UPDATE - This story has been updated to reflect that amount HSUS paid to Ringling Bros. was not disclosed and that the issue over payment with insurance companies is still in litigation.

When the Humane Society of the United States was founded, there were few local laws and no federal laws protecting animals.

Animal shelters - better known then as the municipal pound - killed strays in gas chambers or turned over whole populations of dogs and cats to research labs.

Random source dealers trafficked in stolen animals sold for research and laboratories – as well as zoos and other animal exhibits – were beholden to no one.

Dog fighting and cock fighting were legal. There were no protections for endangered species or laws governing the importation of ivory or slaughter of whales. Farm animals – and other creatures including the majestic wild mustangs of the American West - endured systemic cruelty before and during slaughter.

That was 1954. Now, as the HSUS celebrates its 60th anniversary, the group took time late last month to reflect on the victories and consider future challenges.

lot has changed since then. In 1958 passage of the Humane Slaughter Act passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (which would be extended to protect dogs in puppy mills and other commercial animal breeding facilities, as well as zoos and dog fighting).

Other accomplishments include:

1973 – Passage of the Endangered Species Act

2001 - HSUS investigation leads to ban on sale of dog and cat fur

2005 - Rescued 10,000 pets in Hurricane Katrina

2008 - HSUS probe exposes link between pet stores and puppy mills, another investigation leads to exposure of treatment of downer cows at California meat plant leads to largest meat recall in U.S. history and improved standards for cows that arrive at slaughter unable to walk.

2012 – McDonalds agrees to phase out use of gestation creats for hogs used in pork production (just one of many fast food companies and food suppliers to do so)

At a gala event to celebrate the anniversary held in Washington D.C. recently the economist, author, comedian and animal advocate Ben Stein served as master of ceremonies.

Best known for his dry delivery, Stein, who has three dogs and seven cats, gets downright animated when he talks about animals, letting loose on hunters, dog eaters and the large percentage of people around the globe, he said, who "don't deserve pets."

"When you come home they come down and greet you like a hero. What else makes you feel that way? And what do they get in return? " he said. "Cruelty and mistreatment from humans."

He continued, "We are the only voice they have."

Among those voices is HSUS president Wayne Pacelle who was recognized for his 20 years leading the world's largest animal protection organization and retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (R., Va.) won the lifetime achievement award for his leadership in Congress on animal issues.

"Humans have a moral obligation to all living things," Moran, a driving force behind ending horse slaughter and requiring imported fur products be labeled among other issues.

While the group's accomplishments are vast and its work has had global impact in improving animals' lives, there have been a few missteps along the way.

In May the group settled a 14-year court battle over allegations of elephant abuse against Feld Entertainment operators of Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, that resulted in a $16 million payout by HSUS and other animal advocacy groups. Concern about statements made regarding who paid HSUS's settlement share, led to a donor advisory issued by the charity rating group Charity Navigator.

Still, the victories keep rolling in. Most recently, South Dakota became the last state to pass felony animal cruelty laws and major pork producers Tyson and Cargil pledged to end the use of gestation crates for their sows.

Their work is far from over.

On Capitol Hill, the HSUS focused on passage of bills to make permanent the ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. and prohibit the transport of horses to Canada or Mexico for slaughter, end the cruel practice of horse soring, used by trainers of Tennessee Walking Horses to make them step higher. Across the country state offices lobby on behalf of animals in statehouses from Augusta to Olympia.

Closer to home, HSUS continues to fight in the Pennsylvania legislature to end the practice of live pigeon shooting, winning a key Senate committee vote this spring, along with bipartisan support in the chamber.

Among the campaigns of the HSUS's global affiliate, Humane Society International, is ending the sale of dog meat in Asia.

In what can only be described as a grand finale, the 500 guests at the Washington Convention Center were told that HIS needed to raise $25,000 to open an office in Vietnam to launch its effort to end the dog meat trade in Asia.

Before the contribution solicitation began guests were told the story of a dog meat festival in Yulin, China  – an event condemned across the world for encouraging - and celebrating – the mass slaughter of dogs.

Out from behind the curtain came a woman holding a small, cream-colored ball of fur.

He had been rescued from that very festival a week earlier. Soon the donations Told story of a dog meat festival in Vietnam how some sellers held up puppies to visitors offering to spare them for a few dollars. Out from behind the curtain came a woman holding a small puppy. Hands went up quickly and soon $150,000  for the new office.