Although our policies, philosophies and practices have evolved over time to meet the needs of today’s animals and our community and to reflect the best practices in the sheltering community, our mission to save and give second chances to as many animals as possible has stayed constant throughout our long and rich history, which began with Mary Archer’s vision and dream to help as many animals as she could.
These are just a few of our history’s highlights:
Mary Archer, a prominent Berks County socialite and lifelong activist for animal welfare, who used most of her family’s wealth to help others, struggles over policies while serving on the board of directors at the Humane Society of Berks County. She resigns from the board and decides to open her own animal shelter.
By July of 1952, Mary organized and chartered her own organization, the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, which was operated through memberships and donations. While waiting for the first kennel to be constructed on 10 acres of her Flying Hills farm, all the animals in the ARL’s care lived in foster homes until they were adopted.
The first kennel building completed construction in September of 1953. This building hosted 40 kennels, a hospital room, an office and a kitchen. With the new resources, the ARL opened its kennel doors to 16 dogs and 4 cats on Sunday, October 18.
By May 8th, over 700 dogs and 188 cats had been placed in homes and ARL membership reached a high of 800 members.
Over 1,300 guests and members were invited to the third anniversary of the Animal Rescue League. Guests were invited to inspect the facilities and see the current population of 91 dogs and 21 cats. At this point, the ARL had helped 3,316 dogs and 979 cats find homes.
The first annual pet show was hosted by the Animal Rescue League of Berks County on May 10. Over 200 animals were registered by their families to compete in the categories of largest, smallest, prettiest, most talented and most unusual.
Mary Archer, the founder of the ARL, passed away at 82 in March of 1963. The loss of Miss Archer was a devastating blow to the members of the ARL, emotionally and financially. While she left the ARL her land that the shelter was built on, the organization had little money left to keep the doors open.
The ARL found itself in desperate need of funds and had to stop intaking animals into the shelter. In order to raise funds, the ARL implemented “Operation Soup Bowl” in which they reached out to local restaurants for leftover bones to help feed the animals. Simultaneously, they reached out to pet owners to ask them for donations. At this time there were about 30,000 licensed dog owners and 35,000 cat owners. The ARL estimated that if one dollar was donated from every person, the League would be safe for almost three years.
Following the ARL’s investigation into animal cruelty complaints, including a farm raid in late 1964 that found thousands of animals improperly fed and housed–and thousand more dead–ARL leaders urged state lawmakers to completely update and revise PA Dog Law. Their efforts succeeded, with the governor signing the new anti-cruelty law into effect in 1965.
The ARL expands and adds a new kennel to house 12 dogs and 20 cats. In the same year, the League purchases a new animal van.
As the original kennel got older and began to fall apart, the ARL started a capital campaign to build a new shelter. The primary sources of funding came from a bequest of $40,000; the Dog Law Division of the Department of Agriculture, who provided $50,000; and a generous donation of $30,000 from Mrs. Wanda Leigh Fidler.
After a tractor-trailer carrying a petting zoo full of animals broke down on the side of Rt 10, about 100 animals, including horses, a cow, a hyena, elephants, goats, parrots, porcupines and possums found a temporary home for the night at the ARL.
The first of five annual dog shows made its debut in late 1980. The show followed all AKC rules with licensed judges and a well-earned doggy swim at the end of the day for the contestants.
Four cat colonies were built at the ARL to help the shelter care for and house large groups of cats.
The ARL constructs a surgery center on its premises to handle spay/neuter surgeries for all shelter pets. The surgery center is named after Harry Brown, the League’s longest-service executive director and animal control officer.
Microchipping was introduced at the ARL. This allowed dogs to be identified by owners and the shelter if lost. This year, the League also took over the animal control duties for the majority of municipalities in Berks County. The ARL would not take over Reading’s animal control until 2008.
The ARL constructs a six-stall barn and two pastures on its property to house needy farm animals such as horses, goats, pigs, chickens and, eventually, barn/working cats.
The Department of Agriculture piloted a program with the ARL where the organization enforced dog law in lieu of a dog warden. These 5 year contracts were renewed twice, lasting until 2017.
The ARL builds a new addition, housing administrative offices, meeting space and a reception area as well as 10 new kennels to keep up with increasing demand for animal space.
When a staff member discovered her son was struggling to read, she had him practice his skills by reading to cats at the ARL. The cats and her son loved it so much that the ARL developed and expanded the idea into a volunteer program called, “Book Buddies.” The popular volunteer program soon received national recognition after a photo of a young reader and cat went viral, and was featured on the Huffington Post, the Today Show, the Dodo, BuzzFeed and many other national news outlets.
Just a few days after Tom Hubric assumes the executive director role on an interim basis, the ARL mistakenly euthanizes two owned cats within one month of each other, calling into light the shelter’s euthanasia rates and policies, which created community outrage. Shelter leadership begins reevaluating its euthanasia policies and practices.
The ARL announces it has adopted a “no-kill” philosophy and will no longer euthanize treatable and adoptable animals when it runs out of kennel space. The ARL dramatically increases its cat live release rate from 44% in 2017 to 85% in 2018 and its dog live release rate from 86% in 2017 to 96% in 2018.
Alexis Pagoulatos assumes the executive leadership role at the ARL following the resignation of Tom Hubric.
As the only open shelter in the county at the time, ARL brainstormed creative ways to remain operational through the COVID pandemic to ensure needy animals had a safe haven to turn to. While the nationwide lockdown slightly slowed how many animals came into the shelter, the ARL team was hard at work with overdue modernization initiatives and intensive staff education efforts that dramatically expand our expertise and capabilities. ARL staff became certified in the Fear-Free Shelter program that greatly improved the animals’ well-being at the shelter and embraced the Human-Animal Support Services (HASS) model, which transforms the way animal shelters care for animals and their people.
The ARL launched its first comprehensive and detailed 5-year strategic plan that laid out the organization’s direction and a specific roadmap toward achieving our lofty goals while updating our mission and vision statements and branding. The rebrand paid homage to our past while celebrating our continued evolution into a wider breadth and depth of community programs and services as an animal welfare community center. The launch of ARL’s Pet Help Center and expanded veterinary capabilities marked a dramatic expansion of community offerings.