Our Story

Our Story

2023 is an important year for the Peninsula SPCA! We have been gearing up to celebrate what we thought was 60 years of helping animals in our community. Funny thing is, when we really started digging into the shelter’s past, we uncovered an amazing treasure trove of material that places the origin of the Peninsula SPCA even earlier. Eighty-five years ago actually, when in 1938 a small group of animal-loving volunteers formed the first organized society for the prevention of cruelty to animals on the Peninsula. Thier purpose? In the July 12th edition of the Daily Press, “The purpose of the group was stated as ‘the shelter, care and protection of and the prevention of cruelty to animals.'” A pretty hefty undertaking in a time that well-preceded modern-day animal welfare laws.

The idea for a local chapter is mentioned in an editorial in The Times Herald as early as 1915, to address “poor, ill-treated horses.” However, it wasn’t until 1938 when a group of locals were “hunting” cats to sell to some Charlottesville doctors for medical research, that Mrs. Benjamin Poythress “saw red” and took up the cause to Newport News councilman J. Hugh Caffee. An emergency city ordinance put a stop to the cat collecting, but it was this moment Mrs. Poythress decided to found a Peninsula chapter of the SPCA. They were joined by local mayors, judges, and businessman who recognized the need for some vehicle to prevent cruelty. After all, the Peninsula was somewhat behind the times with national organization ASPCA already well established in New York and other local SPCA groups and humane societies having been established on the Southside in the late 1800’s.

The group was initially led by Franklin D. Watts, when they elected their first permanent officers at the July 11, 1938 meeting. The local SPCA chapter met in the Newport News civil courtroom monthly and established policies that would guide the work they would do. Topics included the humane treatment and care of work horses, ensuring they were treated kindly and were properly shod. They also planned to investigate reports of inhumane treatment of any animals in their community. Daily Press articles recount the efforts of the grass-roots organization that returned stray dogs to their owners, rescued kittens from trash bins, issued special notices to owners who left dogs closed in automobiles on hot days, and ensured that citizens made arrangements for their pets when they went on vacation and didn’t just leave them tied up outside without shelter, food, and water. It may even surprise you that the local SPCA was even doing Humane Education at their inception, taking their “Be Kind to Animals” anthem to local schools to teach children respect and empathy for our animal friends.

The group became less active during World War II but experienced a resurgence in 1948. They managed to conduct a fundraising drive that raised a membership of nearly 300 supporters. In 1952, the PSPCA played an important role in battling the rabies epidemic on the Peninsula. That year, they hosted no less than 15 inoculation clinics to help pets get vaccinated against the deadly disease. And this whole time, the PSPCA was funded through community donations, run by volunteers and good Samaritans. In 1955, a Daily Press article shares the PSPCA’s hopes to be a “modern and well-equipped” sanctuary. Plans for the future included a “modern, fireproof, heated animal shelter with appropriate office space, files, and telephone listing.” And there were high hopes to have an animal ambulance that could transport injured and sick animals to Peninsula vets.

It’s amazing to think about where we are today, after such a simple, grassroots beginning. Our 85-year journey has been filled with passion and many ups and downs. It has also taken us in many directions, but it all comes in full circle with a few simple things: We are a nonprofit organization with limited resources, separate from the national ASPCA, that relies on local support to care for pets in the community; We are committed to caring for and finding homes for animals in need; We will continue to help people keep their pets safe with vaccines and preventative veterinary care. And, just as our founding members did in 1938, we will continue to take our animal welfare message of “Be Kind to Animals” to schools and community organizations to encourage empathy for our friends.

Today, we are preparing for the next 85 years. We are assessing our current facility and the needs of the community so we can better serve our region’s pets and people in the future. I hope you will join us for this year of celebration. Stay tuned to our social media and make sure you are signed up to receive our emails so you can get the latest information on all our activities this year. And, no matter what your connection is to the Peninsula SPCA, thank you for your support of this organization. You are in a legacy group of many, many kind-hearted people who have committed to the Peninsula SPCA and its work for 85 years!

We look forward to working with you to lay the groundwork for another 85 years of life-saving work on the Peninsula.

PSPCA Photos Throughout the Years