Friday, April 10, 2009

We Are Their Voice

Today is the 143rd birthday of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA). Established in New York City in 1866, the ASPCA's early interest was in stopping the inhumane treatment of working animals, such as horses and livestock. Soon afterwards, they were working to stop the cruel treatment of dogs and cats and to provide healthy opportunities for their adoption. One of the horrors I discovered was that prior to the ASPCA's existence, it was not uncommon for dog catchers in NYC to round up dogs, cage them, and throw the cages in the East River to drown, because the catchers were paid by the number of animals they caught, not by the hour. This is just one of the many inhumane activities the ASPCA brought to an end.

The organization began with Henry Bergh (1813-1888), pictured at right, who became known as the Great Meddler because he actively went around enforcing animal cruelty laws against owners of horses and livestock. In a passionate speech he gave on February 8, 1866 at Clinton Hall in NYC, Bergh pleaded on behalf of "these mute servants of mankind." Bergh detailed inhumane animal practices in America, including cockfighting and the horrors of slaughterhouses. According to the ASPCA's website: A basic tenet of Bergh's philosophy, protecting animals was an issue that crossed party lines and class boundaries. To his audience, which included some of Manhattan's most powerful business and government leaders, he stressed, "This is a matter purely of conscience; it has no perplexing side issues. It is a moral question in all its aspects." Fortified by the success of his speech and the number of dignitaries to sign his "Declaration of the Rights of Animals," Bergh brought a charter for a proposed society to protect animals to the New York State Legislature. With his flair for drama he convinced politicians and committees of his purpose, and the charter incorporating the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was passed on April 10, 1866. Nine days later, an anti-cruelty law was passed, and the ASPCA granted the right to enforce it.

For more on this organization's long history of helping "these mute servants of mankind," see the ASPCA's History website. In the spirit of their motto, that "We Are Their Voice," let's wish the ASPCA a very happy 143rd birthday and thank them for all they have done for our four-legged friends. (And, yes, by sheer coincidence [or is it?], my birthday is today as well.)

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