Often times, the smallest acts of compassion are catalysts for momentous change. Case in point: in 1915, a group of concerned citizens in Escondido began meeting every week to discuss animal welfare in their community. It was impossible for them to know at the time, but this weekly act of compassion would eventually give way to 100 years of progressive work to save animal lives.
After 22 years of animal welfare efforts, this community group became officially incorporated as Escondido Humane Society. The first ever shelter location was established on the corner of Mission Avenue and Broadway, where animal adoption and education services were provided to the community. Just ten years later, Escondido Humane Society expanded their services by securing the city’s animal control contract.
To accommodate this wonderful growth, in 1972 Escondido Humane Society moved to a 4-acre site at Kit Carson Park. Over the next 30 years, operations continued to flourish at this larger facility, including an increased emphasis on educational offerings to promote the humane treatment of animals.
Sadly, this progress was briefly eclipsed on January 20, 2001, when a fire broke out at the shelter, completely destroying the Kit Carson Park facility. Firefighters were able to save 85 animals from the burning building, but tragically, 115 animals perished. Staff members, volunteers and the community at large were left shaken and devastated by this event.
Ina Shookhoff, a 20-year employee of Escondido Humane Society, was Director of Education at the time of the tragedy. When asked about the fire, she describes it as the worst day of her entire life. In addition to losing the shelter, the animals she featured in her education programs were amongst those lost in the fire.
Yet, in the wake of this heartbreaking event, the community once again offered acts of compassion that gave way to impactful growth. The remaining animals and staff of Escondido Humane Society were inundated with support in the form of monetary and in-kind donations, temporary satellite adoption centers, donated offsite office space and volunteer power. This surge of community support allowed Escondido Humane Society to continue operations while plans were made and funds were raised to build a new shelter facility.
In 2002, construction began on a new home for Escondido Humane Society on East Valley Parkway, where the shelter currently resides today.
On July 1, 2014, Escondido Humane Society continued this positive growth trend by merging with San Diego Humane Society, another animal welfare organization which served the central and northwest sections of San Diego County. The two organizations had been working together for years so consolidating resources and manpower was conducive to helping more animals than ever before.
The Escondido Humane Society shelter became the Escondido Campus of San Diego Humane Society. Now unified as one organization, San Diego Humane Society is on track to help more than 15,000 vulnerable animals this year alone.
Having been with former Escondido Humane Society throughout the tragedy and triumphs of the past 20 years, Ina believes the organization is now on track to fulfill its mission in a big way.
“We lost everything in the fire. It was devastating.” says Shookhoff. “But in the years since then, what we have built in place of that void is incredible. Now, with the recent merger, our reach in the community is bigger than ever before. And that’s what the vision has always been for this organization – to help as many animals and people as possible.”