Animal Rescue League Marks A Century Of Helping Cape Animals

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Animals

While the Animal Rescue League's Cape Cod headquarters is now in Brewster, an earlier facility was on the property of ARL Agent Hilliard Hopkins of North Harwich.  COURTESY PHOTO

BREWSTER — In 1921, Cape Cod was a rural place. The canal was only five years old, and the Cape’s first hospital had only opened the year before. But there was already concern about animal welfare, and the Animal Rescue League of Boston stepped in to meet the need.

The first part-time agent, William Irwin of Cotuit, helped countless animals, including community cats and livestock, and visited schoolhouses to teach children about kindness to animals. The work, while important, wasn’t enough to keep Mr. Irwin consistently employed, and it would be a few more years before the Animal Rescue League had a regular role on the Cape.

The ARL hired Hilliard Hopkins of North Harwich as an agent for the Lower Cape in 1946, and Hopkins transformed his property into an animal shelter and a base of operations for his daughter, a veterinarian. The property still serves animals to this day as Derbyfield Kennel.

In the years that followed, the League found homes for thousands of animals, assisted countless more in distress on Cape Cod, and became a valuable animal resource for full and part-time Cape residents. The group’s first official shelter was opened in Provincetown in 1956, and while the facility was well-received, it proved to be too geographically isolated to serve the rest of the Cape.

So in 1967, ARL opened the doors on a brand-new facility located at 3981 Main St. in East Brewster, and about 400 people attended the event. The Brewster shelter was not only larger and more modern, its more central location made it possible to greatly expand animal adoptions to families around the Cape. Nearly 500 animals found new homes the first year in Brewster, and ARL quickly became embedded in the community, hosting events for local organizations, visiting four elementary schools and hosting about 600 students.

The centralized location also made it easier for ARL to help distressed animals. In 1967, Harwich officials contacted the League to intervene in the case of a severely beaten puppy. The close proximity meant a quick response by Cape Agent Donald Westover, who picked up the animal, arranged veterinary care, and rapidly launched an investigation into the act of cruelty. The suspect was found guilty and was banned from owning an animal for several years. The court granted the League custody of the puppy, and Westover was able to place the animal in a loving adoptive home.

This was just one of the tens of thousands of positive outcomes that would take place at ARL’s Brewster location over the next 54 years, according to a visual history of the organization’s activities on Cape Cod being compiled for this year’s centennial.

“I have had a love affair with the Animal Rescue League since adopting our first family dog, Snubby, in 1975,” ARL volunteer Kim Roderiques said. Roderiques and cinematographer Geoffrey Bassett have produced a historical documentary film highlighting local animal adoption tales, which will debut at Chatham’s Orpheum Theater in September.

“The ARL has been a pillar in the Cape community finding homes for countless animals for one hundred years,” Roderiques said. “Having the opportunity, thanks to a grant from Rockland Trust, to document their journey through the lens while sharing the most moving and riveting stories of animals surviving and thriving, along with acknowledging those who have been integral in making adoptions successful, is a dream come true.”

As a companion piece to the documentary, Roderiques will also be creating an exclusive photo book containing a collection of images related to ARL’s history, including animals that have been adopted from the Brewster Animal Care & Adoption Center. The book, printed with support from Agway of Cape Cod, can be obtained by making a donation to the League.

With the lifting of pandemic restrictions, the ARL shelter in Brewster has now resumed its regular hours for adoptions and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 6:30 p.m. and by appointment on Tuesday afternoons. Visitors will see commemorative signs and photos marking the centennial and can take home special freebies. The organization will also be hosting private events for donors this summer.

Donors can take advantage of a dollar-for-dollar match through Oct. 12. To help, text 100CAPE to 44321 to get a secure link to the donation page. More information is available at