I’ve been dying to write this one.
Dorothy Eagles’ name was in those scraps my husband brought home, and this was the first photo I found of her.
I mean, what is THAT woman about? I had to know.
Some kids love animals early and forever. Dorothy Eagles was one of those kids.
In 1928 she told the Chicago Tribune: “I used to sneak them into the basement so that my father wouldn’t see them, sometimes two and three at once. Then I’d feed them up and try to find good homes for them.”1
Back then she was Dorothy Todd. She was born in Chicago’s residential Lakeview neighborhood in October 1892, the middle child of three for her German and Irish immigrant parents. Dorothy was a Northsider through and through, and spent almost her whole life between Irving Park Road and Pratt Avenue.2, 3
Home for the Todd family was a few blocks from Graceland Cemetery, first on Berteau Avenue, then on Perry St. Her father Thomas was a bookkeeper, and, judging by this ad, her mother Emma probably took in sewing for money.4
There would be many newspaper mentions in Dorothy’s life. The first one was her 1912 engagement announcement. Now 20, she appeared all set to marry Eldrid Phelps.5
But there was no wedding. Instead, she lived at home until she was 25.
In December 1917, Dorothy married Lester Eagles, an electrician. By 1920 the couple had an apartment near Chicago’s lively Uptown neighborhood.6 They soon moved north to a grand apartment building in the trendy Spanish style, on Thome Avenue in Edgewater. While Lester worked in sales, Dorothy was home, with no children in the house and time on her hands.
Around 1926 or 1927, Dorothy appears to have melded her energy, her free time, and her love of animals in the most and least logical way: She opened her own animal shelter.
I haven’t been able to find another animal shelter established before then on the north side. It may have been the first in that area, and maybe only the second one in the city.
Dorothy rented an empty garage on Clark Street and Arthur Avenue, near some streetcar barns. Lester did all the necessary construction and built the pens. The North Side Animal Shelter was open for business.1
In November 1928, Dorothy made her big splash.
“Woman Gives Home and Love to Dog Waifs,” sang the headline. According to the Tribune, Dorothy’s shelter wasn’t pretty but it was clean, and the rented garage was already near capacity. (You can read the full article; part 1 and part 2.)
In its first two years the North Side Animal Shelter had grown to the point where it had a veterinarian on call. Food was provided through a special arrangement with the Edgewater Beach Hotel. All the dogs were given names, and every week Dorothy took a different one home with her “for a vacation.”
The article also revealed that Dorothy had forged an important connection: Her shelter was getting a boost from Irene Castle McLaughlin.
Irene was a famous retired vaudeville dancer, actress, and fashion maven. (When they made a movie about her life, Ginger Rogers played Irene.) Now, she was into her new career as an animal activist. She had established her own shelter in Deerfield, IL — ”Orphans of the Storm,” named after the Gish sisters movie. That was how Irene rolled.
Interestingly, Dorothy’s shelter was already doing some things that were modern for the 1920s.
Instead of operating on a cash-and-carry basis, Dorothy was very particular about who was allowed to take home her strays. She made house calls to check up on the adopted animals. More than once, she took pets back when she disapproved of their living conditions.
Second, unlike larger organizations such as the Anti-Cruelty League, the North Side Animal Shelter used euthanasia in only limited circumstances. Dorothy did acknowledge euthanizing litters of puppies — standard practice for the 1920s — but comparatively speaking, she was a softie.
For decades, Chicago had struggled to cope with its stray animal population. In 1912, the Anti-Cruelty League claimed there were a million homeless cats on the city streets. This may have been a little overblown, but there was no denying that the thousands of stray animals caused problems (particularly rabies). Concepts we take for granted — keeping pets indoors, getting them spayed/neutered, feeding cats instead of letting them out to hunt — had not yet taken hold among the public. The stray population was so large that to maintain space in the shelters, euthanasia was sometimes practiced within hours. Animals were also turned over to medical schools and vivisectionists on a frequent basis.7, 8
“I am trying to be the go-between in the death penalty which most dogs have done nothing to deserve, and a home which they hopefully seek,” Dorothy said.1
In May 1929, having outgrown the little garage, the North Side Animal Shelter moved across the road to 6500 N. Clark Street. By November Dorothy adopted yet another dog for herself, and gave lectures regarding the shelter’s progress. She had become the public face of her organization, especially when it came to fundraising.9
If 1929 was a friendly pup, 1930 showed some teeth.
Animal shelters were still a relatively new concept. Among themselves, they debated whether the aim should be to rehome animals, or to clear them off the streets. The general public also wasn’t sold on the idea. Plenty of people didn’t like the noise and smell they generated, and didn’t see the point. Dorothy’s friend, Irene, had run her shelter in Deerfield for several years, and complaints from the public were a regular occurrence.
In January 1930, the Anti-Cruelty League ran the largest shelter in Chicago. At its annual meeting, the league revealed that it had handled 30,000 animals in 1929 — and more than 29,000 of those had been euthanized. (Attendees were horrified. There was yelling and tears.) Both Dorothy and Irene made public statements criticizing the league’s practices. Dorothy called it “the height of cruelty.”8, 11
Barely two weeks later, on Feb. 11, the unthinkable happened: An arsonist burned Irene’s shelter to the ground.12
Dorothy’s shelter received its own threat two days later. “The same thing will happen here that happened to Irene Castle’s place,” the anonymous letter read. “A little ‘pineapple’ will start things up. People get tired of the noise of the dogs, and you are no better than the one in Deerfield. This is the last warning. Next comes the works.”13
“Pineapple” meant grenade; a police guard was temporarily stationed outside the shelter. Fortunately, “the works” never arrived, and the subsequent two years seem to have been calmer.
All along, Dorothy had amassed a long list of supporters, volunteers, and donors — nearly all women. So when the North Side Animal Shelter outgrew its den again, it had the resources to move.
The shelter’s next location, at 5352 N. Broadway, was a more modern space on a busy street. It even featured a second-hand shop to bring in extra funds. The new shelter opened in February 1932, complete with a fantastic headline.
In March, Dorothy presided over the North Side Animal Shelter’s annual fundraising card party.
In April, they got sued.
Not everyone likes animals. Some of the shelter’s new neighbors on Broadway were not happy about the arrangement, and they quickly banded together in a lawsuit. The shelter was a problem, they said, and it was damaging their businesses and homes. Dorothy and the shelter organization were charged with maintaining a nuisance.14, 15
Dorothy requested a jury trial, the better to make her case. Against the complaints about noise and smell, she argued that the dogs were actually clean and quiet. The shelter’s vice president testified that people would purposely ring the doorbell at 3 AM to make the dogs bark.16
Ultimately, Dorothy and the shelter were both cleared. Some jurors wanted to force the shelter to install soundproofing, until the other jurors convinced them “that the defendant was such a nice person that she would put the insulation in voluntarily.”17
The shelter even hired a “dog soother” to stay overnights and shush any barking.18
Despite the win, it seemed smart to get away from unfriendly neighbors. In April 1933, the North Side Animal Shelter found its next spot just south of Rosehill Cemetery, in a less established area on Damen Avenue. This time there were no lawsuits. The shelter would be there for the next 20 years.
Now the shelter’s newspaper mentions were about fundraisers and feel-good stories, not problems. With fewer worries, the staff could focus on the animals’ welfare and boosting adoption rates.
By Christmas it had opened a free clinic for pet owners who couldn’t afford a vet bill. There was an established annual round of fundraising card parties, concerts, and dances.
In 1934, a $1 donation would get you a place in the Lucky Dog club and a medal to pin on your dog’s collar. “I’m a lucky dog!” it read. They sent the first one to noted dog owner President Roosevelt.19
Dorothy became a little less visible in the 1930s. Now, the organization, not Dorothy, took prominence in news stories. Her name was still used in advertising, and her knack for finding animals continued to provide good newspaper copy. (In 1936, returning from a radio engagement, she spotted a little dog waiting by the shelter door. Naturally, she christened him Radio.)
The organization could now stand on its own four feet — but its maturity may not have been the only reason she pulled back.
Dorothy, you see, had a sweetheart. ☗
 Chicago Tribune; 25 Nov 1928, Sun; Page 121, 123
 Birth info
 Year: 1900; Census Place: Chicago Ward 26, Cook, Illinois
 Chicago Tribune; Chicago, Illinois; 22 Oct 1905; Page 26
 Chicago Tribune; Chicago, Illinois; 25 Oct 1912; Page 9
 Year: 1920; Census Place: Chicago Ward 25, Cook (Chicago), Illinois
 The Suburbanite Economist; 21 Jun 1912; Page 6
 Chicago Tribune; 26 Jan 1930; Page 1
 Chicago Tribune; 15 Dec 1929; Page 47
 Chicago Tribune; 28 May 1929; Page 3
 The Racine Journal News; 27 Jan 1930; Page 4
 Chicago Tribune; 13 Feb 1930; Page 15;
 Alton Evening Telegraph; 13 Feb 1930; Page 1
 Chicago Tribune; 14 Feb 1932; Page 47, 127
 Chicago Tribune; 7 Apr 1932; Page 10
 Chicago Tribune; 29 Apr 1932; Page 3
 Chicago Tribune; 28 May 1932; Page 4
 The Decatur Daily Review; 10 June 1932; Page 40
 Chicago Tribune; 5 Apr 1934; Page 17
Photos of Dorothy Eagles