The History of WARL

IMG_7093Worcester Animal Rescue League, also known as WARL, was founded in 1912 by a group of Worcester women to help over-worked horses, stray cats and dogs. They were dedicated women who remained with WARL for the remainder of their lives.

From 1916 to 1929 WARL was located at 447 Grove Street in Worcester. Even then WARL was taking in animals from beyond the city of Worcester and expanding its scope to needy animals other than dogs, cats and horses. The shelter purchased its first ‘automobile truck’ to rescue animals. In just one year, staff traveled 5,395 miles on 233 trips.

The 1925 census showed 3,885 animals, which was an increase of 262 animals from the previous year. Not only did WARL need larger quarters, it was operating at a deficit. There was an appeal in the annual report: “Will not the humane Worcester public help a society which cares yearly for nearly 4,000 animals?”

The public stepped forward with donations and bequeathments that led to the purchase of the 5-acre Deacon Fisher estate in 1930. That is Worcester Animal Rescue League’s present location at 139 Holden Street in Worcester.

September 17, 1951 was the grand opening of the current shelter building, although it was increased to 1700 square feet in 1975, and there have been other minor renovations.

There are a few mysteries in the shelter’s archives.

  • Is the field where we walk dogs and hold events actually a pet cemetery, or was that plan abandoned decades ago?
  • When and why did WARL stop going out to rescue animals and turned to relying on people to bring the animals to the shelter?
  • How did Polaris, the lead dog on Admiral Peary’s trek to the North Pole, end up at WARL? We have a partial answer. Polaris was going to be euthanized for killing an animal. The shelter’s president heard about it and took Polaris. He lived at WARL for 9 months until he was adopted. But how did Polaris get from the North Pole to Worcester County to be rescued by the president?

In many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. WARL increases the number of animals it takes in every single year, and every single year, the shelter struggles financially to care for those animals.

From its founding until now, WARL has been blessed by dedicated, determined, compassionate staff. Through the decades, these people have not been afraid to take unpopular stands for the sake of animals that did not have a voice.

WARL withdrew as the city of Worcester’s pound in 1963 because of state legislation that authorized selling stray animals for experimentation. WARL did not resume being Worcester’s pound until 1975 when an exemption was written into the law permitting WARL not to sell strays for experimentation.

In 2010, WARL opposed the pit bull ban in the city of Worcester because of its prejudice against a breed rather than individual dogs with a bite history.

Today’s staff attend lectures, seminars and courses to learn more about how to care for an animal’s physical and emotional needs. We’ve expanded our network to place animals in programs and facilities as far away as Canada. We also take in animals from distant facilities like Puerto Rico. More animals staying longer at the shelter, improved medical equipment and veterinary staff, treatment options, behavioral plans all cost a great deal of money. That’s one thing that hasn’t change.

The other thing that hasn’t changed is the public’s support of Worcester Animal Rescue League. This shelter truly is the people’s animal shelter. It runs solely on public donation. That support gave WARL its first century. With your financial support, we’ll start on our second century.

On behalf of all the animals at Worcester Animal Rescue League, thank you!