Henry Bergh’s Mission

Palshus Danish Ceramic Mother Bear and Cub by Knud Basse

Henry Bergh was the son of a wealthy shipbuilder and, as such, enjoyed a life of privilege, art and leisure.  While in London, he studied The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and committed to starting such an organization in America.

On this day in 1866, Bergh founded the ASPCA in New York City, the first such organization in the United States. Nine days later, the New York State Legislature passed its first anti-cruelty law and the ASPCA was allowed to enforce it.  With a staff of two, Bergh set-about lecturing, inspecting, and responding to the needs of animals in distress.  He believed that animals are entitled to humane treatment by humans and that laws should be passed to ensure this.  The ASPCA stood ready to enforce these laws.

The group focussed first on working animals and livestock.  They investigated slaughterhouses, provided water for draught horses, and, in Bergh’s words, searched amongst these “mute servants of mankind…inspecting the collars and saddles for raw flesh.”  With the police, Bergh and his team would raid dogfights and cockfights, both popular in Nineteenth Century New York.  And they developed the first stretcher to rescue and remove injured horses from their torture.

By the time Henry Bergh died in 1888, 37 of the 38 United States (at the time) had some measure of anti-cruelty laws on their books.

Fortunately, the Palshus Danish ceramic bears, shown above, have never experienced any cruelty—who could harm such beautiful creatures?  Click on the photo to learn more about them.


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