History of the Dumb Friends League

By Marianne Walthier

In its 119-year history, the Dumb Friends League has undergone a miraculous transformation from a few sheds to a state-of-the-art facility. As we move forward with our current renovation, we thought we would take a moment to look back on the history of the organization that unites us.

Founded in 1910 by Jean Milne Gower and a group of her friends, the League initially consisted only of makeshift sheds and barns. Mrs. Gower settled on the shelter’s name after visiting an animal shelter in her native England: “Our Dumb Friends League.” Homeless animals in Denver were housed and cared for by these women who wanted to help “those who could not speak for themselves.” The Denver Dumb Friends League was incorporated on September 8, 1910. In 1911, Dr. Mary Bates joined the team, providing invaluable support, including physical office space and significant funding. The first permanent shelter was constructed on South Santa Fe Drive in 1948, followed by the shelter on Quebec Street, which is now known as the Leslie A. Malone Center, in 1974.

Along the way, the Dumb Friends League opened a number of ancillary and outreach facilities. The first was a pet-receiving center in Littleton in 1965, followed by another center in Arvada that opened in 1968. Later the West Receiving and Adoption shelter in Lakewood opened in 1983 to serve residents of the west metropolitan area. It was converted to the Extended Care Center in 1997 and ultimately closed in 2003, at which time the Leslie A. Malone Center underwent its first major renovation. The Buddy Center was opened in Castle Rock in 2002 to serve the residents of Douglas County while the Harmony Equine Center in Franktown was opened in 2012. More recently, Solutions–Veterinary Hospital and Solutions–Cat Spay/Neuter were opened in the latter part of 2018 in response to a community need for low cost veterinary care and spay/neuter services.

In its mission to serve as many homeless animals as possible, the League also has robust foster, behavior and transfer programs.

The foster program began in 1987 with just two volunteers. It was very informal but enabled the League to keep motherless kittens and puppies who had not yet been weaned. The foster program eventually evolved into an extensive and formal program, which today provides care for more than 300 dogs, puppies, cats and kittens. Foster is designed for animals who are too young for adoption, have medical problems, have behavior problems or who just need a change of scenery from the shelter environment.

Behavior was started in 1991 in order to give every animal the best possible chance at adoption. Animals deemed too timid, aggressive, scared or overly stressed are enrolled in one of the League’s behavior programs.

The Transfer Department evolved through the League’s membership in the Metro Denver Animal Welfare Alliance (MDAWA). This collaborative group of public and private animal service providers was founded in 2000. Transfer grew as we accepted animals from other states.

Volunteers have always been an integral part of the League. Initially, this was a small group of women who hosted holiday craft fairs and dog washes to raise money for the shelter. By the 1980s, the Volunteer department had ballooned into a group of about 75 volunteers who showed up whenever they could and did whatever was needed. There was no formal training program and no distinct roles. Currently, the League has more than 1,400 active volunteers and a formal training program.

Today, the Dumb Friends League is one of the leading community-based animal welfare organizations in the country and the largest in the Rocky Mountain region. The League is on the forefront of the Socially Conscious Sheltering movement. (You can learn more about Socially Conscious Sheltering at scsheltering.org.) It is astounding to think about how far the Dumb Friends League has come since its humble beginnings in 1910!