History of AWA

Saving Animals in SJ for More Than 75 Years!

From 1948 until now, read on to see how we have changed our organization and animal welfare in Voorhees, Camden County, New Jersey and beyond.

Founded in 1948

The Animal Welfare Association was founded in October of 1948 by four women who were disgusted by the horrific conditions they saw at local for-profit pounds. These animal lovers had a vision that there would be an alternative to the pain, suffering and sure death most animals face when impounded. The group held their first meeting in a living room and turned their vision into reality, calling themselves “Baby Animal Welfare.”

AWA in the 1950’s

AWA founders worked out of their homes raising awareness and funds, all while caring for animals. They worked on humane legislation, rescued animals from pounds, picked up strays and otherwise unwanted animals – including wildlife – using makeshift tools and equipment. In 1955, they incorporated and changed their name to “Animal Welfare Association of Camden County” and later, to just “Animal Welfare Association.” Before long, AWA had chapters in Burlington, Ocean, and Cumberland counties with thousands of members.

AWA in the 1960’s

In 1960, AWA became the third organization in the United States to be accepted into the Humane Society of the United States’ affiliate program for adhering to humane standards. Two years later, Charles Clausing, AWA’s president, appeared in front of the House of Representatives concerning a bill on stealing pets from homes and the pound for research. It was part of his testimony that later became the Animal Welfare Act.

In 1966, after years of fundraising, AWA purchased ten acres of land and erected a building in Voorhees, New Jersey. It was a state-of-the-art animal shelter and humane society, and a model for other shelters to follow. AWA immediately implemented a progressive animal adoption program requiring adopters to sign a contract agreeing to spay any female from the organization. 

AWA in the 1970’s

In 1971, a Humane Education wing was added as a place to teach children kindness to animals, offering shelter tours and school visits. AWA also began teaching workshops to adult on how to properly care for animals and educated the public about the exploitation of animals to provide humans with clothing, food, medicine and entertainment.

In 1973, AWA opened two more shelters to handle the countless influx of animals. AWA purchase the Red Lion Shelter in Vincentown and the Pine Lake Shelter in Lindenwold. Subsequently, they both suffered from fire damage that were determined to be arson. Miraculously, all dogs were rescued from the fires, but unfortunately one older dog passed away from smoke inhalation.

A year later, AWA opened the region’s first low-cost spay/neuter clinic. The number of animals entering AWA’s doors was limitless, and there simply were not enough home to find for them. Unhappy with the number of animals being euthanized, the staff and board realized that the real solution lay in aggressive spay and neuter efforts. It was recognized that a large percent of the community could not afford these seemingly elective surgeries, and we wanted to become part of the solution. After receiving a loan from H.S.U.S., AWA opened the Animal Birth Control Clinic.

AWA in the 1980’s

By the 1980’s, research had begun to show that senior citizens and special needs children were benefiting from the unconditional love that animals provided. Therefore, AWA began a structured pet therapy program where volunteers would bring animals to local nursing homes on a regular basis. The program proved to be a great success. Lonely seniors who had never spoken before, would speak to the animals while petting them. This vital program continues today.

In 1985, AWA received a $7,000 grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to hire a formal Humane Education Director and a former schoolteacher was hired for the position. AWA continued to educate children through our Kindness Camp, a variation of our current summer camp program. Our outreach program exists today and is continuously expanding.

AWA in the 1990’s

Space in our clinic was limited and a plan for expansion began in 1990. Money was raised and bequests were given, but in the end, our expenses far exceeded our income, and the project came to a halt. In 1993, a spay and neuter program for all adopted cats and dogs was put into effect – the only exceptions were for health reasons. This policy guaranteed that no pet from AWA would ever breed again.

Because of the diverse programs and projects that AWA handled, it was decided that AWA needed an executive director. In 1994, Phil Arkow became the first executive director of AWA. Later that year, AWA started limiting our intake to focus on saving more lives and reducing euthanasia.

AWA in the 2000’s

The turn of the century was an exciting time for AWA. In the early 2000’s, AWA formally adapted a no-kill philosophy.

AWA launched a program to address the animal welfare crisis in Camden City by purchasing a mobile clinic spay/neuter van. The van provided on-site spay/neuter and continues offering vaccination services for residents’ pets at no cost in our Vets on Wheels program.

In 2006, we formalized our Foster Care Program whereby volunteers provide temporary homes for animals prior to adoption. These animals typically need specialized, round-the-clock care, whether they are too young or recovering from an illness/injury.

A year later, we opened our began offering our Vaccine Clinic services. This philosophy means that no animal is euthanized due to space, length of stay or for treatable/manageable conditions. In 2009, AWA introduced our Transport program. Through this program, we save pets from open admission/high euthanasia shelters in our region and beyond.

AWA in the 2010’s

In 2010, we launched our pet retention and rehoming program to help people work with their pets to keep them. Later that year, we began advocating for a Trap Neuter Return program, in which we vaccinate and spay/neuter feral cats and return them back to their community. This is a humane way to help lower the feral cat population and save lives.

In 2011, we expanded our Adoption Center lobby, and in 2013 we began the expansion of our clinic. Our Veterinary Clinic provides high-quality care at low cost for local pets along with shelter and rescue group pets. Our clinic provides a variety of products and veterinary services to the local community. These included vaccination clinics, low-cost spay/neuter procedures, and wellness visits.

In 2017, AWA had 942 active volunteers. Our clinic performed 8,081 spay/neuter surgeries and gave vital vaccinations to 6,958 pets in our community at a low cost. More than 2,500 pets found homes through our Adoption Center.

AWA in 2020's

The beginning of 2020 was full of hope with the plan to build a new shelter and have it attached to the clinic built a few years ago, with Covid-19 Pandemic pushing back the timeline by several months.

In September of 2020 there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the new shelter and a grand opening was held in 2022.

From day one, AWA has been more than just a shelter. We have made it our responsibility to educate the community, provide accessible veterinary care and become a progressive leader in animal welfare.

We are so proud of how far we have come, but we recognize that there is still a long way to go. We are eager to continue our mission of eliminating the suffering of animals, promoting the importance of the human-animal bond, and improving the role of animals in the well-being of people.