(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of monthly articles on the Michiana Humane Society as the organization celebrates its centennial in Michigan City.)
MICHIGAN CITY — Legend has it that in 1920, the stray dog population in Long Beach had become so bad the police chief ordered his officers to shoot strays on sight.
A group of women became alarmed at the prospect and organized to help the dogs be protected.
That was the beginning of the Michiana Humane Society.
The 100 years from that day to this have seen revolutionary changes in pet ownership and animal welfare, much of it do to changes in lifestyle.
Work days shortened from 12 hours to 10 to 8, freeing up time for leisure activities, including spending time with pets.
The development of commercial pet foods throughout the 20th century improved pet health and longevity. The introduction of the birth control pill in the 1960s freed families to choose to have fewer or even no children, and many couples eventually filled their lives with pets.
And while agriculture still thrives in La Porte County, more and more people moved off the farms and into retail and business, where they no longer had use of working animals.
As the role of animals shifted from servant to beloved family member, animal welfare also changed.
We no longer have “the pound” – a death row for dogs where “the dogcatcher” brings strays for a few days until, if unclaimed, they are put down.
Modern shelters work to rehabilitate and “re-home” animals, no matter the time it takes. Shelters consider the animals’ comfort and mental state when establishing care plans, and encourage volunteers to spend time with the animals.
Spay and neuter surgeries have helped reduce the population of unwanted animals. In fact, in some parts of the country where intensive spay/neuter efforts are in place, they actually need to transfer cats in from other communities to fill the market for adopters.
Here in Michigan City, we have not yet achieved that milestone, but we have made great strides.
Over the past 10 years, the Michiana Humane Society’s live release rate (percentage of animals adopted or transferred to other organizations) has risen from below 50 percent to 98 percent.
Cooperation between Michigan City Animal Control, the La Porte County Small Animal Shelter and the Michiana Humane Society focuses on the well-being of the animals. Multiple hoarding situations have been cleared with the three organizations working together.
The community has been critical to the successes we’ve achieved. Over the years, hundreds of local volunteers have helped care for our animals, including fostering young and sick animals until they are able to be adopted; exercising and playing with the animals in our care; and hosting benefits to raise money to support our work – we even have volunteers who care for our gardens.
Each year generous children ask for gifts for our animals rather than for themselves on their birthdays; and local companies select us as their project for community service days.
Our current building stands as a tribute to the community. When an earlier building housing the shelter was condemned, our Board members, Tonn and Blank Construction and hundreds of large and small donors mobilized to build a new building in record time, often using donated materials and labor.
Our gratitude to our community is truly deep, as we continue to grow and improve.
While we no longer worry that the police will shoot strays on sight, we still have an overpopulation of stray and feral animals, as well as beloved pets that must be re-homed, in our community. We hope to continue to alleviate those problems as we begin our next 100 years.
During our anniversary year, you’ll be hearing a lot about the shelter and the work we do for our community. We hope that you visit us during our special year and see how far we have come.
And when you visit us, or hear about the second chances we’re able to offer pets and their people, remember how fortunate we all are to live in such a caring, generous community!