When Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA on April 10, 1866, I wonder if he ever could have envisioned the effective force it has become for animal welfare not just in its home base of New York City but all across the country!
In 1863 Henry Bergh resigned his diplomatic appointment as President Abraham Lincoln’s envoy to Russian Czar Alexander II, and headed to Great Britain to learn about the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Bergh was not really an animal lover – in fact, he didn’t much care to have them around. But he had watched animals being treated cruelly in St. Petersburg and recognized the injustice of animals suffering at the hand of humans. Three years later in New York, he started the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - or the ASPCA.
The year was 1866, a time before telephones and radios, when there were only thirty-six states in the union, when working horses provided transportation around the city. Bergh was fearless in challenging a man on a street corner relentlessly beating his exhausted horse, telling him about the recently passed law making cruelty to animals illegal. Likewise, he confronted butchers, dairymen, even the legendary showman P.T. Barnum who founded the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Bergh served as president of the ASPCA for more than twenty years, until he died in 1888 at the age of 74. By then almost every state had adopted an animal anti-cruelty law.
Last month, the ASPCA celebrated a milestone, one hundred fifty years of helping animals by working to stop animal abuse, fight animal cruelty, end dog fighting, and do away with puppy mills.
They operate the Animal Poison Control Center and serve as an invaluable resource for information about diagnosis and treatment for pets that may have ingested a toxic substance or plant. Their hotline is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, year-round. There is even a free mobile app available for downloading to your phone that could be a lifesaver for any pet owner’s best friend.
As the ASPCA celebrates 150 years of caring for, defending and protecting animals, I think Henry Bergh would be proud of the work his organization has done, and is still doing, when we’re speaking of pets.