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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Humane Societies

By Kristy McCaffrey

Henry Bergh
The first humane society in North America—the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)—was founded by Henry Bergh in New York in 1866. Its purpose was, according to Bergh, “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.” He established the ASPCA three days after the first legislation against animal cruelty was passed by the New York State Legislature. He had prepared these laws himself.

In 1873, Bergh made a lecture tour of the western U.S. which resulted in the formation of several similar societies. The American Humane Association was created in 1877 as a network of local organizations to prevent cruelty to children and animals.

One consequence of Bergh's work was the establishment of an ambulance corps for removing disabled animals from the street and a derrick for removing them from excavations into which they had fallen. He also invented a substitute for live pigeons with artificial ones as marks for sportsmen’s guns.

George Angell
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) was founded in Boston in 1868 by George Angell and Emily Appleton. Angell, after reading about two horses that were raced to death by carrying two riders each over 40 miles of rough roads, began a high-profile protest of animal cruelty. He also created a publication—Our Dumb Animals—as a way “to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.” (“Dumb” refers to the fact that animals can’t speak.) The following year, the Massachusetts General Court passed the first anti-animal cruelty act.

By 1886, 39 states had adopted statutes relating to the protection of animals from cruelty, based on the original laws set forth by Henry Bergh in New York.


Today, the ASPCA is one of the largest humane societies in the world.


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Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn’t until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. She’s the author of several historical western romances, all set in the American southwest. She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, two chocolate labs, and whichever of their four teenage children happen to be in residence.

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10 comments:

  1. Great post. I had no idea Humane Societies had been around for as long as they have. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Hi Zina,
      I too was surprised to learn that ASPCA is so old. I found it heartening to know that people have been fighting for the rights of animals for a long time.

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  2. I'm mildly surprised that the majority of states followed suite and passed anti-cruelty laws in just a little over 20 years after the HS was founded. That's impressive. Do you know how much of its early success was related to the mission of protecting children too?

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    1. Keena,
      I can't remember exactly, but I came across mention of people working in animal cruelty alongside the protection of children. It would appear they were both happening hand-in-hand.

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  3. Kristy,

    Was it through the animal protection efforts of the ASPCA that movie-makers had to stop putting animals at risk during filming?

    If the ASPCA wasn't instrumental in these protections, I'm certainly grateful for whoever was.

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    1. Kaye,
      I'm not sure but thank goodness for it!!

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  4. A fascinating piece of history. Thank you. These were wise and far thinking individuals.

    On a side note, one of the doctors, practicing prior to 1900 in Colorado was Dr. Mary Elizabeth Bates, who was responsible for Colorado passing legislation for animal protection and set up a foundation for animal care. She practiced in Denver. Doris

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    1. Doris,
      A wonderful side-note. Thanks for the info. :-)

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  5. This is an amazing post, Kristy. I wish Henry could be around today to see what has evolved since he started the ASPCA. They do such great work. Now that so many other groups have begun to care about God's creatures, I would hope he would be very happy. Okay, so I know the cruelty has also increased, or at least it seems to have gone that way, but now people are making great strides toward allowing all the creatures of the earth to live in peace and harmony.
    One thing truly astounded me. I had no idea they ever used real life pigeons for target practice instead of clay pigeons. Hurray for Henry on that magnificent change.
    I feel very strongly about the lives of all living things and I know you do, too. This was a wonderful blog, Kristy!

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    1. Thank you Sarah. I too was surprised that the work of these early pioneers in the rights of animals was begun so long ago. It was very heartening to read, despite that we still have our work cut out for us today.

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