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Our mission is to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. We offer national programs in humane education, public awareness, government advocacy, shelter support, and animal medical services and placement. Our New York headquarters houses a full-service animal hospital, behavior center, adoption facility, and Humane Law Enforcement Department.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was the first animal welfare organization formed in the United States. It was created to rescue, care for, and shelter homeless and abused animals, provide humane education programs to the public, and to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with animal welfare laws. The ASPCA was founded by New York City resident Henry Bergh (1811-1888), who modeled the organization on the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (founded in 1824 by Richard Martin, an Irish Member of Parliament). By the early 2000s, the ASPCA had grown to encompass seven regional offices in four states. It employs more than 300 people engaged in fund raising, veterinary care, lobbying, bill sponsorship, law enforcement, poison control, shelter and adoption programs, and humane education.
Henry and the Horse: 1800s Origins
Henry Bergh was a wealthy New Yorker who had traveled in Europe and served as the US Ambassador to the court of Czar Alexander II in Russia. In the mid-1800s he began a course of activism on behalf of animals, "these mute servants of mankind," that consumed the rest of his life. In 1866, Bergh appeared before the New York State Legislature with a proposed charter for a society to protect animals. The ASPCA was incorporated in April 1866. When an anti-animal-cruelty law was passed that same month, the ASPCA was given the right to enforce it. Shortly thereafter the Society seized newspaper headlines and public notice when Bergh stopped a wagon driver from beating an emaciated, exhausted workhorse. He berated the driver for mistreating the animal and told him about the new anti-cruelty law. According to popular legend, he then unharnessed the horse and led it away to be cared for, cheered on by bystanders. This incident inspired the emblem of the ASPCA, which shows an avenging angel, armed with a sword, stepping between a man and a suffering carthorse.
Initially the organization addressed primarily the plight of the 100,000 to 200,000 workhorses within the boundaries of New York City. Few laws governed the care and well-being of these animals, and the average life span of a working horse in the 1860s and 1870s was between two and four years. Early achievements of the ASPCA included a horse-drawn ambulance for injured horses in 1867, and Bergh's 1875 invention of a sling to lift downed horses and those that had fallen into rivers. The ASPCA put the first motorized horse ambulance into service in 1902; two years before any human hospital had such a vehicle. The Society's first veterinary facility, which opened in 1912, offered free health services for horses, as well as veterinary care for dogs and cats. A basic necessity, clean drinking water, was made available for horses by the ASPCA at public fountains throughout the city that also served cats, dogs, and people.
The Society sought to improve the lives of other animals as well. Bergh invented a mechanical pigeon to replace the live birds that were used in target and sport shooting. In the late 19th century and into the early 20th, dogs were used to power treadmills in small factories and to pull wagons used by ragpickers and itinerant workers. These animals were generally turned loose at night to scavenge food and seek shelter as best they could. They were abandoned when they became too weak, ill, or old to work. Animal control consisted of rounding up and caging the animals. The cages were lowered into rivers or ponds so that the animals drowned. The ASPCA established shelters, the first in 1894, where animals could be reclaimed or more humanely euthanized. Two other shelters were constructed the following year. The ASPCA sponsored the bill that became a law requiring working dogs to be licensed. The Society also sought to find and confiscate dogs used in dogfighting, and to legally punish people engaged in this activity, which was so commonplace that the outcomes of prominent fights were sometimes reported in newspapers. The city's cat population was more difficult to address. Unknown numbers of cats lived in a semi-wild or completely feral state, difficult to catch or even count.
Early 20th Century: Spreading the Word
Bergh and other members of the growing organization made frequent speeches and appeals to the public on behalf of animal welfare. In 1916, the Society initiated humane education programs in schools, and in 1925 used the new medium of radio to broadcast its message of humane animal treatment in a series of weekly addresses. Bergh told a reporter "Day after day I am in slaughterhouses, or lying in wait at midnight with a squad of police near some dog pit. Lifting a fallen horse to his feet, penetrating buildings where I inspect collars and saddles for raw flesh, then lecturing in public schools to children, and again to adult societies. Thus my whole life is spent." In 1928 the ASPCA aggressively expanded its programs of public education programs in schools and neighborhoods.
The number of horses working or kept for pleasure riding within New York City steadily decreased at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the twentieth, as machines and engines replaced horse-powered factories and transportation. The ASPCA grew to meet the needs of the relatively new, burgeoning category of house pets. Few animals, with the exception of some exotic birds and songbirds, were kept in homes until the mid-20th century. In the US prior to World War II, dogs were used primarily for hunting, herding, and for protection. Cats were kept for rodent control by businesses and households such as granaries, warehouses, food markets, and farms. Even those cats and dogs that were kept as pets usually lived outdoors or were put outside at night. Public perception was that cats preferred a nocturnal life of hunting that was "natural" to them. This resulted in the untimely deaths of millions of them due to animal attacks, disease, accidental and deliberate poisoning, being struck by vehicles, and being deliberately killed by people. Despite educational efforts on the part of the ASPCA and dozens of other animal welfare organizations, this perception has persisted well into the 21st century.
The Mid-20th Century: Pet Ownership and the ASPCA
The ASPCA continually pioneered advances in veterinary medicine, including the use of anesthetic during surgery, the treatment of cancer in animals, perfecting spay and neutering surgery, as well as developing dog obedience training programs, and lobbying for animal welfare bills and laws. In 1954 the Society expanded its New York City animal hospital, and in 1961 ASPCA veterinarians performed the first successful open-heart surgery on a dog. Growing awareness of the traits of different cat and dog breeds, fostered by the efforts of the ASPCA and other animal welfare organizations, contributed to and coincided with their popularity as house pets. Canned pet foods made it easier to keep dogs and cats as pets. The development of absorbent clay cat litter in 1947 by Ed Lowe (1920-) to replace less practical cat box fillers such as ashes, sawdust, and sand, is credited with the increase in popularity of cats as house pets. Vaccines were developed against diseases such as distemper and panleukopenia, which has formerly taken the lives of millions of animals, especially kittens and puppies. Organizations such as the ASPCA were instrumental in informing the public about such advances and the responsibility of the pet owner to obtain health care for companion animals. The ASPCA required that all dogs adopted from its facilities be licensed. Because license tags were easily lost, the Society established the use of the identification tattoo beginning in 1948, and became a proponent of the identifying microchip, a device the size of a grain of rice, that was developed for implantation in adopted cats and dogs in the mid-1980s.
An outcome of the increase in popularity of pet cats and dogs was an increase in the numbers of puppies and kittens. The offspring of uncared-for, undomesticated cats and dogs tended to die in large numbers or were routinely drowned, shot, poisoned, or otherwise killed. Litters born to healthy, well-fed household pets were themselves healthier and likelier to have longer lives. People tended to have an emotional attachment to the litters born to their own animal companions. The ASPCA promoted spay and neuter programs beginning in the 1950s, but met with widespread reluctance on the part of the public. A host of emotional and unscientific responses included the belief that animals were healthier and happier when they were permitted to breed, that "the miracle of birth" was an important lesson for children to witness, and the belief that owners would be easily able to find homes for resultant offspring. By mid-century, animal shelters were finding homes for only 20 to 25 percent of the healthy, adoptable pet animals they took in. The remaining 75 to 80 percent were euthanized. In poor and rural areas of the country the percentage of destroyed animals was much higher. The ASPCA countered with more aggressive educational and spay and neuter campaigns beginning in 1963. In that year the Society employed 25 officers full-time to enforce dog licensing laws. In 1973 the Society mandated sterilization for all animals that were adopted from its shelters. Sterilization surgery became increasingly sophisticated and safe, and veterinarians discovered that sterilizing cats and dogs before they had bred actually eliminated some health risks to both sexes. By the end of the 20th century hundreds of veterinarians were trained to perform these delicate operation safely on kittens and puppies as young as six weeks and weighing only a pound.
The ASPCA has remained in the forefront of advances in animal welfare. The Society pioneered the concept of cage-free shelters, such as Maddie's Pet Adoption Center at the ASPCA shelter in San Francisco, California, where the animals live in home-like settings and their lives are enriched with training and extensive human contact. In 1985 the ASPCA also developed a department of Government Affairs and Public Policy to work toward protecting animals at the state and federal level through new laws and ballot initiatives. This department drafts original bills and analyzes proposals for laws regarding animal welfare. ASPCA attorneys lobby for animal welfare legislation and provide information to lawmakers at the local, state, and national levels. The Department of Government Affairs and Public Policy also runs an Advocacy Center, keeping individual states and communities apprised of animal welfare issues. An early focus of the ASPCA's Government Affairs department was the condition and treatment of laboratory animals. The Society was the first group to push for legislation mandating that laboratory dogs receive adequate socialization and exercise, and to study and seek to improve the psychological welfare of highly intelligent primates used in laboratory research. In 1996, the ASPCA acquired the National Poison Control Center. It has since become the only continuously operating telephone service of its kind, focusing on veterinary toxicology. 1996 was also the year in which the Society launched its Care-a-Van, its first mobile spay and neuter clinic in New York.
The ASPCA entered the field of name and logo licensing in the 20th century as another way to generate revenue to fund its programs. Licensees include Bank One, the official ASPCA credit card; Checks in the Mail, a check and label-printing company that donates a portion of its proceeds to the ASPCA; Chanticleer Press, whose Chronicle Books imprint publishes the ASPCA's informative guides to pet ownership and animal care; Clarke American Checks, Inc., a supplier of checks and bank-related items to financial institutions; Hertz car rental agency, which offers a Hertz/ASPCA credit card; and Pipsqueak Productions, a line of giftware created by artist Mary Badenhop and licensed by the ASPCA.
The ASPCA in the 21st Century
In 2000, the ASPCA was instrumental in lobbying for and helping to pass some provisions of the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, introduced into the House of Representatives by Representative Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and in the Senate by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey). This Act improved safety conditions in the spaces on airplanes in which animals often are conveyed, and it required airlines for the first time to keep records of injuries and fatalities to animals traveling on their craft.
In 2004 the ASPCA was one of the motivating forces behind the October National Feral Cat Summit, the first gathering of its kind devoted to study of managing feral cats. New York City and a number of animal welfare organizations, including the Mayor's Alliance for New York City's Animals, hosted representatives from 25 states, Canada, and the Galapagos Islands.
The organization owned and ran animal shelters, veterinary clinics, animal health care benefits, pet animal adoption events, and a thriving press. The ASPCA produced animal care handbooks for both adults and children under the imprint of Chronicle Books, a division of Chanticleer Press, on the most popular household pets in the United States. Among their best sellers were handbooks on the care of cats, dogs, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, ferrets, and freshwater fish, as well as more exotic breeds of small animals kept as pets, including chinchillas, hedgehogs, iguanas, other lizards, snakes, saltwater fish, eels, and tarantulas.
The ASPCA's national headquarters and several major centers remained in New York City and state, with branches in New Jersey, Urbana, Illinois, and San Francisco, California. The Society had over 680,000 members and donors in the early 2000s. It remained dedicated to the cause of preventing cruelty and raising awareness of animal welfare issues through education, awareness, and legislative programs. The ASPCA headquarters in New York City housed one of the area's largest full service animal hospitals, an adoption facility, and the Humane Law Enforcement Department, which was responsible for enforcing New York's animal cruelty laws. The ASPCA's Law Enforcement department worked in conjunction with the New York City Humane Law Enforcement (HLE) department and the television station Animal Planet to broadcast Animal Precinct, an award-winning reality show that followed the only law enforcement group in New York dedicated to investigating crimes against animals.
Principal Operating Units: ASPCA Member and Donor Services; Animal Cruelty/Law Enforcement; Animal Placement Department, Animal Poison Control Center; Animal Precinct (television show), ASPCA Behavior Center, Communications; Development; Government Affairs & Public Policy; Henry Bergh Memorial Hospital, Humane Education; Humane Law Enforcement Department; Legal Department; Marketing; Media Relations & Advertising; National Shelter Outreach; Public Information; Special Events.