animal welfare movement, these at-risk dogs are finding homes at record speed. The transport program was then expanded to include cats and has shown similar results.

The evolution of Dakin's logo

A graphic timeline of every version of Dakin Humane Society's logos over the last 50 years

The logo of each organization that led to the existence of today's Dakin played an important role in designing a familiar beacon of hope and compassion to the community. Dakin’s logo has evolved since its initial creation, but still upholds the history behind the original design. The block logo was created by designer Allison Bell in collaboration with Dakin's Board of Directors. In a 2004 Dakin newsletter, Executive Director Dee Boyle-Clapp said, "We worked to create an image with some whimsy to show the joy that animals bring to our lives, and selected a color found in nature, which we call Irish Setter or Orange Tabby. To me, the solid block envelopes and protects the animals in a substantial way. The umbrella shielded the animals from the elements, but the block represents stability and substance."

Programs for pets and people

A staff person sits on the floor holding a cat next to the adoptive family
Integral to Dakin’s mission, it was noted in a 2005 newsletter, “The cornerstone of the Dakin Animal Shelter philosophy is that we cannot help animals without helping people.” Recognizing that helping our fellow humans in need with tools and resources is the best way to help save animals. Dakin’s approach to people and pets has not always been met with praise and in some animal communities, seen as an unpopular opinion. Replacing judgment and blame with compassion, understanding, and solutions keeps people and pets together and strengthens a community built on trust and a mutual concern for animals.

Serving Springfield

An image of Dakin staff with Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno during the ribbon cutting ceremony at Dakin's Springfield Animal Resource Center in 2009
In 2006, another joining of organizations took place. The Dakin Animal Shelter and Pioneer Valley Humane Society combined their resources to become a single 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization; Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society. To further expand its reach, Dakin reopened the vacated MSPCA Animal Care and Adoption facility in Springfield, MA in 2009. Along with the opening of the expanded adoption center and shelter space, Dakin also opened its Community Spay/Neuter Clinic that October. As of 2019, the number of total surgeries performed surpassed 86,000.

Extended family - Dakin's volunteer network

Volunteers stand on a tarmac in front of a transport plane with animal carriers on the ground from a rescue flight
In 2009, the new facility allowed for advanced training opportunities for volunteers. Today, our 47,000 sq ft Animal Resource Center in Springfield is home to over 500 registered volunteers who perform daily animal care and so much more. The volunteer program has evolved to include feline weight management, cat and dog training, enrichment, assistance with community-based programs, foster care, and animal transportation.

Vaccine & Microchip Clinics

A veterinarian smiles at a client who is holding a black kitten on her shoulder
As Dakin continued its reach into the community, we learned that accessibility to ongoing pet wellness and preventative care was greatly needed. In April of 2013, Dakin began hosting public vaccine and microchip clinics. This allowed pet parents to select from a list of services to keep their animals up to date on vaccines and care including rabies, nail trims, and more. Furthering efforts to keep people and pets together, these clinics also included microchip services. Today, these clinics continue in Springfield and are met with very high demand and positive feedback.

Keeping people and pets together

An image of dry cat food sorted into plastic bags with pink ziplock zippers

Keeping people and pets together is a multi-faceted effort. The public perception that low-income families should not have pets is damaging to the concept of a humane community of loving homes for animals. In 2013, Dakin launched the Pet Food Aid program. It was created to ensure that people have a place to turn when their dogs and cats need food and that families stay together. The program is maintained through generous donations from Dakin's supporters and local businesses.

In 2018, Dakin delivered over 27,000 pounds of pet food to area human service agencies, in addition to offering pet food to those in need who visited our resource centers in Springfield and Leverett.

New England's First Kitten ICU

A small white and black kitten looks up at a caretaker while sitting on a white scale

Until 2014, animal sheltering and services were strongly tailored to dogs. While the Community Spay/Neuter Clinic was a huge success, there was still an unprecedented number of orphaned kittens as well as pregnant cats entering the shelter system. In July of 2014, with the support of the Piepul family, Dakin's kitten intensive care unit was launched in an effort to save lives and bring awareness to spay/neuter programs. The ICU is the first of its kind in New England and is run by staff and volunteers. The ICU treats pediatric kittens in need of critical medical care due to illness or injury and is most active in the warmer months where we see higher numbers of kittens in distress.

Saving more lives - Spirit and Barn Cats

A brown and white cat looks out cautiously from a hiding spot in a cat tree

There was a time not long ago in animal sheltering when unfriendly, unsocialized cats were euthanized due to a lack of resources. In tandem with the successful Barn Cat program, the Spirit Cat program launched in 2016. This became a way to combat the needless euthanasia of cats who present intense fear responses, excessive shyness, and other withdrawn behavior. Spirit Cats live in homes but are rarely seen. Enjoying the company of other cats, Spirit Cats take a long time to trust and understand humans.

Dakin’s Barn Cat program is tailored to feral cats and otherwise outdoor-loving cats who cannot be confined to life inside. These cats have proved to be excellent hunters and have symbiotic relationships with their adopters who offer farms, breweries, and other large facilities with room to roam.

Jackson Galaxy's Cat Pawsitive Pro

A staff person in a blue hoodie leads an orange cat through a hula hoop to train a trick

Training was a dog’s world until feline behavior was better studied and understood. The concept of the positive reinforcement training of cats was adopted in an effort to better enrich shelter cats and train behaviors that would find them homes. Cat training is also beneficial in limiting undesirable behaviors such as scratching furniture. In February 2018, Dakin was selected to participate in the Cat Pawsitive Pro training program in partnership with The Jackson Galaxy Project, a program of Greater Good. Under the supervision of skilled mentors, staff and volunteers began training shelter cats simple and complex behaviors. Also in 2018, Dakin was selected as the grand prize winner of the Jackson Galaxy Project's National High Five Day Contest. The win was thanks to Mimi, a Cat Pawsitive Pro cat. Mimi came to Dakin with a severe front limb injury, but defied the odds and kept high-fiving even after surgical amputation. The grand prize included a $5,000 grant and 10,000 bowls of cat food courtesy of Halo Pets. Dakin continues to run Cat Pawsitive Pro and has guided over 300 cats through the program.

Looking Forward

A person holds a small grey and white kitten close to them

Today in New England, the number of animals in shelters is rapidly declining. These changes are due to increased adoption, continued spay/neuter efforts, and TNR programs, which work to eliminate unwanted litters of kittens born outside. Where there was once only space for high-volume sheltering, there is now room to help those in areas still suffering and offer individualized treatment and care for the most complex cases. Through research and firsthand experience, we’ve learned that people love animals and will go to great lengths to care for their pets. For the last 50 years, Dakin has been rooted in forward-thinking and compassion for all. With your support, we believe these values will propel us into a new animal welfare landscape where we can continue to serve our community and offer hope for a compassionate future.