A Voice for the Voiceless

Henry Bergh did not find the climate of Russia agreeable.   Vice Consul at the American legation in Saint Petersburg from 1862-1864, he resigned rather than face another Russian winter.  Independently wealthy, Bergh did not need his diplomat’s salary and could have retired, he was 51 in 1864, to a life of leisure if he wished.  Instead he embarked on a new career that in its own way was more trying even than a Russian winter.

After a world tour he returned to New York and embarked upon an uphill crusade on behalf of, using his phrase, the “mute servants of mankind”, the animals.  In the 19th century it was not uncommon to see animals being treated in the most barbaric fashion:  horses literally dying of overwork, their corpses being left in the streets;   packs of wild dogs, living off offal and trash, roaming about cities and towns;    cats hunted for sport, etc.  To combat this inhumanity, on April 10, 1866 he founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

His efforts were initially met with widespread scorn and derision, but he persevered:

“Day after day I am in slaughterhouses, or lying in wait at midnight with a squad of police near some dog pit. Lifting a fallen horse to his feet, penetrating buildings where I inspect collars and saddles for raw flesh, then lecturing in public schools to children, and again to adult societies. Thus my whole life is spent.”

In 1867 the ASPCA brought into operation the first ambulance for horses.  Public fountains were set aside in Manhattan so that horses could have fresh drinking water every day.  Bergh invented an artificial pigeon to substitute for living pigeons at target ranges.  Bergh’s tireless efforts on behalf of animals, and his exposure of the savage brutalities to which so many of them were exposed, gradually enlisted the sentiments of most of the public.  Branches of the ASPCA sprang up throughout the Union, and by the time of Bergh’s death in 1888, 37 of 38 states had passed anti-cruelty statutes.

Bergh did not limit his humanitarian concern to animals.  In 1874 he became involved in efforts to rescue an abused 8-year-old child Mary Ellen Wilson from her cruel foster parents.  Stirred by this case, he helped found the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The care extended to those who are helpless says much about a society.   Henry Bergh helped make America a better country by speaking up for those who could not speak for themselves.

6 Responses to A Voice for the Voiceless

  • Thank you, Donald. This post will be of great interest to my sister, for no living person I know has greater love for the voiceless than she. I therefore took the liberty of sharing this post on my Facebook page and telling everyone as much. I write this on my i-Pad as my cat Worf sits on the left arm rest beside me (he has to be in my lap at night when I pray the Rosary). Dumb mute though he is, his love for me is without condition and that is one more thing for which I ought to continue to be grateful to God.

  • Our pets are symbols of God’s love for us Paul and how we treat that love He entrusts to us I am certain is of great concern to Him.

  • Donald

    Thank you for an excellent piece

    You are right that “Our pets are symbols of God’s love for us” and, for those of us lucky enough to have horses or working dogs, they can provide a real understanding of the rights and responsibilities implied in the blessing “to have dominion…”

    In my part of Scotland, it is the accepted thing that anyone who owns horses allows young people to ride them, in return for help in the stable and I have seen so many supposedly “difficult” teenagers blossom through the difficult task of establishing a real working partnership with a horse. I take my horses to Riding for the Disabled and to see a champion dressage horse rise to the challenge of keeping a discoordinated rider in balance is quite moving.

  • Maybe this whale would have given him a lighter moment. He must have heard so many death throes.

    This on Instapundit:
    OKAY, BUT IT CAN’T CARRY A TUNE: Beluga whale imitates his keepers’ voices.
    Posted at 12:02 pm by Sarah Hoyt

  • “Try to be the person that your dog thinks you are.”

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