BOOKS: Heritage of Care

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2010:

Heritage of Care:
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
by Marion S. Lane & Stephen L. Zawistowki
Praeger Publishers (88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881), 2008.
185 pages, hardcover. $39.95.

“The ASPCA story is one that I’ve been
trying to tell in one way or another for the past
19 years,” writes American SPCA executive vice
president Stephen L. Zawistoski in introducing
Heritage of Care, co-authored with former ASPCA
AnmalWatch editor Marion S. Lane. Working
primarily from the ASPCA’s own archives,
Zawistowski recalls, “We decided that we had
neither the time nor training to write a
scholarly history of the organization. We agreed
that what we wanted to do was spin a yarn,”
covering the first 140 years of the history of
the ASPCA as informatively and honestly as

Like most institutional histories,
Heritage of Care begins with the story of the
founder, progresses more rapidly through the
middle years of the the organization, then
reviews recent changes and describes present
Henry Bergh, who founded the ASPCA in
1866, remains such an influential and legendary
figure that nearly half the book summarizes his
biography–which has already filled or formed
major portions of many other books.
Yet, as ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out in
June 2009, Elizabeth Morris and Annie Waln of
Philadelphia founded a more direct ancestor of
most contemporary American humane societies in
1858. Their organization, the Animal Rescue
League of Philadelphia, has two living direct
descendants, the Women’s Humane Society and the
Morris Animal Refuge. Morris and Waln’s protégé
Carolyn Earle White went on to found the American
Anti-Vivisection Society.
The claim of the ASPCA to being the first
American humane society actually rests on Bergh’s
conception of it as America’s first animal rights
group. Bergh understood that the need for animal
rescue work would be endless without laws and law
enforcement to establish for animals the right to
not be mistreated, and humane education to
ensure that this right became broadly accepted.
While Morris and Waln took over the
Philadelphia animal control contract in 1874,
and soon resorted to killing animals with
chloroform, Bergh refused the New York City
animal control contract because he did not want
to see ASPCA resources diverted into catching and
killing animals.
Only after Bergh’s death did the ASPCA
move into animal control. When it did, members
David and Diana Belais, considering themselves
the true heirs to Bergh’s spirit, broke away to
form the rival Humane Society of New York. Diana
Belais also founded and eventually disbanded the
New York Anti-Vivisection Society, 1908-1935,
whose assets helped many other humane societies
to survive the Great Depression. In 1921, as
described in the October 2009 edition of ANIMAL
PEOPLE, Diana Belais cofounded the short-lived
First Church of Animal Rights, which in concept
was an animal rights group more than half a
century ahead of its time.
Wrote Zawistowski after the ANIMAL PEOPLE
article appeared, long after Heritage of Care
went to press, “I had never seen this material.
It does not appear in any of the ASPCA archival
records.” Probably anything pertaining to the
Belais’ split with the ASPCA was purged long
before Zawistowki’s time. Ironically, the
Humane Society of New York also seems to have
little awareness of it.
Zawistowki and Lane acknowledge that the
ASPCA post-Bergh drifted far from his vision,
becoming little more than an animal control
contractor in the mid-20th century. Zawistowki
and Lane describe the lawsuit by the late actress
Gretchen Wyler that pulled the ASPCA closer to
Bergh’s course during the 14-year presidency of
the late John Kullberg, who hired Zawistowki to
do humane education in 1988.
The history omitted from Heritage of Care
is not whitewashed, just incomplete. Included
with fully developed characters, it would make
an even better yarn–and there are further
chapters yet to be excavated and told,
pertaining to the ASPCA associations of Helen
Jones (1915-1998) and Christine Stevens
(1918-2002). Jones, a former ASPCA secretary,
went on to cofound the Humane Society of the U.S.
in 1954 and the National Catholic Animal Welfare
Society in 1959, renaming it the International
Society for Animal Rights in 1977. Stevens, a
former ASPCA volunteer, founded the Animal
Welfare Institute in 1952.
Both appear to have become alienated from
the ASPCA in 1951, when as Zawistowski and Lane
write, “Many in the humane movement were stunned
when the ASPCA failed to mount a strong effort to
block” a bill allowing biomedical researchers to
seize animals from animal control shelters.
Instead, explain Zawistowski and Lane,
the ASPCA won a concession that “ASPCA agents
would be allowed to inspect all laboratories in
the state that used animals in research, whether
or not they received those animals from the
ASPCA.” Laboratory inspection was a signature
role for the ASPCA for the next 25 years.
Zawistowski and Lane give the entire
episode, pivotal in the history of the humane
movement, barely one page. Indeed, the stories
of Jones and Stevens would go beyond the compass
of Heritage of Care–but they were among the most
direct philosophical descendants of Bergh, who
would have recognized his own intent in the
organizations they created.

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