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How Contra Costa Humane Society Got Its Start

Spawning a Movement

One sunny afternoon 36 years ago, sailors at the Concord Naval Weapons Station held a barbecue. The friendly sound of laughter and the inviting aroma of roasting meat attracted a small, hungry stray dog that edged closer to the fire. Suddenly, to the horror of partygoers, a sailor, who probably had a bit too much to drink, scooped up the little black and white pup and tossed her on the fire.

The terrified dog leapt from the flames and ran for her life, quickly disappearing before she could be caught. It wasn’t until three days later that someone whose home was near the base, opened her front door and found the frightened, starving, and badly injured little dog huddled on the front porch. The dog’s four badly blistered paws were raw and already infected.

After being rushed to a vet for treatment of her injuries, the small stray, which became known as Angel and was only looking for something to fill her empty stomach, became a celebrity. Local newspapers featured pictures of the little terrier, and television stations sent reporters to chronicle her recovery.

Several Contra Costa women, saddened by the cruelty to which the little dog had been exposed, vowed to offer immediate help to other homeless county dogs in dire straits. And the Animal Protection Bureau, a precursor to the Contra Costa Humane Society, was born. During the next few years, APB helped numerous dogs that were found in unfortunate, even dangerous, circumstances. The dogs received necessary medical treatment, were placed in caring foster homes, and were then found safe, loving forever homes.Eventually APB joined forces with SPAY, or Stop Pets’ Annual Yield, and in 1991, the merging of the two groups resulted in the creation of the Contra Costa Humane Society, a now-flourishing nonprofit whose mission is to improve the quality of life for animals, decrease euthanasia rates, and educate the public to foster compassion, responsibility, and respect for animals.

CCHS celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016. The rescue organization is not related to any other animal rescue group and is not a branch of the Humane Society of the United States. CCHS, with offices in Pleasant Hill, has saved the lives of thousands of cats and dogs like Phinny, an emaciated pit bull found recently on the streets of West County. Phinny had been apparently struck with a heavy object that had broken his jaw. The wound healed unattended, leaving Phinny unable to open his mouth wide enough to eat solid food. CCHS mounted a Kisses for Phinny campaign that provided the dog with expensive medical care restoring the jaw’s normal function. Phinny was able to give lots of kisses to the doctors and CCHS fosters who helped him heal.

Phinny May-1

Aside from its foster and adoption programs operated in conjunction with the county’s Animal Services, CCHS has an on-site free-roam cat shelter for adult, senior, and special needs adoptable cats, a spay/neuter assistance program, and offers AniMeals, a supplemental pet food program for companion animals of low-income county residents.

As for Angel, the little terrier who started it all, she was adopted by a wonderful family with eight children and lived a long, happy, and very loved life.

To find out more about Contra Costa Humane Society, or to adopt a new furry friend, go to

Marcy Bachman, a longtime animal advocate, joined the Contra Costa Humane Society board in 2005. She is a retired journalist, syndicated columnist, and daily newspaper opinion and commentary columnist who writes magazine features and has authored three books.

Each month, Shelter Zone features a local shelter or rescue group. If you’d like to contribute, email

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Main article photo by: Phinny Courtesy Contra Costa Human Society