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“I hope to make people realize how totally helpless animal are, how dependent on us, trusting as a child must that we will be kind and take care of their needs…they are an obligation put on us, a responsibility we have no right to neglect, nor to violate by cruelty,” said English veterinarian James Herriot (“Animal Welfare Quotes”). Shelters fill with puppies and kittens shortly after Christmas, when that cuddly gift from the local pet store grows into a rambunctious youngster requiring much care. Relying on impulse buying, pet stores put high price tags on cute puppies that primarily come from puppy mills where animals are treated like livestock. Caring people who make little to no money spend their days at animal shelters around the country, caring for these scared, helpless creatures. Nearly 143 years ago, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals first opened its doors. In the 21st century, the ASPCA represents the will for Americans to help those that cannot help themselves through its selfless attempts to improve the lives of animals.



Henry Bergh

In 1813, Henry Bergh was born into a wealthy family in New York City.  His father’s wealth allowed him to attend Columbia College, but he never finisHenry Berghhed school.  Instead, Henry chose to travel to Europe where he worked on his writing career.  He left Europe in 1836 and soon met his wife, Catherine Matilda.  Shortly after, his father passed away and Henry inherited an immense wealth.  With his wife by his side, he ventured back to Europe where he was appointed to the American Legation at the Court of Czar Alexander II by President Abraham Lincoln.  While working in Russia, Henry grew increasingly compassionate and caring towards the frequent animal abuse that he witnessed.  During this time period, animals were commonly mistreated and it was here that Henry Bergh first initiated action against the inhumanity towards animals (Ferguson).

          Shortly after initiating action against the inhumanity, he traveled to England to learn from the Earl of Harrowby.  This man was the leader of the England’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  After learning more about animal abuse, Bergh traveled to New York to implore the prevention of cruelty to “these mute servants of mankind.”  He gave an in-depth description of the terrors of cockfighting, slaughterhouses, and other cruelties that caught the attention of many prominent government officials.  Bergh said, “This is a matter purely of conscience; it has no perplexing side issues. It is a moral question in all its aspects” (Dracker).

The History of the ASPCA


After Bergh’s moving speech on February 8, 1886, he was able to convince a many notable citizens to approve and sign his “Declaration of the Rights of Animals”.  With the success of his declaration, he proposed a charter that would affect the New York State Legislature.  Finally, on April 10, 1886 the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA, was created, and more than a week later an anti-cruelty law was passed (Dracker).  This law gave the ASPCA the ability to impose the newly added anti-cruelty ruling.  Without delay, the enforcers of the ASPCA set to work.  The three full-time workers that were currently employed began their mission to bring animal cruelty to a halt.  Only twenty-two short years after the ASPCA was established, Henry Bergh died (Dracker).  Even though he passed away, his legacy remained.  Due to Bergh, the conscience of many Americans felt that animals should be sheltered from the cruelties of the world around them.

The ASPCA’s early years centered on livestock and horses, but it did not take long before domestic animals were being rescued (Dracker).  Many pet owners would buy an irresistibly cute animal but fail to give it the food and attention it needed.  As a direct result, thousands of animals were forced to the streets to scavenge for food in dumpsters and trash cans. Many of the ill-treated dogs were even submitted to fighting other dogs until the death while men placed bets on the innocent creatures.  A sad, but truthful reality remains that many dog fighters slip under the radar and do not get caught.  The fault of animal cruelty not only remained in the hands of the owners, but also in those of the dog catchers.  These men and women were often frowned upon because of their less than humane methods of dealing with stray or unwanted dogs.  The dogs were thrown into cages where they would be tossed into a river by the hundreds each day (Dracker).  The only way to bring this poor treatment to a halt was the ASPCA bringing matters into their own hands.
        Once the ASPCA took over, they added a couple major responsibilities to their list.  They now had to maintain shelters and pick up lost, stray, or wounded animals with the money they received from licensing fees.  The ASPCA made such monumental strides; they lowered the per-capita euthanasia rate from 511 animals to 53 animals for every 10,000 people by 1994 (Dracker).  The progress did not stop there.  The men and women of the ASPCA were able to successfully use anesthesia in animals by 1918.  This new method enabled thousands of animals to be operated on and saved many lives.  The ASPCA improved the lives of animals so much that by the 1960s, dogs and cats were expected to live an extra two to three years longer (Dracker).


Today, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals remains to be the epitome of compassion, concern, and change.  Each day, the brave officers of the ASPCA set out to investigate and make arrests for crimes against animals.  Unfortunately, crimes against animals have become extremely common.  Whether its dog fighting, poor conditions in puppy mills, or the improper treatment of animals, it has become the mission of the ASPCA “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States” (About the ASPCA).

                                         Dog Fighting

One of the most famous cases against dog fighting involved former National Football League player Michael Vick.  In June 2001, Vick purchased a small home in Virginia to be used solely for dog training and fighting (Maske).  Although charges were not brought upon him until 2007, he was responsible for many dog fights and the inhumane execution of at least eight dogs.  These dogs were killed for poor performance in various ways such as drowning, hanging, electrocution, and slamming a dog onto the ground (Maske).  Vick, who only received a three year sentence, lost his 130 million dollar football contract, his respect, and his fame all due to his poor decisions (O’Dell).


In another case of animal abuse a small cat named Boca, which is Spanish for mouth, had his bottom lip and jaw torn down.  The cat was in such poor condition that it appeared as if euthanasia would be necessary.  Shockingly, Boca began purring and was very friendly which showed his strong will to live.  With the help of the veterinarians at the shelter, Boca has been able to recover and live a happy life with his new owner (Cleveland APL Second Chance Fund V2).  Each and everyday, the shelters around the country are able to perform miracles to save the lives of thousands of animals.Boca, before and after


Although the ASPCA is headquartered in New York, there are over three thousand local humane societies and SPCAs (About the ASPCA).  In Cleveland, Ohio the largest animal shelter is the Cleveland Animal Protective League.  The Cleveland APL is a non-profit organization that runs solely on donations and adoption fees (Dunlap).  At this particular shelter, all animals that are deemed to be happy, healthy, and friendly are housed on the adoption floor until they find a home.  It does not matter how long it takes to find a home, for the Cleveland APL will keep them as long as it takes.  However, animals that are not happy, healthy, or friendly will be evaluated for the shelter’s ability to treat them (Dunlap).  If these animals cannot be treated, they will be humanely euthanized.  Recently, there has been a surge of unwanted animals partially due to the tough economic times.  Ayse Dunlap, Director of Operations at the Cleveland APL, said, “Our Humane Investigators have had an increase in the number of abandoned animal calls they receive.  Sadly, more people are simply leaving their animals behind when forced to move” (Dunlap). Even though this creates an extra strain on the shelter, the caring workers do not turn away any animal.

Recently, the Cleveland APL completed a rigorous program through the ASPCA called Mission Orange.  This program involved three communities from around the country to stop the euthanasia of animals that are adoptable (Cleveland “Join ASPCA® Mission: Orange™).  It was also constructed to increase the number of animals being adopted and to decrease the number of unwanted pets.  Although the Cleveland APL has not received any funding since the competition, they still participate in other ASPCA related programs such as the SAFER assessment for dog aggression and the Meet Your Match program.  The two shelters are not associated on a national level, but they have still found a way to work together to help animals in need.Cleveland APL Map

Interview with Ayse Dunlap

Where do all of the animals in the shelter come from?
Ayse Dunlap:
The animals in the shelter come from a variety of sources. The majority of dogs come from owners who give them up or via other shelters who are currently overwhelmed with their dog population and unable to place them all. Most cats are either from owners or found stray.
What happens to the animals that don't get adopted?
Ayse Dunlap:
All animals are evaluated upon intake for health and behavior. Those that are deemed happy, healthy, and friendly stay on our adoption floor until we are able to find them a home--decisions are never based on the amount of time that an animal stays in the shelter. Animals that are not happy, healthy, or friendly upon intake are assessed for our ability to medically treat or behaviorally rehabilitate them. We continue to expand our ability to treat more animals, but the reality is that there simply aren't enough resources to help them all and, not all of them are safe to rehabilitate. Animals with untreatable or contagious illnesses or aggressive behaviors are humanely euthanized.
Is the Cleveland APL associated with the ASPCA in anyway?
Ayse Dunlap:
We have a very good relationship with the ASPCA and we have implemented several ASPCA programs, including the SAFER assessment for dog aggression and the Meet Your Match adoption program. We recently participated in a rigorous competition called Mission Orange that allows us to compete for grant dollars from the ASPCA, but we have not yet received any funding from them and we are not affiliated with them on any national level. The Cleveland APL is a private organization that is funded through our programs, the donations of the community, and grant support.
How is the Cleveland APL funded?
Ayse Dunlap:
The Cleveland APL is a private, non-profit agency that is funded solely through our programs and the donations of the community. We receive no government funding.
Are the employees that work for the APL financially compensated?
Ayse Dunlap:
The APL does have paid staff, but we also rely heavily of the help of volunteers. Currently our volunteers provide the equivalent of 18 full-time paid staff members.
What is your job at the Cleveland APL?
Ayse Dunlap:
Director of Operations
Have you noticed an increased amount of animals being brought to the shelter during these hard economic times?
Ayse Dunlap:
We haven't noticed an increase in the number of animals being brought to us, however, our Humane Investigators have had an increase in the number of abandoned animal calls they receive. Sadly, more people are simply leaving their animals behind when forced to move.




Just by taking a visit to a local shelter, one can immediately feel an emotional impact. The innocent animals in cages look at the visitors in hopes of possibly getting a home. Whether it’s a purring cat or a dog wagging its tail, animals have an important bond with their owners. Many studies have been done that show living with animals makes people healthier. Walking a dog, for example, not only improves physical, but also mental health. “The general belief is that there are health benefits to owning pets, both in terms of psychological growth and development, as well as physical health benefits,” said Dr. James Griffin (“Can Pets Keep You Healthy?”) The unconditional love and forgiveness animals give their owners teach valuable lessons. Children may especially benefit from this. These loving animals are bound to brighten the day of anyone who takes the time to visit or adopt them.


This is my dog Maggie, who was found wandering the streets of Cleveland by herself.  She was taken to the Cleveland APL, where my family adopted her in January of 2009.  Maggie is the reason I chose the ASPCA and other animal shelters as my obsession.

A very sad ASPCA commercial featuring singer Sarah Mclachlan.


In today’s society, the selfless attempt of the ASPCA to improve the lives of animals represents the will for Americans to help those that cannot help themselves. Henry Bergh was a compassionate man who was so concerned with the welfare of animals that he created a society to protect them. His thoughtfulness in starting the ASPCA so many years ago has had far-reaching effects on the humane treatment of animals today. It is because of Bergh, there are shelters all over the country to house the homeless animal population in dire need of human kindness. A trip to a local shelter, instead of the mall to find a new family pet would be a great start to ending the suffering of these homeless animals. Animals should be respected and not thought of as a commodity to be bought and sold. Albert Schweitzer said, “Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace” (“Quotations about Animal Rights”).

Works Cited

Works Cited

“About the ASPCA.” ASPCA. 2009.  10 May 2009 <‌about-us/‌about-the-aspca.html>.

“Animal Welfare Quotes.” Moggies. May 2009.  11 May 2009 <‌html/‌awquotes_1.html>.

“Can Pets Keep You Healthy?” News in Health. 2009.  11 May 2009 <‌pdf/‌NIHNiH%20Feb09.pdf>.

Cleveland APL Second Chance Fund V2. 30 Dec. 2008. You Tube. 10 May 2009 <‌watch?v=WnW0ETEfkNo>.

“Cleveland “Join ASPCA® Mission: Orange™” Communities.” Cleveland Animal Protective League. 10 Apr. 2008.  7 Apr. 2009 <‌MediaPR-Cleveland-APL-Join-ASPCA-Mission-Orange-Communities.html>.

Dracker, Pune. “History.” ASPCA. 1996.  7 Apr. 2009 <‌about-us/‌history.html>.

Dunlap, Ayse. Personal interview. 30 Apr. 2009.

Ferguson, Mark. “Henry Bergh.” Unitarian Universalist Biographical Dictionary. 2009.  4 May 2009 <‌uuhs/‌duub/‌articles/‌henrybergh.html>.

Maske, Mark. “Falcon’s Vick Indicted in Dogfighting Case.” Washington Post 18 July 2007. 9 May 2009 <>.

O’Dell, Larry. “Michael Vick Pleads to State Dogfighting Charge.” Huffington Post 28 Nov. 2008. 9 May 2009 <>.

“Quotations about Animal Rights.” The Quote Garden.  11 May 2009 <‌a-rights.html>.