The History of Animal Rescue

The concept of animal rights has evolved slowly over the centuries, following much the same course as that of childrens rights. Both involve deliberately putting the welfare of a creature who cannot explicitly complain over the direct monetary and social needs of the "owner".

Life pre-1600s was very difficult. Much of the world's population had to work very hard for the simple needs in life - food, shelter, warmth. Illness and mishap claimed a large percentage of both animal and human life with little understanding by the adults of what was happening. People took a very realistic view of the world - parents would bear 8-10 children in order to have a few survive to inherit the farm. Children that died along the way would be buried out back with the farm animals that passed away.

Physical "encouragement" of both child and beast was expected, in part because this was how adults were punished as well. A child who did not work hard enough was beaten severely, and sometimes to death. The same was true for work animals, although since work animals had intrinsic "value" to the family, they would be better cared for.

The picture had not changed much by the 1600s and 1700s. Life was still not easy, especially in the new colonies of the US. Children were thought of as mouths to feed, ones that a beating might get to work properly. Large families still expected to lose many to nature's harshness. Children were often put to work since they could not complain in an effective manner and their death was not thought of as seriously as an adult's. In the early 1800s, about half of all factory workers in the northern US were 10 or younger.

In 1825, the House of Refuge in America was founded, the first in the US to help take care of severely abused and abandoned children. Now that the Industrial Revolution had started to help people meet their basic needs with ease, they had the luxury to turn their minds to other issues, such as caring for those less fortunate. It is just around this time that animal welfare also became an issue.

One of the best known societies to help animals in the US is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA. It was founded by Henry Bergh, a wealthy philanthropist in New York who in the mid-1800s was quite upset by how horses were being mistreated. He founded the ASPCA in 1866 to help them out, and from that start grew an organization that now does everything from rescuing stray cats to confirming that movies are filmed in an animal-friendly manner.

Many researchers have now found links between animal cruelty and human cruelty - that a child that grows up able to torment animals builds up a resistance to empathy that later extends to humans.