Portsmouth Humane Society traces its roots back to the waning years of the 19th century, although it underwent a rebirth in the middle years of the 20th century. The original State Charter was issued on August 22, 1889 to the Women’s Humane Society of Virginia. The original objective was, “The prevention of cruelty to dumb animals and children and the cultivation of kindness and mercy to every living creature, and to aid by all proper manners in the enforcement of the law in respect to such matters.” Mrs. Alexa P. Grice was elected as the first President. The Society’s initial action was to call on Mayor J. Thompson Baird to urge his cooperation in seeing applicable laws were enforced vigorously. The Society placed books of complaint in various stores throughout the city, and any person who noted cruelty to animals or children could cite the circumstances in these books and the matter would be taken before the court. The records indicate that this system seemed to work. Accused were brought to court and reprimanded or fined.
In the early 1900’s the fortunes of the Society waxed and waned; however, the Ann Hope Family was very helpful in Society efforts to carry out the stated objectives. By 1947, however, the Society had become somewhat inactive and Mrs. Bessie Aldrich asked the State Corporation Commission if it was still in existence. It was, but barely so, with little visibility. Mrs. Aldrich and Mrs. Mary Hope Broderick, daughter of Mrs. Ann Hope (an early supporter) took on the task of resurrecting the floundering organization. They signed on as President and Secretary to get the organization moving again.
It was at this time that the Society was legally incorporated as the Portsmouth-Norfolk County Humane Society Incorporated – a not for profit 501 (c) (3) corporation. Money was scarce and the group sought means to raise funds to help care for unfortunate animals. In one effort, Mrs. Aldrich sold pencils on the streets of Portsmouth. In 1947 an anonymous donor gave $500 to be used for construction of a shelter, but costs were too high and the money had to be held in escrow until a later time when finances permitted the building of a shelter.
The original shelter was in a garage next to a veterinary clinic. Dr. Leon Lecht, owner of the clinic, donated the site, which opened in April 1948. This was the first facility, housing and treating animals instead of sending them to the city pound. After World War II, Mrs. Aldrich, Mrs. Maxine Eckstein and others worked tirelessly to revive the Society. They were assisted by Mrs. Mary Hope Broderick. In later years, Mrs. Broderick’s daughter, Mrs. Mary Hope ”Kitty” Magann was an active and generous member of the Board. According to records, in the early 50’s and through tremendous efforts they obtained a loan from the National Humane Society and were able to build the Ann Hope Memorial Animal Hospital at 1000 Airline Blvd. (This was at the intersection of Airline and Bart St).
According to records, 1953 brought significant changes. Mrs. Bessie Aldrich was elected as President and the City of Portsmouth began to make an annual payment of $500 towards aiding the Society’s community wide efforts. This was of great benefit since the Society’s finances were on shaky grounds.
For years the Society members had petitioned the City Council to improve treatment and care of animals at the City Pound. Conditions there were reportedly quite bad. In 1959 Portsmouth did away with the City Pound and began to contract with the Society to care for the animals brought in by the animal control officers, an arrangement which continues to this day. Over 60 % of the animals brought to the shelter were from the city’s Animal Control Officers.
In 1958, the Rev. Charles Vache began the annual Blessing of the Animals service at Trinity Church. This had long been a tradition in English churches and was the first of its kind here. It continues today and takes place in October on the Sunday closest to the birthday of St. Francis of Assisi. People come with all types of pets to the non-sectarian service and all monies and supplies given go to benefit the Portsmouth Humane Society.
Mrs. Aldrich was persuaded to take a full time position as Executive Secretary of the Society in 1961. She agreed to try this for one year and she remained the driving force behind the Society’s expansion and improvement during that period. Mrs. Helen Chapman and Col. Max C. Chapman became involved with the PHS in 1969. Dr. Murrell Kise, a Vice President of Virginia Chemical Company, took the torch as President of the Society, passing it to Col. Max Chapman in the 1970’s.
In the late 70’s, the shelter moved to a pre-existing cinder block facility on Frederick Blvd. The building was rebuilt by Mr. Michael Service in 1981 and an education room was added in 1985. The shelter augmented its City income with grants, contributions, bequests, memberships, and donations made through resolute efforts and a massive public subscription fund drive. At that time 65% of the shelter’s animals were brought in by Animal Control officers and 15% were strays brought by citizens. Keith Jeter, then Executive Director, began keeping records in a computerized data base in 1997. Celebrating an anniversary of the society, a Capital Campaign was undertaken in 2002 to replace the original cages at the shelter. Mrs. Chapman noted, “When the shelter was built, the average dog was much smaller and the size preference for dogs in 2002 had increased markedly. The cages no longer accommodated many of the animals brought to the shelter.” It required a sizable amount of money to replace these cages at that time. Mr. Jeter pointed out that “space alone would not solve the problem of unwanted animals. We need to work to reduce the number of backyard breeders and to encourage people to have their animals spayed or neutered.” PHS has always sought to find homes for as many animals as possible and their goal in 2002 was to get the euthanasia rate below 50%. Another important facet of PHS operations was the education outreach done by Mrs. Elizabeth Coburn, Humane Educator on the staff. She began educational visits to schools, scouts and other children’s groups and also made many pet therapy visits to nursing and retirement homes and Maryview Rehabilitation Center. She adopted and trained two fine dogs from PHS for this mission. One grateful resident left a generous bequest to PHS in Ms. Coburn’s honor.
PHS continues to receive help from many sources when the need is known. Bequests from many caring individuals and gifts and donations from friends reach out to aid the Society. In 2008, Wavy TV ran a story and subsequently posted it to the Internet about a dog that was cruelly and badly injured and found in a garbage can in Portsmouth. The young dog was brought to our shelter and named Charlie Brown. Charlie needed expensive surgery to survive. Once this information reached the public via the Charlie Brown Campaign, the money began pouring in. PHS received over 340 donations from 43 different states and Canada to help him and to establish an emergency medical fund for such injured animals. Charlie survived and he was adopted to a loving home upon his recovery.
Col. Chapman was a strong and benevolent President, and both of the Chapmans kept the Society going during his tenure. Following the Colonel’s death, Mr. Bryan Meals served as an excellent president of the Board until March 2009. Ms. Rebecca Barclay, with enthusiasm and a goal in mind, was elected President of the Board.
Like many non-profit organizations, PHS experienced a number of financial and personnel difficulties in the early 2000’s. The gradual deterioration of Shelter facilities always required more money to keep it repaired and operating. In 2008 the Board actively sought a new and highly qualified Executive Director and was fortunate to find Mrs. Christie Chipps Peters. This continued deterioration of the existing Shelter on Frederick Blvd. had encouraged the President and the Board Members for several years to search for the ways and means to build a new shelter. The Board held numerous events to raise funds for this purpose. In 2008 and 2009, two successful Casino Night events were held. Another outstanding event was the Cause 4 Paws, which Mrs. Shelly Compton planned and organized with help from a dedicated group of volunteers and Board members. This event continues annually today. Hogs for Dawgs at the Harley Davidson dealership and events at Petsmart, Photos with Santa, Macy’s Shop for a Cause, a Cincinnati Chili Night, and numerous bake sales and other events have augmented our savings. An Art for the Animals event with over 60 paintings by artists George Tussing and Jean Peacock at Trinity Church in October 2009 also helped to sustain the Shelter and put aside money toward a new building.
Many improvements began at the Shelter under Chipps-Peters. She implemented better training of staff, more efficiencies in the shelter, and improved management of expenses and materials. A better relationship with the City of Portsmouth and the Animal Control unit followed. Adoption rates rose and the euthanasia rate declined. A number of grants have been secured and a new and improved contract was negotiated with the city. For some time the President and Board had been actively searching for a situation whereby we could build a new shelter. In 2010, a suitable property was located in the Greenwood Industrial Park and an offer for the sale of the Frederick Blvd. property was presented.
One million dollars in capital was raised before ground was broken on the new shelter. The remainder of the building costs is held in a $1 million mortgage. The new shelter opened in December of 2011, to the joy of PHS’s many staff, volunteers, and other supporters. We are excited and encouraged by having a modern and enlarged shelter that will meet the standards set out by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (the “State Vet requirements”) and provide a safe and efficient facility in which to care for those of God’s creatures in our charge. The Portsmouth Humane Society continues working towards a goal of which our founders would be proud.