From Dog Pound to Humane Society

In 40 years of service, Norman Finch led us from Depression-era dog pound to our modern incarnation — just in time for Expo '74.

In 1934, the height of the Great Depression, a 27-year-old farm boy Norman Finch and his wife Elva looked out on their Reardan farm — the place where Elva had grown up, where Norm looked after and loved so many cats, dogs, goats, calves, and horses — and said goodbye.

Despite his youth, Norman had suffered from severe spinal arthritis for many years, and farm life had finally caught up with him. He and Elva moved right into the heart of Spokane — a modest apartment at 2219 W. Broadway — where Norman would be close to his doctors and Elva could attend beauty school. It was a tremendous adjustment for a man who had at one time owned nineteen horses.

During their first year in town, on a typical trip to the grocery, Norman found himself making small talk with a Spokane Humane Society night watchman. Although this man bemoaned the night shift, Norman thought him lucky to have a job at all, and asked why the man didn’t just ask for the day shift. The man responded that he could not find someone to work nights. This sounded like the perfect job for Norman, one that even he, with his disability, could do. Thus began Norman’s more than 38 years of service with the Spokane Humane Society.

For the next three years, Norman enjoyed a leisurely walk to work at the society each evening, reporting for duty at 5 p.m.. After ensuring that the kennels and cages were cleaned, he would settle himself on the provided cot to spend the night, often waking at odd hours to answer emergency calls.

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Norman’s service as night watchman came to a close three years later when he was reassigned to work days with Herb Reinhardt, canvassing to make sure all the city’s dogs were licensed annually. Norman loved this work because he felt it could make a real difference. At the time, the Spokane Humane Society was still functioning as the city pound, and 85% of dog licensing fees went to fund the society. This funding was critical since the society was responsible for handling animal control issues as well as strays and pet surrenders. After years of canvassing for licenses, Norman knew the names of most of the dogs in the city.

When the position of superintendent opened up in 1942, the board did not feel the need to look any further than Norman Finch, having observed his passion and efficacy over the previous eight years. The decision was unanimous.

The 1946 annual report details Norman Finch’s many “unexpected overnight guests”:

Do unexpected overnight guests gripe you? Then think how Superintendent Norman E. Finch of the Humane Society Feels—with his 1946 guest list of 2780 dogs and 4147 cats. Nor is that the extent of his visitors, for he also entertains horses, calves, pigs, rabbits, ducks, goats, birds, snakes, guinea pigs, porcupines and rats.

Some of these animals were boarders, but most of them were unannounced and their stays not sponsored. Just a few years later, 12,300 animals were passing through the facilities each year, Humane Society automobiles went out on well over 3,000 calls, and the disparity was growing between the funds required to function and the money coming in.

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In 1955 the city council voted in a leash law whose enforcement would fall squarely on Norman Finch’s slender shoulders. Norman Finch knew even before the law came into effect that dog owners all over the city would be irate, and he himself did not agree with the ordinance. On top of those stressors, The Spokesman claimed that it was “well-known that the population at the W. 704 Broadway facility [would] greatly increase” as a result of the law.

They were right. “People would come by the shelter at night and literally throw their dogs over the fence,” said Elva Finch. “[They] felt getting rid of the dog would save them the bother of keeping it tied up or in a kennel on their property.”

Through this critical moment of near-crippling responsibilities, Norman Finch forged ahead, leading the society in fulfilling its many functions despite a series of failed negotiations with the city to increase funding and make circumstances tenable. In 1960, the city council made the decision to run its own pound and enforce the dog confinement ordinance itself.

The society needed to recover. And now that it no longer received anything from the city, it needed new sources of funding. With only 40 donating members, Norman began a membership campaign that gained more than 700 members over the next year.

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Once the society was on more stable financial footing, Norman Finch identified the need for a new facility, and the board reached a decision to sell the current site at 704 W. Broadway and purchase the 40-acre property where the Spokane Humane Society sits today. Despite his declining health, Noman Finch lived to see the new space become a reality. He passed away a few months later at the age of 66.

After years of canvassing for licenses, Norman knew the names of most of the dogs in the city.

Shortly before his death, Norman Finch was described by The Spokesman as the “symbol of the society to Spokanites,” having “found homes for countless animals and been the best friend of hundreds of youngsters seeking pets.”

One such “youngster” was 19-year-old Diane Rasmussen who, not allowed to keep a dog at home, inquired at the front desk whether she could rent a dog. Although a little confused, the person at the front desk promptly sent her in to talk to Mr. Finch, who readily understood Diane’s heart for animals. He let her take the dogs places, brush them, walk them, try to train them—and they were her dogs. Far from mourning, Diane was, in her own words, “tickled pink” when one of her dogs was adopted. Years later, when Diane would fill Norman’s seat as director, they would all be her dogs (and cats), and her goal would be to ensure that each one of them found someone who would love it forever.

When asked what it is makes the the Spokane Humane Society truly unique, Diane says it’s “the shoulders that people are standing on now, that I stood on, that even Norm Finch stood on. In my mind, though, he’s the pillar.”