Rescue organizations have been around awhile, but the concept of care and kindness towards animals goes back quite a bit further, as evidenced by Proverbs 12:10: “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the evil are cruel.”
The first legal code for animal protection in America was recorded in 1641. Sections 92-93 of the “Body of Liberties” prohibited “any Tirranny or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man’s use" and mandated periodic rest and refreshment for any “Cattel” being driven or led.
Abolitionists, temperance activists and ministers in the mid-19th century aggressively addressed the welfare of animals as a barometer for human morality, which led to the first animal welfare organization, founded in 1866. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) wanted legal protection for all animals. Within a year, they were successful. New York passed laws prohibited a blanket of definitions that were considered mistreatment of animals, including blood sports and abandonment. Uniformed officers were deputized to police and enforce the law.
Pennsylvanian Caroline Earle White wanted to take protection a step further. She was horrified by drivers of horse- or mule-drawn carriages who mercilessly beat their animals. Inspired by Henry Bergh’s success at founding the ASPCA, Caroline Earle White was instrumental in creating the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) as well as opening the first shelter (originally called a “refuge”) for lost and homeless dogs in 1869. The organization also worked to end dog- and cock fighting as well as one of most horrifying forms of “entertainment”: the practice of tying up animals so others could attack it.
As the concept of dogs and cats as pets gradually took hold, so did our perception of them and their right to protection from abuse and neglect. Today, there are more than 14,000 animal rescue organizations that have sheltered or fostered an estimated eight million animals. Although there is much progress to be made with our commitment to animals as sentient beings, it is important to appreciate how far we have come.