Our History

The History of The San Francisco SPCA
And The Story of Animals in the City of Saint Francis

The San Francisco SPCA
Founded on April 18, 1868, the San Francisco SPCA was the nation's fourth humane society and the first west of the Mississippi. It has become one of San Francisco's most enduring and respected institutions, as well as a national leader in saving homeless cats and dogs.

Past . . .

On a spring day in 1868 San Francisco banker James Sloan Hutchinson caught sight of two men dragging a terrified hog along the rough cobblestone street.

Appalled, Hutchinson stepped in to stop the cruelty and rescue the hog. The incident crystallized Hutchinson's concern over widespread animal abuse, and he soon rallied 15 like-minded citizens to found the San Francisco SPCA.

In 1884 the SF SPCA built the first horse ambulance in the West. It rescued hundreds of horses during the devastating 1906 earthquake and built watering stations for workhorses in burned-out areas of the city. It also established a "pensioners fund," so former Fire and Police Department horses could retire to country ranches.

In 1905 the SF SPCA assumed responsibility for animal control services in San Francisco which it maintained for the next 84 years. Throughout the 20th century, the SF SPCA introduced pioneering programs and services that continue today, here and at other organizations that replicated its progress.

Present Day . . .

The deep care and commitment we feel towards animals persists today in all our activities. In partnership with San Francisco Animal Care and Control, the SF SPCA has made San Francisco the nation's safest city for homeless cats and dogs.

We were the organization originally behind the definition and philosophy of “no-kill,” and we have not changed our decades-old commitment to trying to find a home for every adoptable animal under our roof. For transparency and clarity of our mission, we report our statistics in the “Asilomar Accords” format, along with our adoption rates.

Each year, the SF SPCA find homes for thousands of dogs and cats and provides veterinary care to as many as 30,000. Our subsidized Spay/Neuter Clinic has performed procedures on approximately 150,000 cats and dogs, greatly reducing the number of surplus kittens and puppies.

We increase how and where the public encounters animals available for adoption through community outreach, and we use the best in behavior training to help more cats and dogs thrive in their homes.

We also work with the community and policymakers to improve the conditions for our fellow animals.

Future . . .

The San Francisco SPCA will continue to deliver services that provide the most effective, compassionate care to animals in need, especially in the current economic climate where animals are too often abandoned or neglected. 

While we are proud of our no-kill history, the SF SPCA has moved beyond our vision of saving healthy cats and dogs to also include rehabilitating thousands of sick and injured animals — and going beyond the borders of San Francisco to help animals that may otherwise face euthanasia because of pet overpopulation.

One of the most important steps we’re taking to care for animals is opening the Leanne B. Roberts Animal Care Center. There is a great need in our community for a full-service veterinary hospital that delivers high-quality care, not just for pets whose guardians can afford it but also for homeless animals, and for guardians who need help in paying for care.

The Leanne Roberts Center has dramatically increased our capacity to provide such care, including doubling the number of spay/neuter procedures we perform each year and improving our ability to care for feral cats. Ultimately, the Leanne Roberts Center allows us to continue our vision of saving as many lives as possible.