The Animal Rescue League of Berks County started its mission in 1952 with Patches, a black-and-white spotted setter/Dalmatian mix rescued from a boarded-up shanty.

When the dog was brought to the league's original headquarters in Reading, her registration card described her as "gentle, housebroken, affectionate, unusually obedient."

It didn't take long for Patches to find a home.

Sixty years later, the nonprofit league has grown into Berks County's largest animal shelter. It takes in 10,000 strays like Patches every year and works to find homes for them. The organization also investigates cruelty complaints and educates people about animal care. The league's 60th anniversary year will culminate Friday with a Diamond Jubilee at the Crowne Plaza Reading in Wyomissing.

Mission of mercy

Mary Archer, a Berks County socialite who cared deeply about animals, created the Animal Rescue League in 1952. Archer was a member of the Humane Society of Berks County, but she and several board members were upset with some society rules so they broke away and formed their own group.

Archer donated 10 acres in Cumru Township and $15,000 to the cause, and the league's first kennel opened in 1953.

Organizers took in stray litters of puppies and kittens as well as malnourished horses and animals from New York research laboratories. In addition to fostering adoptions, the staff investigated animal cruelty complaints and operated an ambulance. Jane Jacoby of Pennside, a league board member, joined the effort in 1954. She remembers Archer as an animal advocate who loved bloodhounds and had a few cats, too.

"I can see a lot of problems in Berks County," Jacoby said. "I wanted to make things better, the same as Miss Mary, to make things better for the animals. Our mission hasn't changed much: Make life better for the animals and educate the people."

When Archer died in 1963, the group nearly closed its kennel, but several donations kept it open. Money still is an issue, and while it's popular for people to donate for a specific animal, there's an even greater need for donations for basic things such as overhead costs, according to staff members.

Education still top goal

The shelter off Route 724 in Cumru finds homes for about 6,000 animals annually, said Ashley Mikulsky, director of administration and development.

The group advocates spaying, neutering and vaccinations, said Chris Shaughness, director of media and marketing.

"Still our number-one goal is education," Executive Director Harry D. Brown III said. "We want everyone to take care of their animals."

While the nonprofit's goals have remained constant, the league has seen a shift in its animal population. The shelter is taking in many more pit bulls and Chihuahuas than ever before.

The league is looking for ways to find homes for the pit bulls. A future program would allow pit bulls in the shelter to be trained and receive obedience certification to make them more desirable for adoption.

The organization also would like to offer more frequent spay days for cats and dogs to control the pet population.

Overall, staff and volunteers still work to make sure no animals are turned away.

"They have to go somewhere," Mikulsky said. "If everyone turns them away, they're going to be on the streets, and that's not humane. That's our responsibility as the largest shelter in Berks County to take in those animals."

Contact Erin Negley: 610-371-5047 or enegley@readingeagle.com.