Ellen M. Gifford, I Like Your Style

(Image: Boston Daily Globe)

On page five of the Boston Daily Globe’s June 4, 1886 edition is an article entitled “A Canine Charity” which I happened upon recently. By the end of it, I’d found a new hero.

The Ellen M. Gifford Sheltering Home for Animals was built in 1884 on one and one quarter acres in Brighton, Massachusetts. It consisted of a two story brick and stone house with a single story wooden building behind which contained the kennels.

(Image: Boston Daily Globe)

Mrs. Ellen M. Gifford was a philanthropist from New Haven, Connecticut. She spent $15,000 (more than $425,000 adjusted for inflation today) on the home for stray dogs and cats then turned it over to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The SPCA ran it for two years during which time they adopted some animals and killed the rest. When Mrs. Gifford found out about the killing, she took back the home and entrusted a relative in Boston to run it as a strictly no kill shelter.

Mr. A. H. Perkins, superintendent for the Home first under the SPCA and then Mrs. Gifford, told the Boston Daily Globe:

[T]he present intention is to kill no animals unless they are sick and incurable. If they are in good health or can be cured we keep them and sell them if anyone will buy them. If no one will buy them we give them away to persons who will take good care of them. And if no one will take them as a gift we will keep them and care for them indefinitely. Mrs. Gifford has expressly declared that she doesn’t want this home to be a slaughterhouse.

Hell yeah Mrs. Gifford.

At the time of the article, the Home was sheltering only dogs but plans were in the works to obtain additional land so that cats and horses could be cared for as well. A hospital kennel was also to be built in order to provide free veterinary care to dogs whose owners could not afford it.

In addition to the superintendent, who lived on the second floor, the Home employed an assistant and a cook who prepared the dogs’ meals in the kitchen. The dogs were fed meat, gravy, vegetables, bread and hasty pudding (cornmeal and/or other grains cooked in milk or water).

In researching the Home, I was surprised to find it still operates as a shelter today, albeit with some significant changes. The current outfit has retained the name of its founder and her no kill mission but now shelters only cats. Sadly, like so many other private rescues, they seem to want only the least needy animals. (As I’ve written previously, rescue to me means taking the animals most in need.) And there is almost no historical information provided on the website which seems a missed opportunity.


A note for those wanting to read the original article, you will find the word inmate used to refer to the shelter dogs. It was a widely used word at the time and not derogatory or intended to convey a sense of imprisonment. Wealthy purebred dog owners also referred to the dogs in their kennels as inmates.

2 thoughts on “Ellen M. Gifford, I Like Your Style

    1. I was so surprised I had never heard of her and even moreso that the institution still bearing her name does not tell her story on their website. I just want everyone to hear about her!

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