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The Humane Society of Baltimore County, now known as the Baltimore Humane Society (BHS), was founded in 1927 by a pioneering and compassionate socialite named Elsie Seeger Barton (1886-1983.)
In 1902, at age 16, Miss Seeger was stricken with Rheumatic Fever and was confined to her bed. During that time, her constant companions were the family's beloved pets. It is believed that at that time, Miss Seeger resolved to devote her life to the care and humane treatment of companion and service animals. When she became well, she established a refuge for abused and homeless animals on her family's estate, known as "Thistle Top," located on Milford Road in Pikesville, MD, overlooking Gwynn's Falls Dam. In 1908 she married Bolling Walker Barton, Jr., President of Barton, Duet & Koch Paper Company.
By the 1920's, Mrs. Barton was well known throughout the community as the "animal lady," and had found a number of other society women with whom she shared a common goal. Together, these ladies began what we now know as the Baltimore Humane Society, with Mrs. Barton leading the way, both financially and in spirit. In August of 1927 BHS officially became incorporated in the State of Maryland. The ladies then opened a charity shop on Reisterstown Road at Walker Avenue, the proceeds from which helped fund the early operations of BHS.
By 1931, animals were still being kept on the Seeger estate, and even though proper and humane kennels had been built there in 1929, Mrs. Barton knew the time had come to build her own sheltering facility. In 1936, a new 23-acre compound was opened on Park Heights Avenue near Old Court Road. It was a marvel for the time, and included a 22-room administration building, a three-story horse hospital, an animal hospital with operating rooms, a ring for horse and pony shows, playrooms and classrooms for Humane Education programs, a library, an auditorium, an aviary, a pet cemetery, and of course, state of the art quarters for the animals. Mrs. Barton privately funded the project, and dedicated it in honor of her father, Paul August Seeger, in the presence of 500 supporters. This new facility even offered free veterinary clinics twice a week, and a 24-hour pet ambulance service! Mrs. Barton was truly ahead of her time.
In the 1940's, Mrs. Barton contracted with the Baltimore County government to run their "stray department," a precursor to animal control. For the next 30+ years, BHS would patrol the nearly 600 miles of Baltimore County roadways, collecting deceased animals, operating the early licensing programs, and helping reunite owners with lost pets, among many other tasks. During the war, BHS served by providing classes and lectures on disaster preparedness for pets and livestock, and even hosted Baroness Spackleberg of England, who came in 1941 to talk about Air Raid Precautions for animals. BHS also partnered in 1942 with American Red Star Animal Relief (a program of the American Humane Association, which still functions to this day) for the duration of the war.
In the early 1950's Mrs. Barton received some bad news...construction of the Baltimore Beltway was slated to begin soon, and the path ran straight through her beautiful new facility. Knowing it was a fight she couldn't win, she began buying parcels of property off of Nicodemus Road in Reisterstown, and eventually purchased 400 acres of rolling hillsides, farmland, and woods. She moved some 800 graves from the location on Park Heights Avenue to this new location, and built, yet again, a state of the art shelter for her charges. In 1957 the new facility opened, however years of funding BHS with her own money, not to mention acquisition of 400 acres of land, had taken their toll, so this facility did not boast all of the amenities of her first location. The "new" shelter operated on 22 acres of the property, and the rest was left alone and serves to this day as a wildlife sanctuary.
In the 1960's, recognizing the scourge of pet overpopulation, Mrs. Barton converted the animal hospital at the shelter to a low-cost, subsidized spay/neuter center. The center was run by Dr. Robert P. Wagers, who also operated his own private practice, and was the veterinarian for the Baltimore Zoo. Dr. Wagers spent most of his time divided between these three locations, and kept a two-way radio in his car for emergencies. Our Spay/Neuter and Pet Wellness Center is now named in his honor.
By the 1970's, the costs associated with operating the County's stray department had become overwhelming, and while she received a stipend from the County, it simply wasn't enough. She petitioned the County for more funds, but was unsuccessful. Faced with becoming bankrupt and losing the shelter altogether, Mrs. Barton chose to end the contract with the County in 1974, and BHS became an independent organization from that point forward. We no longer receive any operational funding from the County, and are reliant upon private donations from inside and outside of the community.
Mrs. Barton lived on the property in the stone house until her death on May 4, 1983, at the fine old age of 97. She left all of her family's estate and 365 acres to BHS in perpetuity, to be used as she dictated in her will. Many people ask us why, with all this land, do we not build additional structures, dog parks, etc? That is because Mrs. Barton stipulated in her will that no additional buildings or structures are to be built upon the land, so we cannot expand beyond the original footprint of the buildings that are here. We can go up, but we cannot go out, and since the buildings were not designed to have another level on top of them, they would have to be demolished and everything would have to be rebuilt from the ground up. The land and the shelter are overseen by the Elsie Seeger Barton Trust, which is now managed by M&T Bank. BHS receives 11.5% (approx. $180,000) of the annual operating budget ($1.6m) from the Trust. The rest is made up from donations, event proceeds, and grants from foundations.
In 2008, BHS became a no-kill organization, meaning that we do not euthanize animals due to time or space constraints. We work closely with other animal welfare organizations, shelters, and rescues to save as many lives as possible. We are a proud member of BAWA (Baltimore Animal Welfare Alliance) along with the MD SPCA, BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter), and Baltimore City Animal Control.
In 2011, BHS reopened after an extensive renovation project, which doubled our capacity for shelter residents so that we can save more lives, and included amenities such as new windows and HVAC systems, backup power generators, new kennels and cat condos, the addition of cat communal rooms, two new exam rooms in our veterinary center, and many other much-needed upgrades.
Today, BHS continues the legacy of Mrs. Barton by caring for thousands of wonderful animals every year. We continue to operate a low-cost, subsidized Spay/Neuter & Pet Wellness Center, which assists in helping to control the epidemic of pet overpopulation and serve low-income pet owners with quality pet care and vaccinations. In addition, Nicodemus Memorial Park, on the grounds of BHS, provides a final resting place for many beloved pets, as well as offering burial, funeral, and cremation services, and free pet bereavement services that are available to the public. And finally, 343 acres of our land still serves as a protected wildlife sanctuary, alive with deer, fox, several species of birds, and numerous other types of local wildlife.
The Baltimore Humane Society was founded to protect our region's pets and to address their suffering. Since inception, the Baltimore Humane Society has strived to reach its potential and to achieve its mission. Over the years, we've adopted a set of tenets that represent our commitments to the pets that come into our care. All of our efforts are centered around one word... humane.
Each individual has the power through their own actions and a focus on their personal ethics to live with respect for others and for other life.
Each individual has the strength to demonstrate and to educate others on their conviction that all individuals, be they man or animal, deserve respect and humane care.
Each individual can trust in the goodness and virtue of others and can believe that our community continues to move toward greater respect and humane treatment of the animals in our care.
Each individual can dream of tomorrow and the opportunities it will bring to progress our mission of a humane community.
Provide a temporary home, a safe refuge, and care for unwanted and homeless animals.
Work aggressively to place each animal that comes to our shelter in a loving, permanent home.
Strive to end the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals by promoting and offering affordable spaying and neutering to control the population of unwanted animals in our area and addressing the issues that cause people to give up animals.
Advance the cause of the humane treatment of animals and increase awareness of animal issues through public education.
Ensure a peaceful final resting place for beloved pets through the operation of a beautiful and well-maintained cemetery for companion animals.
The Baltimore Humane Society is a private, independent non-profit organization in the State of Maryland. Our Federal Tax ID is 52-0623165. We do not receive any operational funding from the county, state, or other governments; and we are not affiliated with any national humane societies or animal welfare organizations. We rely entirely on donations from generous individuals like YOU!