Animal Shelter History

Unlike humans, animals do not have the means to assert and protect their rights. Therefore preventing animal cruelty and defending animal rights is the responsibility of people. One hero in this fight for animal rights was Henry Bergh, an aristocrat and son of an American shipbuilder. For the first fifty years of his life Bergh was a man of leisure, but in his fiftieth year his perspective changed. In 1863 Bergh took a diplomatic post in Russia and became disgusted by the treatment of work animals there. From that day forward, Bergh dedicated his life to protecting animal rights. On his voyage home he stopped in Britain to discuss matters with the president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the first animal protection society in the world.

Animal Shelter History: The First American Humane Society

Once back in New York, Bergh pleaded his case and in April 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was born. Nine days later the first anti-animal cruelty law was approved by the New York legislature. This first law was designed to prevent cruelty to farm and work animals, primarily horses. The humane society later succeeded in passing laws to protect cats and dogs from animal cruelty.

When the ASPCA was first formed, strays dogs were rounded up each day by the hundreds, placed into a cage, and dropped into the East River to drown. In 1894 the humane society took over animal control duties in New York, and created animal shelters and promoted the practice of animal rescue within the city.

By the time Bergh died in 1888, 37 of the 38 U.S. states had passed animal cruelty prevention laws and humane societies and animal shelters were opening across the nation.

Focusing on Dogs and Cats

In the early 1900s, following the introduction of the horseless carriage, the focus of the humane society began to shift from horses to smaller animals as dogs and cats became more prevalent as pets.

In the 1950s and 1960s, canned cat food and cat litter were introduced, making pet cats more popular. The humane society consequently changed the focus of their animal shelters towards the adoption of dogs and cats as pets. For the first time in history, the licensing of pet dogs was made an enforceable law, further pushing pet owners to accept responsibility for their dogs.

Today the humane society facilitates the adoption of thousands of pets from animal shelters every day. In addition, animal shelters educate pet owners about the importance of sterilization to prevent unwanted growth in the dog and cat population. Sterilization of dogs and cats before adoption helps decrease the number of animal rescues each year.