Detroit Historical Museum shows a warm and fuzzy side in new exhibition

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 30, 2016

 Before cars were common, people got around Detroit on horseback, and the Michigan Humane Society was there to make sure these animals were cared for properly.

Before cars were common, people got around Detroit on horseback, and the Michigan Humane Society was there to make sure these animals were cared for properly.

Photo provided by the Michigan Humane Society

DETROIT — You might say the Detroit Historical Museum has gone to the dogs. And the cats, and the hamsters, and the horses …

Through Oct. 9, the museum is hosting an exhibition in the Community Gallery that traces the history of the Michigan Humane Society — the largest and oldest animal welfare group in Michigan. 

Through newspaper clippings, photos, artifacts and fascinating factoids scattered through the gallery, visitors will be able to see the growth and changes of the MHS from its founding in 1877 to the opening this spring of the new — and expanded — Dresner Foundation Detroit Animal Care Campus, a 35,000-square-foot facility that replaced a 13,000-square-foot building constructed in 1931 that the MHS had long since outgrown, explained Peter Poulos, community engagement manager for the MHS and curator for this exhibition.

One in every 10 pets adopted in Michigan comes from the MHS, which finds homes for more than 11,000 animals each year. One of the displays pays homage to this statistic, featuring photos of pets in happy new homes sent in by their human companions.

“We’re hoping people will notice these (statistics and facts) throughout the gallery,” said Tracy Irwin, director of exhibitions and collections at the Detroit Historical Museum.

Besides rescuing and finding homes for pets and investigating cruelty complaints, the MHS provides low-cost vaccinations and veterinary care to the public, and even a free pet food bank for pet owners who can no longer afford to feed Fido. More than 6,300 families took advantage of the pet food bank last year, Poulos said.

“Obviously, demand outstrips supply,” he said of the program, for which people must first register and meet certain qualifications.

Visitors will see fun artifacts as well, including the world’s longest dog leash — which is expected to be certified in the next couple of months by the Guinness Book of World Records. The leash, which was created for the MHS for the grand opening of the new Detroit facility, was made by Shinola and is 2,620 feet 8 inches long, Poulos said. He said that makes it nearly a half-mile long. 

Despite the society’s name, “Our service area is predominantly Wayne, Oakland and Macomb (counties),” Poulos said.

The MHS has facilities in Detroit, Westland and Rochester Hills.

“The Michigan Humane Society is thrilled and honored for this opportunity to share the various chapters of our proud history with museumgoers this summer,” said Matt Pepper, president and CEO of the MHS, in a prepared statement. “Whether you’ve adopted pets from us, volunteered at one of our shelters over the years, or contributed to our annual fundraisers such as the Mutt March at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, we’re confident you’ll discover some new and surprising aspects of our work on the community’s behalf.”

Those who’d like to lend a helping paw to the MHS can participate in one of three upcoming Mega March walks for animals. They’ll be held Sept. 10 at Civic Center Park in Woodhaven, Sept. 25 at Belle Isle State Park in Detroit, and Oct. 2 at Stony Creek Metropark and Kensington Metropark. For more information or to register for any of these events, visit

“It’s a perfect fit (for the Community Gallery),” Irwin said of this exhibition. “The Michigan Humane Society is a nonprofit. This is a very important Detroit story, and this is the gallery that (tells those stories).”

The Detroit Historical Museum is located at 5401 Woodward Ave. in midtown Detroit. Admission is free. For more information, call (313) 833-1805 or visit