Feb 25, 2021

Dane County Humane Society's First Visionary

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Ida Kittleson was a compassionate and hardworking woman who helped many philanthropic organizations, but DCHS is her greatest legacy.

In the mid-1880’s, the humane movement to prevent cruelty to animals and people sweeps across the Atlantic Ocean from Great Britain. Social reform was a top priority then for several movements, many of which shared a common thread: the belief that kindness for animals is a measure of human morality.

In 1910, the Wisconsin Humane Society formed a branch in Dane County. In the following year, the branch responded to 324 cases of cruelty, clearly showing a need for its services in the community. The Dane County Branch of the Wisconsin Humane Society soon became a role model for other similar organizations in the country.

That same decade, a music teacher found a stray cat and brought it to her neighbor Ida Kittleson in a violin case for help. Ida decided to keep the cat herself and begins devoting a huge part of her life to helping animals. She and her husband Milo scoured the streets of Madison, travelling back and forth on streetcars to bring lost pets to safety.

The work of helping Madison’s animals became overwhelming, so Ida enlisted the help of Dr. Quinn, a Civil War veteran and animal advocate. While he refused her offers of payment for his services, he gladly instead accepted Ida’s Sunday dinners. Dr. Quinn leads the movement in 1920 for the Dane County Branch of the Wisconsin Humane Society to become an independent organization to respond better to growing local needs.

Ida and Milo Kittleson in 1957

Ida and her husband, Milo, who was Madison’s mayor from 1920-1925, actively cared for lost pets and found them new homes if their families weren’t located. In 1921, Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) was officially incorporated as an independent, non-profit organization to protect animals from cruelty and neglect with visionary Ida Kittleson as our first board president. The well-being of children and animals were Ida’s top priorities.

During its first year, “a vast amount of cruelty and neglect was prevented because of the fact that the Humane Society was in existence,” states the 1921 annual report. Later in 1929, DCHS decides to solely focus on helping animals, allowing other existing agencies to continue helping people. At first, DCHS housed homeless pets in Ida’s basement. Soon, animals were also cared for at Candlin’s Pet Hospital and in volunteer foster homes.

The Kittleson home on Gorham Street, where the first DCHS animals were housed.

A friend who worked with Ida on various community projects said, “Ida’s personality kept the Humane Society alive through the years. When it was necessary, she carried the burden alone, for she has always been able to accomplish anything she puts her mind to.” Ida served a remarkable 30+ years as board president.

Ida’s dedication to help deserving animals, the willingness to be resourceful and adapt to changing needs, and the openness to try new ideas still defines the spirit of DCHS to this day. This foundation has made DCHS the success it is in being a vibrant, evolving, cutting-edge national leader in animal welfare.

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