The history of the Animal Rescue dates back to July 7, 1952, when Mary Archer, a Berks County socialite and lifelong activist for animal welfare, founded the Animal Rescue League because of her concern for the humane treatment of animals in Berks County.
Miss Archer was the first president of the Berks County League of Women Voters, the first female member of the National Committee of the Democratic Party, and the first female member of the Berks County Prison Board.
She was born into a prominent Reading family and never married. She used much of her family’s wealth to help others.
Animals always played a vital role in Miss Archer’s life, especially during her many years with the Berks County Humane Society. As a result of continuous struggles over management policies, she left the Humane Society and started the Animal Rescue League on 10-acres of her Flying Hills farm near what would become the junction of Routes 724 and the Morgantown Expressway.
Shareholders were found and a board of directors was established. The league was operated through memberships and donations. Adoptions were arranged on a home-to-home basis from an office in Reading until the kennels were opened in Cumru Township in 1953. Sixteen dogs and four cats were the first animals to be sheltered in the new kennels. Miss Archer donated $15,000 to build the new ARL quarters which included an entrance hall, two office areas, 32 kennels, a cat room, and a kitchen area.
Miss Archer was the first president, a position she held until her death on May 28, 1963, at age 82.
In May of 1954, a woman’s auxiliary was organized to help with fund raising to cover the league’s expenses. Although Miss Archer had contributed large amounts of money in support of the shelter, her fortune was depleted at the time of her death, leaving the league to continue without her support and several thousands of dollars in debt.
At this point, the future of the shelter was in doubt. Some stockholders wanted to close its doors while others vowed to continue the league’s mission. Votes were close, but the league supporters won and the Animal Rescue League continued to operate.
In April of 1957, the league petitioned the City of Reading to ban the sale of dyed baby Easter animals, and on December 18, 1958, the ban became law. The league also was a leader in launching the era of kennel inspections.
The ARL began as a “no kill” shelter, but in time there were more abandoned animals who needed shelter than there was room.
After humane euthanasia was introduced, the shelter population almost doubled, from 400 animals per year to 845, with adoptions almost tripling, according to Mary Jane Jacoby, who was a friend of Miss Archer and a charter member of the shelter. Jane also was an auxiliary member and has continued to be active with the league. She presently is serving on the board of directors.
During Harry Brown, the ARL’s Executive Director’s 20-year tenure, the Animal Rescue League has grown into a modern animal shelter with kennels that can accommodate 60 dogs and 60 cats.
To date, spaying and neutering are the only real methods of control over the vast number of unwanted dogs and cats. In 1959, the league was one of the few shelters in the United States to have a compulsory spaying/neutering adoption policy. The league also joined with the Humane Society of the United States to identify dog dealers and private kennels that continued animal abuse practices.
Because of the large number of laboratory animal dealers in the state, the league also lead the way in encouraging a stronger Pennsylvania Dog Law. State Sen. Gus Yatron introduced a stronger Dog Law bill that became law on Dec. 22, 1965. On Aug. 24, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act to increase protection for laboratory animals.
Through its humane education programs and animal cruelty investigations by three state-certified humane and animal control officers, the crusading spirit of Miss Archer lives on today in the Animal Rescue League.
# 1 is Back Home Again In the heart-warming history of the Animal Rescue League, there will always be a special place for “Patches,” a female mixed setter/Dalmatian, who was the first dog to be given shelter by the league in 1953. The one-year-old mix was found abandoned in a boarded-up shanty and ended up becoming the shelter’s mascot. She was eventually adopted by a league member and lived 12 years in a loving home.
When the owner had to enter a nursing home, “Patches” was returned to the shelter to live out her life in special quarters and loved by the staff. Records show that she was a gentle, housebroken, affectionate, and unusually obedient dog.
A Reading Times newspaper article, dated Feb. 27, 1965, reported that “Patches” was “loved by all for the way she would nestle her warm nose softly and affectionately into the palm of any friendly, outstretched hand.”
Did you know? Thanks to fund-raising efforts by the shelter Auxiliary, the Baroness Maria von Trapp of the famous singing Von Trapp family of Austria–who were made famous in the movie, “The Sound of Music”—appeared at the Rajah Theatre in Reading in October of 1966 for a special performance to benefit the Animal Rescue League.