Brief History of the Animal Welfare Movement
The animal welfare movement in the United States traces its roots back to the post-Civil War era when, although concern for animals was not a high priority, a slow shift toward humane reform began when people could not tolerate public displays of animal abuse.
Large cities, like New York, began to see domestic animal problems as people moved off the farms and into urban areas. Encounters between dogs and people began to increase which led the NYC officials to create dog pounds (slang for impoundment), and the notorious “dog catcher” was born. NYC officials instituted a $.50 bounty for each dog brought to them by the catchers. Between July and August of 1867, NYC government impounded 5,825 dogs, threw them into large crates and lowered the crates into the East River to drown. While many people were relieved at the reduction in the stray dog population, many other people were horrified by the means in which it was done.
In 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was organized in NYC by Henry Bergh, a wealthy New Yorker who was outraged after witnessing cruelty to working horses. He had been to the RSPCA (Royal SPCA) in England, and based the ASPCA on that model of a pro-animal organization. The new ASPCA convinced the New York State Legislature to pass the country’s first anti-cruelty law. (There is no relationship between the SPCA of Wake County and the ASPCA in New York. SPCA is a generic name used by many animal welfare organizations.)
In 1874 when the first case of child abuse was alleged, a horribly graphic case of a young girl beaten, it was the ASPCA that was called to advocate for the child. At the time, children were considered property and there were no laws against their abuse. However, there were animal-protection laws in place and the girl was successfully defended by using the animal protection law, since, her attorney argued, she was an animal. Subsequently, Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children rapidly came into existence. The link between violence to children and violence to animals has been studied ever since.
An SPCA in Massachusetts was the second in the country to form and by 1876, there were 27 humane societies across the country. By the early 1900s, around 36 private, non-profit, SPCAs and other animal welfare societies cared for and sheltered homeless cats and dogs. Some even employed a veterinarian.
Until this time, all animal impoundment had been performed by local government animal control agencies and funded by tax dollars. Humane leaders were appalled at the harsh and cruel conditions at the government run animal facilities. They believed that government agencies did not have the welfare of the animals as a priority and they, as private non-profit organizations concerned for animal welfare, could do a better job sheltering all homeless animals. The humane society in Philadelphia, followed by the ASPCA, set out to decrease government’s involvement in animal sheltering. Local governments gladly relinquished sheltering duties and sub-contracted with private animal welfare societies. The majority of local governments outside the largest U.S. cities didn’t have this option until much later.
The period after WWII is credited as the time in which pet ownership became popular. By the 1960s, people were moving into the suburbs where a yard and a dog to go in the yard was more likely. Pet ownership numbers increased significantly in the late 1960s and the population of homeless companion animals exploded. The Humane Society of the United States rallied humane agencies to aggressively educate the public about spaying and neutering their pets. Their successful three-tiered approach of legislation, education and sterilization is credited with causing a gradual decline in the number of homeless pets euthanized each year.
Meanwhile, in the North Carolina's Capital City
In 1967, as the pet overpopulation problem was beginning to capture national attention, Mrs. Martha Gappins in Whiteville, NC passed away and left $5,000 of her estate to help the animals that she loved dearly. Thinking that the capital city of North Carolina surely had a group to help the animals, she left her gift to the Raleigh SPCA. When her trustee called Raleigh in search of the animal welfare society that did not exist, the call found Dot Helms, wife of Jesse Helms, who was active in Raleigh’s philanthropic community.
Mrs. Helms saw the potential in the donated sum and called Diana Maupin (renowned attorney Armistead Maupin’s wife) as someone Mrs. Helms knew was interested in helping animals. Mrs. Helms asked Mrs. Maupin if she would be interested in starting an SPCA in Raleigh and Mrs. Maupin enthusiastically accepted. The society’s first meeting was downtown at the S&W Cafeteria and 200 people showed up. Armistead Maupin incorporated the agency in 1967 and Harry Johnson served as the first president.
From 1967 until our animal shelter facility was completed in 1971, the SPCA of Wake County took in homeless cats and dogs and kept them at Charley Caldwell’s farm on Six Forks Road. The SPCA’s administration was housed in a tiny office in downtown Raleigh where two elderly gentlemen manned the phones each day and acted as a referral service, matching up people who were looking to adopt pets with people who had found pets and the stray pets that were in SPCA care. During these years, SPCA members raised additional money to purchase land and build an animal shelter. In 1971 the SPCA’s doors opened to accept all incoming animals that needed help.
In 1974, the privately-operated kennels that the City of Raleigh used to impound stray animals came under intense criticism for the inhumane conditions at the facility. Public outcry prompted an investigation and the kennels were shut down. Public officials looked to the SPCA to provide the city with a sheltering program that involved a focus on the humane treatment and rehoming of the animals, which was precisely the mission on which the SPCA was founded. In 1974, the SPCA entered into its first animal sheltering contract with the City of Raleigh. This sheltering contract with the City of Raleigh continued until mid-2010.
The SPCA Limits Animal Intake
From 1971 through late 2003, the SPCA operated as an open-admission animal shelter and accepted incoming animals from all parts of the county or state, regardless of available shelter space. In addition, the SPCA maintained sheltering contracts with the City of Raleigh and the Towns of Cary and Garner. In February 2003, there were two main providers of sheltering and lost and found services: the Wake County Government and the SPCA of Wake County (operating the one shelter in Garner). Both shelters operated as “unlimited admission” facilities.
By 2003, the high profile of the SPCA led to an overwhelming influx of animals that severely taxed SPCA personnel and resources. In 2002, a total of 16,332 animals were collectively impounded by the two shelters. The SPCA took in 8,782 animals - 52% of the total impounds for 2002, with 6,000 square feet and 150 kennels. The government-operated Wake County Animal Shelter took in 7,763 animals - 48% percent of the total impounds for 2002, with 18,000 square feet and 236 kennels.
The SPCA was sheltering more than half of the animals impounded in Wake County, in spite of having half the holding space as the Wake County facility. In order to share the burden of sheltering homeless animals in Wake County, the SPCA began limiting animal admissions in November 2003 to residents of, and animals found within, Raleigh, Cary and Garner. The impoundment contracts with these municipalities ended in mid-2010. The SPCA continues to take in animals from all of Wake and surrounding counties as space allows.
SPCA Opens New Adoption Facility in March 2004
By incorporating some of the best animal housing techniques from state-of-the-art shelters across the country, the SPCA Curtis Dail Pet Adoption Center helps enhance the image of all shelter animals.
The Adoption Center is designed to be warm, welcoming and people-friendly – encouraging people to visit – and stay awhile. Natural light, open spaces and a retail environment achieve that goal beautifully, while pets are showcased in spacious rooms that showcase them in a home-like environment and their best possible light.
The SPCA is nationally known for its innovative pet adoption promotions. Since opening in March of 2004, over 25,000 dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals have been placed in loving homes.
In 2009, the SPCA built and equipped the Saving Lives Spay/Neuter Clinic. The clinic provides sterilization surgery for all SPCA animals prior to adoption, as well as pets owned by the public.
Today, the SPCA operates its two animal shelters, owns the Spay/Neuter Clinic building and provides services that touch the lives of over 25,000 people and pets each year across the central region of North Carolina.