Monday, September 27, 2010

How We Treat Animals Is A Measure Of Our Enlightenment

Horse drinking fountain in Central Park N.Y.

     Henry Bergh, the son of a prominent New York shipbuilder, was traveling through Europe in 1864. During this trip, he met the Earl of Harrowby, president of England's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the first organization of its kind in the world, founded in 1840. Bergh was so inspired by the mission of protecting animals that he proposed a charter for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to the New York State Legislature. It was passed on April 10, 1866 making it the first animal protection group in the United States. Nine days later, the same legislature passed an anti-cruelty law granting the ASPCA the right to enforce it. Bergh and his group immediately addressed the abuses suffered by working horses. Up until the inventions of electric trolleys and steam and gas engines, people depended on horses for transportation, farming, construction and hoisting. People viewed horses as property not as animals with rights. The engineer, James Watts, coined the term "horsepower" in 1782, when he measured how much coal could be lifted out of a mine by a horse. By 1900, there were 130,000 horses working in Manhattan.
     Bergh earned the nickname “the Great Meddler” by confronting abusive horse owners in the streets, where they worked. On one occasion, Bergh and his associates swooped down on a busy intersection and removed every maltreated horse they could find. The horses were pulling trolley cars during rush hour. The action resulted in a traffic jam for several hours with thousands of travelers forced to walk to their destinations.
     The ASPCA is celebrating their 142nd anniversary of their founding, on April 10, 2008. They are asking everyone, pet owners and pets alike, to wear something orange to show their support of the organization.
     The second Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was chartered in Philadelphia on April 4, 1868. The group was led by Colonel M. Richards Mucklé, a Philadelphia businessman and engineer. Their main focus was also on the many abuses perpetrated against horses. In the 1800s, Philadelphia working horses had to contend with cobblestone streets littered with broken glass, crockery and scraps from the various industries. The horses suffered through extreme weather without protection. There were no provisions for the horses to take rest breaks or drink water. The horses were frequently beaten by their drivers.
     Over the next several years, the Philadelphia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was successful in getting legislation passed that addressed these abuses. New regulations curtailed the use of the horse whip and provided for the availability of warm horse blankets in winter, water troughs and rest periods. Eventually the Society expanded their focus to the humane treatment of livestock and pet animals.
     Following London, New York and Philadelphia, humane societies began popping up in cities across the United States and the world.  It is interesting to note that it wasn’t until after animal protection groups were well established that children’s rights groups came into existence. The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the first children’s protection group in the United States, was established eight years after the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was chartered. The animal protection groups were so successful that children’s rights groups used them as a model for organizing their groups.
     In 1866, the Borough of South Bethlehem Council passed an ordinance requiring their police constables to keep track of the pet dogs in the borough. Packs of stray dogs had become a problem. The citizens were upset by the high mortality rate for wild dogs who succumbed to starvation, rabies, extreme weather, and dog fights. Council required each dog owner to pay a yearly tax of one dollar for each male dog and two dollars for each female dog. The police constable was responsible for collecting these taxes. He was under orders to shoot any dog he found running wild on the streets, then he had to bury the creature. The Borough paid him 50 cents for providing this service and fined him 50 cents if he neglected this responsibility.
     Serving Northampton and Lehigh Counties today are the Northampton County SPCA (founded 1913), now known as The Center for Animal Health and Welfare, and the Lehigh County Humane Society (founded 1907.) Both organizations are non-profit groups that depend on volunteers and private donations. They offer the services of pet adoptions, reuniting pets with their owners, investigating reports of cruelty, neglect and abuse of animals, rescue and emergency services to homeless animals, euthanize animals that are too sick or aggressive to be safely placed in homes and community education.
  Our society has come a long way in acknowledging animal rights. Most people believe animals have a right to live free from pain and suffering. Mahatma Gandhi stated, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

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