American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (logo).svg
Abbreviation ASPCA
Motto "We are their voice."
Formation April 10, 1866[1]
Legal status Foundation
Purpose Humane care for animals
Headquarters New York City
Coordinates 40°46′48.1188″N 73°56′44.53″W / 40.780033000°N 73.9457028°W / 40.780033000; -73.9457028
Region served
United States
1.2 million+[2]
Official language
President & CEO
Matthew E. Bershadker[3]

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to animals. Based in New York City since its inception in 1866, the organization's mission is "to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States."[1]


Squirrel monkey " Miss Baker" poses with the Certificate of Merit for Distinguished Service she was awarded by the ASPCA after her successful return to earth, the associated medal, and the couch used for her flight (to the right). Baker and her traveling companion Able were the first animals to return alive from space.

Following the creation of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in the United Kingdom in 1824 (given Royal status in 1840), Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on April 10, 1866, in New York City[4] on the belief that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected under the law. It is the oldest animal welfare organization in the United States. Founded in 1866, the ASPCA was the first humane organization in the Western Hemisphere. Buffalo's chapter, founded in 1867, is the second oldest.[5] ASPCA was founded to stop the injustices animals face across the United States. On February 8, 1866, Bergh pleaded on behalf of animals at a meeting at Clinton Hall in New York City. Some of the issues he discussed were cockfighting and the horrors of slaughterhouses. After getting signatures for his "Declaration of the Rights of Animals," Bergh was given an official charter to incorporate ASPCA on April 10, 1866. On April 19, 1866, the first anti-cruelty law was passed since the founding of ASPCA, and the organization was granted the right to enforce anti-cruelty laws. At that time, there were three staff members at the ASPCA. In 1867, ASPCA operated its first ambulance for injured horses and advocated alternatives for inhumane actions toward animals such as horses, live pigeons, cats and dogs. By the time of Bergh's death in 1888, 37 out of the 38 states in the union had enacted anti-cruelty laws that were enforced by the ASPCA. Early goals of ASPCA focused on efforts for horses and livestock, since at the time they were used for a number of activities.

Starting at the turn of the 20th century, small domestic animals, like cats and dogs, became the focus for members of ASPCA. ASPCA wrote its first annual report in 1867 after a man was sentenced to 2 years in prison for beating a cat to death.[6][7]

From 1894 to 1994, the ASPCA operated the municipal animal shelter system in New York City which inevitably euthanized unadopted animals. Starting in 1977, the ASPCA entered into a contract with New York City Department of Health to receive municipal funding to operate the shelter system. The contract rendered the ASPCA increasingly reliant on government income rather than private donations, and subject to the effects of annual city budget appropriations. In 1993, the ASPCA decided that operating the kill shelter system for New York City conflicted with its mission and discouraged private donations. The group then terminated its contract for operating the shelter system.[8][9] The agreement for operation of the Humane Law Enforcement Division remained unchanged by this action. Operation of the shelter system was transferred to Center for Animal Care and Control in 1995.

Medicine for animals under ASPCA

One of the early goals of ASPCA was to improve the health and welfare of animals. The first animal hospitals under ASPCA were created in 1912. Since the creation of these hospitals, ASPCA found a new tactic in improving its cause: the ability to develop various medical procedures and innovations with help from new discoveries in medicine and technology. Some of these procedures and innovations include the following:

  • In 1918, ASPCA veterinarians developed the use of anesthesia and as a result were able to work on a horse with a broken kneecap
  • In 1954, ASPCA hospitals added pathology and radiography laboratories and programs
  • In 1961, ASPCA veterinarians performed their first open-heart surgery on a dog[6]

Resources for pets and parents

Brooklyn chapter

This initiative is designed to assist individuals' care for their animals in a proper and ethical way. Some services offered to assist individuals are:

  • A 24-hour Animal Poison Control Line (requires $65 payment by credit card)[citation needed]
  • Free expert training and behavior advice
  • A dedicated staff of veterinarians ready to provide high-quality medical care
  • ASPCA mobile spay/neuter clinics that serve low-income communities throughout New York City
  • Pet loss support services for those who are grieving

Outcomes for at-risk animals

This program is designed as an initiative to take steps to take care and provide for at-risk animals around the country. Some programs designed to help at-risk animals include:

  • The ASPCA Mission: Orange Initiative: An invitation of key cities across the United States to join ASPCA in ending the unnecessary euthanasia of adoptable pets.
  • Creating plans for animals in times of emergency by ASPCA experts
  • An 8,000-square-foot (740 m2) state-of-the-art adoption facility in New York City
  • ASPCA Meet Your Match, a research-based matching system to match animals with the best homes.
  • Helping at-risk horses with the ASPCA Equine Fund

Other efforts

The ASPCA describes itself as the nation's main humane organization, "providing local and national leadership in three key areas: caring for pet parents and pets, providing positive outcomes for at-risk animals and serving victims of animal cruelty".[10] Aside from rescuing animals, the ASPCA is also involved with disaster preparedness and management. For instance, prior to Hurricane Gustav making landfall in Louisiana on September 1, 2008, the ASPCA checked in more than 800 animals into a shelter located in Shreveport. The ASPCA, along with the American Humane Association, maintained a 24-hour presence at the shelter.

ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Division patch

The ASPCA works primarily with companion animal issues, such as pet care, equine or horse cruelty issues, and animal cruelty and neglect. Its programs and services include: a national poison control hotline for pet owners and animal health professionals; a shelter outreach program to promote best practices within locally owned shelters, a corporate partner program to promote animal-friendly products and services, and a special anti-cruelty initiative to teach animal welfare education and animal welfare law enforcement practices (known as "humane law enforcement" within the organization) across the United States. In the state of New York, the ASPCA's Humane Law Enforcement division has powers to investigate cruelty and enforce laws. The Humane Law Enforcement division has been featured on the Animal Planet television program, Animal Precinct.

The ASPCA provides relief services for the domestic animal victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, where the National Outreach department collected donations to provide supplies; coordinated volunteer efforts; deployed rescue teams to recover abandoned pets; provided temporary shelter to displaced animals; and reunited pets with their owners.

The ASPCA has also partnered with Hartville Group, Inc to provide pet health insurance under the ASPCA name as ASPCA Pet Insurance.[11]

Cases involving torture, killings and mistreatment of animals are some examples of cases handled by the ASPCA. A common example was displayed in the news in October 2008, when the ASPCA was in charge of an investigation involving the slaughtering of a beagle that lived in the Bronx. Brian McCafferty was charged with torturing and injuring his wife's beagle, Jerry, after an argument with his wife. The ASPCA conducted a necropsy that concluded that Jerry was stabbed twice and shot in the neck with a rifle. McCafferty claims that he was acting in self-defense when the dog attacked him. He was eventually released on bail.[12]

The ASPCA has an Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog program each October where it holds events and programs, and recruits and asks potential pet owners to adopt one of the more than one million animals living in shelters across the country.

At ASPCA Day on April 10 each year, the organizes encourages supporters to wear orange—the official color of the ASPCA—to commemorate the protection of animals. ASPCA members spread their message that day using mobile adoption vans, photo booths for pets, information booths on animal cruelty laws and ways to better care for pets.[13] In 2014 the ASPCA spoke out in support of new New York City mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages in the city.[14]


In 2012 the ASPCA agreed to pay Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus $9.3 million of donations to settle a lawsuit regarding the ASPCA's false allegations of animal cruelty by the circus. Courts found that ASPCA activists had paid the key witness, a former Ringling barn helper, at least $190,000, making him "essentially a paid plaintiff" who lacked credibility.[15] Edwin J. Sayres stepped down as CEO in 2012, and in 2013 longtime ASPCA staff member Matthew Bershadker was named president and CEO.[16]


The ASPCA is active in lobbying for animal welfare legislation, with regional and federal lobbyists covering all 50 states. The ASPCA communicates with federal and state legislators to consider animal-friendly legislation and bills. The ASPCA also drafts animal welfare legislation initiatives and proposals for legislators to consider during their sessions. The ASPCA's "Advocacy Brigade" allows users to write or e-mail their legislators on important animal legislation bills and referendums.

In 2008, the Illinois Senate passed the bill HB 5076. This bill contains various "Good Samaritan" provisions that protect rescuers from being sued if they rescue and provide for an injured animal in disasters or other emergencies. This bill also brings clarification to the Humane Care for Animals Act.[17]


The ASPCA is organized into three groups: Animal Health Services, Anti-Cruelty and Community Outreach. The Animal Health Services group has three departments that focus on the health and well-being of animals. The Anti-Cruelty Group has eight departments that focus on problems relating to animal cruelty. The Community Outreach Group works to help at-risk animals.[18]

APSCA truck in front of the headquarters.

Animal Health Services Group

The ASPCA Animal Hospital is a well-equipped medical facility that gives medical care to animals in need. Life-saving treatment to animals, whose owners cannot afford the treatment, are provided by The Trooper Fund which is administrated by the Animal Hospital. Another department is the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, which provides treatment for natural and man-made chemical exposure poisonings. New findings are published and therefore promote poison prevention, leading to improvement of animal lives. The group also has a Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinics. The surgical mobile units help end the euthanasia of adoptable animals which serves the ASPCA Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinics mission through the recognition of overpopulation.[18]

Anti-Cruelty Group

The Field Investigation and Response teams work with animal rescue from cases including abuse, neglect and natural-disasters or man-made disasters. Through the planning and assistance in animal rescues, the team helps local humane societies and other agencies. The also offers The Forensic Science and Anti-Cruelty department, which focuses on providing assistance in both criminal cases involving animals and any evidence surrounding animals in a crime. Through the use of the departments original research and outreach to professional disciplines related to the case, the department uses medicine, forensic science, and animal behavior to assist with the prosecution and prevention of animal cruelty. The department also provides legal assistance which can be described as, “assistance to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies as well as animal care and control agencies, local humane societies and SPCAs, veterinary associations and individual practitioners.”[18]

The ASPCA has a partnership with the NYPD, which began in January 2014. The partnership occurred when the NYPD took on the task of answering calls of animal cruelty in the city. While the NYPD answers cruelty calls, ASPCA works with what follows, such as providing medical attention, legal backup and finding a place for the animal. The Humane Law Enforcement team maintains a relationship with the NYPD officers by giving them training on how to respond to animal cruelty cases. Not only does the program do things to benefit their goal but, “instead involve owners who face barriers to providing care to their animals due to either a lack of financial resources, access to services or other circumstances, such as domestic violence, medical or mental health challenges”[18]

The Behavioral Rehabilitation Center is the only center dedicated for this cause and was piloted in Madison, New Jersey, and when proven successful was given a permanent location in Weaverville, North Carolina. The center helps rehabilitate animals that are under socialized or fearful of human interaction, which usually come from cases of hoarding and puppy mills. These animals go through a program which they will graduate from and be up for adoption. Animals that come in from cruelty cases are provided with behavior support from the ACBT. The ACBT also works with providing agencies recommendations on how to rehabilitate the animals through assessments that they have performed.[18]

Animal welfare is supported through the guiding and initiative of legislative work that is done through the Government Relations department. Through various acts of the department, the legislation of animal protection is monitored across the country, shaping the legislation even further in anti-cruelty initiatives. Lobbyist that are part of the department work by increasing the initiatives that the department works with such as anti-cruelty legislation. Lobbyist increased the anti-cruelty initiative by working in certain regions that are in the states that they manage and have complete and total domination of.[18]

The department makes prosecution of animal cruelty and animal fighting cases successful by giving legal assistance. The assistance is given to the people who are involved in the cases such as the prosecutors, police and cruelty investigators. Legal documents, resources and proceedings related to animal cruelty cases are given to the prosecutors and legal investigators as a way of providing legal assistance in an animal related criminal case. Cases that could impact many animals or could potentially have an important impact by changing a legislation in the field are identified/found and worked with.[18]

The department works by setting multi-pronged campaigns, having a main focus on improving the welfare for farm animals and ending puppy mills, therefore doing their goal of reducing animal suffering. They strive for animals to have a more humane life and do so through their holistic and multi-pronged approach. The department has two teams, the farm team and the puppy mill team. The farm team works by increasing the consumer demand, which include advocating for regulations and protective laws and better living conditions for the animals. Through the increase in consumer demand, the team seeks to improve welfare standards and transparency in the agricultural facilities. The puppy mill team do their job by talking to the public and educating them on how bad puppy mills are. The puppy mill team, like the farm team, advocate for laws and legislation that would improve the situation of those animals, such as legislating for the elimination of puppy mills that have substandard breeding operations.[18]

Community Outreach Group

The COPO department oversees the group as a whole. They ensure the staff is up to date with all the things that the group is doing. The department also makes sure that information is sent out and distributed to all staff. The department is also in charge of the cohesiveness of the programs within the group. They are the ones that coordinate the meetings and provide the data for the meetings, primarily statistical reports.[18]

The Community Initiatives department has multiple goals that they try to achieve. The goals of the department are “facilitate the ASPCA Partnership, increase the Live Release Rate of cats and dogs in shelters, save animals that are the most at risk by data-programs that engage the community with to reunite lost animals with their families, increase adoptions and spay/neuter and support feral cats.” The staff of the department are also responsible for the program that makes grant for the community and organizations in their region. Some of the programs that the department has includes, improving the shelters, the relocation of animals that are at risk, creating the standards for national disaster readiness and the improvement of professionalism. Through the ASPCA Equine Fund, the department is able to give grants to expand the capabilities of sanctuaries and of equine rescues.[18]

The Adoption Center has the main goal of “finding good homes for as many dogs and cats possible.” The center helps groups or organizations around them by taking in animals from the public, other shelters and other rescue groups. The center prepares the animals by providing them with mental and physical help with the use of resources such as a veterinary team and a group of behavior experts.[18]

Presidents and chairpersons

ASPCA President (or equivalent) [19]
Henry Bergh 1866–1888
N. P. Hosack 1868–1877
Thomas W. Hartfield 1873–1882
Charles H. Hankinson 1882–1907
William K. Horton 1907–1929
William E. Bevan 1929–1937
Eugene Berlinghoff 1935–1953
Warren W. McSpadden 1953–1958
Arthur L. Amundsen 1958–1961
William Mapel 1960–1972
Encil E. Rains 1972–1977
Duncan Wright 1977–1978
John F. Kullberg, Ed.D. 1978–1991
Roger A. Caras 1991–1998
Larry M. Hawk, D.V.M. 1999–2003
Edwin J. Sayres 2003– May 31, 2013
Matthew E. Bershadker June 1, 2013 –
ASPCA Chairperson (or equivalent)
Henry Bergh 1866–1888
Henry Bergh Jr. 1888–1889
John P. Haines 1889–1906
Alfred Wagstaff 1906–1921
Frank K. Sturgis 1921–1931
George M. Woolsey 1931–1937
Alexander S. Webb 1937–1947
John D. Beals, Jr. 1947–1952
Hugh E. Paine 1952–1955
William A. Rockefeller 1955–1963
James H. Jenkins 1963–1969
John F. Thompson Jr. 1969–1971
Charles S. Haines 1971–1973
Alastair B. Martin 1973–1976
Louis F. Bishop III 1976–1979
Marvin Schiller 1979–1981
George W. Gowen 1981–1983
Thomas N. McCarter III 1983–1995
James F. Stebbins 1995–1997
Steven M. Elkman 1997–2003
Hoyle C. Jones 2003–

See also