History, Issues and Solutions of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

We have all seen those commercials with Sarah McLachlan. The commercials where there is slow, sad music playing while there are short video clips of neglected cats and dogs in animal shelters being shown. These commercials are intended to provide a powerful message to viewers and pull on their emotional strings to entice them to donate to the organization, which it did. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) raised over thirty million dollars between 2007 and 2008 (Strom). This amount of money, to an organization that at that time had an annual budget of fifty million dollars, is an impressive and successful fundraising effort.

The ASPCA has grown tremendously in the United States after those commercials and now has an annual revenue of about one hundred fifty million dollars. This group’s sole purpose is to help stop and prevent cruel and unnecessary treatment to all animals. The ASPCA’s mission, as stated on their website, is “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States” (ASPCA). The organization definitely works to prevent animal cruelty and be the voice for animals when it comes to improper care taking. The group’s motto is “We are their voice” (ASPCA). This group clearly feels a deep connection to animals and wants to protect them from careless humans.

I think that it is necessary to have a group that is dedicated to being the voice for animals because there are thoughtless and abusive people that do not think it is necessary to treat animals with respect. This group’s interests may be common sense to some, but there are others that feel compelled to be cruel to animals. Since the ASPCA’s founding, almost 150 years ago, they have worked to provide effective means against this cruelty.

The ASPCA was founded on April 10th, 1866 in New York City by Henry Bergh as the first humane society in North America. The group was founded on the belief that animals are due kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans and that this fair treatment should be protected by the law (ASPCA). That is exactly what the ASPCA set out to do in 1866, with their full-time staff of three. Bergh wrote to 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.” Henry Bergh stated this breakdown of the actions of the organization and also was responsible for the long lasting mission statement of the ASPCA.

Henry  Bergh was a wealthy New Yorker who had traveled to Europe many times and was a US Ambassador in Russia. He had made it his goal to provide activism on behalf of “the mute servants of mankind” (Gant). There is a story of Bergh rescuing a horse that was being beaten by its owner as he was cheered on by bystanders (Gant). This story is emulated in the emblem of the ASPCA where there is an angel with a sword stepping in between a man and his horse. Initially the ASPCA focused on the 100,000 to 200,000 workhorses in New York City because at that time in the mid-19th century there were very few laws governing the care and well-being of them (Gant). Eventually, as the care for horses and other livestock improved the group began to focus more on cats and dogs.

Henry Bergh is thought to have organized and structured the ASPCA similarly to the British organization, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1824 (Smith). The ASPCA first established shelters in 1894 and created two more the following year. The shelters were for housing animals that were homeless, abused, or waiting to be humanely euthanized. The group still remains headquartered in New York City and has strong connections with the local communities.

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 (ASPCA). 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. The popularity of house pets could be contributed to growing awareness of the traits of different cat and dog breeds, which has started with the efforts of the ASPCA and other animal welfare organizations.

The first 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 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 (“Ed Lowe”). Vaccines were developed against diseases such as distemper and panleukopenia, which has formerly taken the lives of millions of animals, especially kittens and puppies (McLeod). Organizations such as the ASPCA were very influential with informing the public about diseases 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. However, dogs’ license tags were easily lost, because of this the Society established the use of the identification tattoo beginning in 1948, and became a part of the identifying microchip, a device about the size of a grain of rice, that was developed for implantation in adopted cats and dogs in the 1980s (Gant).

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 neglected, undomesticated cats and dogs tended to be in large numbers and were routinely drowned, shot, poisoned, or otherwise killed. Litters born to healthy, well-fed household pets were themselves healthier and had a better chance to and live a longer life. 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 was met with dissatisfaction from the public (ASPCA). 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 the 1950s, 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 (ASPCA). In poor rural areas of the country the percentage of euthanized 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 (ASPCA). Sterilized surgery became increasingly 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 operations safely on kittens and puppies.

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 (SFSPCA). 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 (ASPCA). 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 (ASPCA). 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 (Fieser). In 1996, the ASPCA acquired the National Poison Control Center (ASPCA). It has since become the only continuously operating telephone service of its kind, focusing on veterinary toxicology.

The ASPCA provides many tools and information to pet owners and people interested in adopting pets. On the ASPCA’s website it provides links to donate, buy pet insurance, and look at local humane societies if interested in possible adoption. There are a few different options for donating. ASPCA donors can give monthly gifts, one time gifts, or even honor gifts. The ASPCA’s website even gives information on pet care. This information has pet care tips, allows you to ask experts about a pet, and even has information on how to cope with losing a pet (ASPCA). Pet owners can also purchase pet insurance through the ASPCA, which covers costly accidents and illnesses. Moreover, prospective pet owners that are interested in adoption can search for dogs and cats locally by breed, sex, and age. The ASPCA also can help find a shelter and can give adoption tips.

A problem that the ASPCA has been dealing with for the past one hundred years is illegal and abusive dog fighting. Before the 19th century, people found entertainment in watching and gambling on blood games like bull baiting, bear baiting, and cock fighting (ASPCA). Then, people found an easier and cheaper alternative to these, which essentially pits dogs against each other in a fight to the death or near death. The general inhumane nature of dog fighting is often even superseded by the torture and killing of dogs outside of the competition circle. Dogs are often killed when they have become badly injured or if they are not meeting expectations in the fights.

The ASPCA considers dog fighting to be one of the worst forms of animal abuse. The dogs are often forced to suffer, because the trainers believe that it will make the dog tougher and therefore he will do better in the fight. One of the most popular dog fighting cases was with Michael Vick, a professional football quarterback. In 2007, Vick and three others were under investigation for a dog fighting charges and there were 49 dogs found on his property (ASPCA). The ASPCA helped lead the investigation and according to Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, a science advisor for the ASPCA, the ASPCA’s forensic scientists helped produce evidence that led to a guilty plea in the case. Dog fighting is now a felony in all 50 states and if convicted you can face up to three years in prison for each guilty offense (ASPCA).

Another problem that the ASPCA is trying to diminish and put an end to is the harsh commercial breeding of puppy mills. These puppy mills are large breeding operations where most of the time the owners care more about the money they are making than the well-being of the dogs. Puppy mills are different from responsible breeders, who work to breed the healthiest and properly cared for puppies, they produce large quantities of puppies that cannot be adequately maintained and valued.

Puppy mills often sell to pet stores through a middleman or may even sell directly to the public online or in newspaper ads (ASPCA). Problems within puppy mills stem from sick dogs that are not removed from breeding practices; therefore, the bad hereditary traits are passed down to the young puppies. The ASPCA has information that helps prospective dog owners to steer away from adopting puppy mill puppies and help adopt puppies that have been rescued from illegal puppy mills.

Recently, the ASPCA has found a startling correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence. A study, by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, showed that 85.4% of women and 63.0% of children reported pet abuse after arriving in domestic violence shelters (ASPCA). This correlation is rational because if someone is abusing their family, then they are also probably abusing their pets as well. Intentional animal abuse is most often seen on records of people with more serious criminal histories, like: drug offenses, gang activity, weapons violations, sexual assault, and domestic violence (ASPCA).

The ASPCA explains that most often people who batter animals have social disorders and are likely doing so to have a sense of power and control over others. In order to protect pets as well as victims of domestic violence, many states have passed laws that empower judges to include pets on orders of protection and/or include animal abuse under the definition of “domestic violence.”

The ASPCA is constantly working to end these problems and unfair animal treatment by lobbying legislators and organizing anti-cruelty bills to be voted on by Congress. For example, this past December the United States’ Senate passed two important animal protection bills. The first is a measure to provide honor and care to dogs in the United States’ military. This provision puts retired military dogs at the frontline of the adoption process and provides veterinary care by the Department of Defense (Binovi).

The ASPCA claims that it is our duty to make sure these dogs, who are put in dangerous and life-threatening situations, be cared for throughout their retirement. The second bill passed by the Senate was the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act (Binovi). This act makes it a federal offense to attend any animal fighting event and imposes additional penalties for bringing minors to such events. These pieces of legislation are examples of the type of influence that the ASPCA has on law-makers in the United States.

The ASPCA is recognized as the national animal welfare organization and has certain authorities under the law. On April 19th, 1866, one of the first anti-cruelty laws was passed and granted the ASPCA the right to enforce these laws. In New York City, they enforce these anti- cruelty laws through the ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Division (also, the ASPCA Police).

The ASPCA Police are actually armed state peace officers with the legal authority to make arrests and use deadly force (Article 2 of New York Criminal Procedural Law). The ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement (HLE) was showcased on an award-winning reality series, Animal Precinct on the Animal Planet channel, where the ASPCA Police investigate animal cruelty crimes in the five boroughs of New York City (ASPCA). The ASPCA has just over 600 paid staff employees (BBB). The chief executive and president of the ASPCA is Edwin J. Sayres and he is paid over half a million dollars yearly. That is big money for the leader of the largest humane society in the United States.

The ASPCA is an effective and accountable charity. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals meets all 20 standards on the Standards for Charity Accountability according to the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator (BBB). In 2005, the ASPCA launched the new ASPCA Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team to help rescue animals that were strayed and stranded by Hurricane Katrina (ASPCA). The FIR Team also helped rescue animals from the recent Hurricane Sandy disaster.

The organization reports that this team comprises of a group of responders that participated in 27 separate raids and rescues, as well as more than 120 investigations and consultations, assisting thousands of animal victims of cruelty and disasters (BBB). The FIR Team works in remote locations where communities have trouble taking care of the hundreds of animals strayed by disaster, many whom have medical and behavioral needs. To help address this problem, in 2010, the ASPCA created a Shelter Response Partner program, which establishes relationships with shelters and rescue groups across the country that are willing to take in animals for rehabilitation and eventual adoption (BBB).

According to ASPCA, it has about 90 partnerships that helped it to assist more than 13,000 animals in 2010. ASPCA also reports that in 2010, its Humane Law Enforcement (HLE) agents assisted 394 at-risk animals and responded to nearly 35,297 calls and 6,750 emails from the public (BBB). The organization also reports that it addressed 350 instances of animal cruelty, initiated more than 3,700 cruelty investigations, and made 54 arrests. ASPCA’s HLE department also formed the Cruelty Intervention Advocacy (CIA) program to collaborate with various New York City agencies to help hoarders and their animals by providing education, grants for medical care and spay/neuter services. Furthermore, ASPCA operates other programs such its Adoption Center, Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinic, and an Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA).

The organization is a privately funded 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization (ASPCA). This means the over one million supporters are eligible for tax-deductible donations from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This tax-deductibility can be highly appealing for big donors that want some tax deductions. In doing my research online, I noticed there were many ASPCA advertisements with sayings like, “60 cents won’t buy much these days… but for 60 cents A DAY you can help rescue animals in distress.”

Then, this advertisement shows a picture of dog chained up and looking at the ground. These ads have been successful in acquiring donors because people hate to see animals being hurt and abused. This is true even in movies and in other social interactions. In movies, if a dog or cat is injured or killed I know that even I feel more sadness and sympathy than if a person was injured or killed in the same movie. I think that this sympathy comes from knowing that animals are helpless and that do not know what is happening in serious situations.

The ASPCA knows this and definitely tries to use it to their advantage when it comes to persuading people to donate to their organization. Over two-thirds of the ASPCA’s yearly revenue is through contributions, grants, and memberships (ASPCA). The ASPCA has over one million yearly supporters with most of them donating $21 monthly (ASPCA). The ASPCA’s total assets are over $200 million, which shows just how much Americans love their animals.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a non-profit organization, which works to protect animals and enforce animal cruelty laws throughout the country. The ASPCA was founded in 1866 by Henry Bergh in New York City. The organization meets the standards of an effective and accountable charity according to the Better Business Bureau. The ASPCA has about one million members and receives most of its funding through private donations. The ASPCA is the largest humane society in the United States and has been providing a voice for neglected animals for almost 150 years.

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