The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is dedicated to making sure that all animals are treated with respect and given humane treatment. Since its founding in 1866, the ASPCA has grown to include over 2 million members. 

A Response to Cruelty Witnessed a World Away

In the 1860s, Henry Bergh, the U.S. ambassador to the Russian Empire, witnessed firsthand the horrible treatment given to horses by peasants in the Russian capital. While returning to the United States in 1865, Bergh spent time in London, where he visited with members of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He came back to the U.S. determined to create a similar organization in his home country. 

On April 10, 1866, the ASPCA was officially chartered by the New York State legislature.  It was the first animal humane society to be founded in the United States and provided a model for others to follow. At the time of its founding, dog- and cock-fighting were prevalent, and horses were regularly mistreated. The New York legislature passed the nation’s first anti-animal-cruelty law just nine days after the ASPCA’s founding and a new era of protecting animals from abuse began.

The ASPCA pioneered techniques for animal care and protection that were widely influential even outside their own sphere. For example, the ASPCA began the first ambulance for horses in 1867, which was followed two years later by the first ambulance service for humans in New York City. Less than a decade after the ASPCA’s founding, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children began operations. Henry Bergh was one of the first vice presidents of this new group.

Bringing Animals from the Streets to Happy Homes

Rescuing animals from cruelty and neglect was just the beginning for the ASPCA. Nowadays, it also works tirelessly to get as many animals adopted as possible, bringing joy to the lives of humans as well as the rescued animals. The ASPCA collaborates with local animal shelters and rescue groups all around the United States. ASPCA funding and knowledge flows to local communities to help them identify and stop animal cruelty. ASPCA grants have provided over $100 million over the last 12 years to thousands of animal shelters, municipal departments, rescues, and sanctuaries in all 50 U.S. states. 

Programs sponsored by the ASPCA include relocation efforts to bring animals to areas where they can be adopted, scholarships to train animal welfare workers, animal cruelty investigations, and care and housing for animals taken into custody as a result of anti-cruelty seizures. In addition, the ASPCA Equine Fund helps groups that house and care for horses, mules, and donkeys that have been rescued from horrible living conditions. 

Animal Population Control and Legal Protections for Animals

The ASPCA has been out in front of efforts to control the pet animal population.  Overpopulation is a serious problem—shelters can be overwhelmed with animals, which puts a serious strain on their ability to care for all their charges. Oftentimes, their only option is euthanasia. In 1973, the ASPCA adopted a policy to spay/neuter all adopted animals. Safe and effective birth control serves to limit the number of animals that make their way into shelters and prevents the deaths of unwanted and neglected animals. 

The ASPCA also maintains a Legal Advocacy and Investigations department to aid local law enforcement in the identification and prosecution of animal cruelty. This department has experts on animal cruelty issues and laws and helps enforcement efforts across the country. From evidence collection to expert witnesses, the Legal Advocacy and Investigations department provides the highest level of support to law enforcement and prosecutors and even support local municipalities in writing and enacting anti-cruelty laws in their communities.

Fighting Against Puppy Mills and Cruelty in Breeding

Another issue that the ASPCA is involved in is fighting against the cruelty of dog breeding for maximum profit. Operators of these so-called “puppy mills” are interested only in maximizing profits by minimizing their costs. As a result, dogs in these breeding facilities are often kept locked in small cages, denied basic grooming and sanitation, and rarely get the veterinary care they need. Unfortunately, laws regarding animal breeding often differ greatly from state to state, and even federal inspections are often not effective in preventing the cruelty inflicted on the helpless dogs. 

In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has failed on numerous occasions to properly oversee dog breeding facilities and to punish offenders. In response to this dereliction of duty, the ASPCA presented the White House with a petition for action signed by over 130,000 people and filed a lawsuit against the USDA in June 2021 for their failure to enforce the federal Animal Welfare Act. The ASPCA continues to be the prime force in fighting for justice for animals being victimized by abusive breeders and dealers.

Tremendous progress has been made in preventing animal cruelty in the century-plus existence of the ASPCA. Their commitment to ensuring all animals are protected from abusers and given the respect and love they deserve continues to this day. 

ASPCA President and CEO Matthew Bershadker summed up the organization’s ongoing mission succinctly, saying, “Helping vulnerable animals and keeping pets in safe and loving homes requires a commitment from all of us—advocates, pet owners, shelters, leaders, and entire communities. When we work together under a common cause, we’re both saving lives and elevating our society and its laws to ensure cruelty victims and other at-risk animals receive the protection and care they deserve.”