When it comes to animal welfare, ASPCA is a familiar name. Many immediately think of the heart-wrenching Sarah McLachlan commercials that made us all cry. The organization has a deep history in the United States for saving and advocating for all types of animals. They’ve also been a catalyst for the start of many local rescues and humane organizations nationwide. However, you may be surprised to learn that they have little to no relationship with your local SPCA. So, who really is the ASPCA?
Let’s take a look!
Who Is the ASPCA?
ASPCA® is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It’s one of the largest humane societies in the world and was the first to establish in North America. Matthew Bershadker currently serves as the President and CEO of ASPCA.
ASPCA’s mission is “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.”
The privately funded, non-profit organization is headquartered in New York City. However, their work extends across the country and includes over two million supporters. ASPCA focuses on education, awareness, animal relocation, the investigation into cruelty cases, legal advocacy, medical care, and more. Keep reading for a closer look at their services.
Are All SPCAs Part of the ASPCA?
You may be surprised to learn that SPCAs across the U.S. are not part of ASPCA. They are separate entities. The ASPCA may assist some SPCA with training or grants, but they’re not an umbrella organization.
This is where a lot of confusion comes in, as potential donors may hold off on making donations to their local SPCA under the assumption that they are receiving funds raised by the very successful ASPCA. However, your local SPCA is very likely responsible for doing all of its own fundraising for animal welfare in your community. So, is donating to the ASPCA still helping animals in your community? Probably not directly.
What Is the History of ASPCA?
ASPCA was founded by Henry Bergh in 1866. Before ASPCA, Bergh was an American diplomat. While on assignment in Russia, he stopped a carriage driver from beating his horse that fell. Soon after, he resigned and dedicated his life to preventing animal cruelty.
During the 1860s, America was also not particularly kind to animals. Workhorses often pulled overloaded carts, dogfighting and cockfighting were common, and dog catchers often kidnapped people’s pets to hold them for ransom.
Bergh kept fighting for animal rights and kind treatment no matter what people said. Because of him and ASPCA, New York State passed the first anti-cruelty law in the U.S in 1867. The New York Act was a significant step forward and quickly had a ripple effect that changed how animals were treated in the state and beyond. Click here to read the act in Appendix A.
With compassion as his driving force, Bergh also led ASPCA to develop the first ambulance for injured horses in 1867. This was a couple of years before the first ambulance for humans was used. Bergh also invented the canvas sling to rescue horses from water, battlefields, and other situations. ASPCA has become integral to helping rescue animals from natural disasters over the years.
The organization’s work has grown exponentially since its beginning. From animal hospitals to spay and neuter and adoption programs, Bergh, who passed away in 1888, would be proud. The annual Henry Bergh Award is a reflection of his pioneering work, honoring a person or organization that has made a “unique, significant, and measurable impact on animal welfare.”
What Does ASPCA Do?
ASPCA is a voice for animals. Their work is expansive. From animal adoption awareness to educating animal welfare professionals, the organization takes on a lot more than sheltering animals and adoption. While they have a handful of large shelters across the country, most of their work goes beyond the scope of your local shelter. Let’s look at a handful of their main services and how they’re saving the lives of animals while also educating communities.
Pet Adoption Awareness
ASPCA takes pet adoption awareness seriously. They educate communities on the importance of adoption and how rescuing a pet can help save more than one pet’s life. When one pet gets adopted, rooms in shelters open up for more.
They also help animals stay in their homes. By educating the public on resources they can obtain, like free pet food or low-cost veterinarian services, someone is more likely to have the ability to keep their pet. Most people don’t want to surrender an animal if there’s an option not to.
ASPCA has dogs and cats that are available for adoption. You can find an application on their website if you live in the New York City, Los Angeles, Asheville, or Columbus area. Their Los Angeles program is foster-based and also offers remote adoptions.
They also provide relocation and rehoming services for horses. In 2021, ASPCA opened an Equine Transition and Adoption Center.
Are you ready to adopt a pet but don’t live near an ASPCA facility? Find an adoption or foster program in your area via our guide to the best pet adoption websites.
Animal relocation is a service ASPCA provides. Their relocation program partners with Nancy Silverman Rescue Rides to bring animals to areas where pet adoption is in high demand. This helps prevent them from being euthanized in overcrowded shelters or stuck in the shelter system.
ASPCA uses land and air transportation. They work with partner shelters to keep animals safe and healthy during transport. It’s a difficult job since they don’t want diseases to spread during a long journey. In addition, animals rescued from cruel situations may have injuries that need attention throughout the day.
The relocation program also provides support and training to source and destination shelters. This helps create a solution rather than a continuation of the problem. They educate on how to reduce the overcrowding of shelters and how to improve animal welfare. Some shelters are doing all they can with very few resources. ASPCA helps provide them with knowledge and resources to become a healthier organization that can save more animals.
Investigations and Rescues
ASPCA is heavily involved in investigations and animal rescue operations. They take on legislation and do high-level advocacy work.
They deploy teams when local and national authorities call to assist with animal cruelty cases. This can involve investigations into criminal cases, forensic evidence collection and processing, and animal transport to temporary shelters. ASPCA also provides legal services when needed.
In addition, ASPCA responds to disaster relief such as hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, or other emergencies. They rescue animals that are left behind, trapped, and homeless. And the organization uses its relocation services to find the animals shelter and a home or reunite them with the owners they were separated from.
Animal Care and Recovery
ASPCA has a rehabilitation center, recovery center, animal hospital, and kitten nursery.
The rehabilitation center is in Weaverville, North Carolina. It can house up to 65 dogs at any given time. This center has spaces for training and rehabilitating homeless dogs whose fear is so severe that it compromises their quality of life and makes adoption challenging. The center’s goal is to help them overcome so they can be placed in a loving home.
The recovery center is in Columbus, Ohio, and is for animals rescued from cruelty cases that need medical or behavioral care. In New York City, they also opened a facility in 2014 to care and treat neonatal kittens.
New York City is also the home of ASPCA’s animal hospital. It’s an urgent care facility that treats animals who were victims of cruelty and neglect and for pet owners who have an annual household income of under $50,000 and a qualifying medical condition. They also have two recovery facilities in New York, the ASPCA Animal Recovery Center (ARC) and the Canine Annex for Recovery and Enrichment (CARE).
Pro Tip: If you’re considering adopting a disabled animal, check out our guide for care.
Legal Advocacy for Animals
Since Henry Bergh started ASPCA, the organization has provided legal advocacy for animals. The legal advocacy and investigations department assists law enforcement and prosecutors in animal cruelty and fighting cases across the U.S.
You might remember their team’s work on the indictment of NFL quarterback Michael Vick in 2007 for dog fighting. The case led to stronger sentencing related to dog fighting, a felony in all 50 states. By 2016, the federal sentencing guidelines for animal fighting were raised to 21 to 27 months in prison on each guilty count.
The legal team also educates the public on puppy mills and how to stop them.
ASPCA Pro is an arm of ASPCA that provides training, research, and resources, such as grants, to help animal welfare professionals. Their training portal has webinars, online courses, and access to in-person veterinarian training opportunities.
You can find tools and tips on almost any subject on the searchable website. Here, they also keep a running list of current grant opportunities.
Are you an animal welfare professional? You’ll love this interview with Matt Pepper, CEO and President of MI Humane.
Is the ASPCA a Credible Organization?
ASPCA gets a 90 percent for the accountability and finance beacon from Charity Navigator. It assesses the organization’s financial efficiency, sustainability, and trustworthiness. The Charity Navigator gives ASPCA four out of five stars, calling it a great charity.
ASPCA reports on its website that approximately 77 cents of every dollar they spend goes to its programs and services. There are obviously varying expenses associated, but they’re essentially saying 77 cents of every dollar goes toward their direct work with animals, albeit salaries, facility maintenance, animal food, etc. And 1.39% of its total annual budget has been the combined average total compensation of the executive leadership team.
However, some reports challenge ASPCA’s handling of its finances. CBS News did a story on it in 2021. A former VP at ASPCA, Jo Sullivan, talks about what happened in the organization when those famous Sarah McLachlan commercials displayed sad music and dogs. Sullivan was part of the team that created them. She recalls their revenue tripling from 2007 to 2019, making for an interesting dynamic. Essentially they had more money than they knew what to do with, resulting in leaving money in assets versus the supposedly urgent need the commercials implied. So, some wonder if there’s a better business model to spread some of those funds to other animal welfare organizations in need.
How Can You Become Involved With the ASPCA?
You can become involved with ASPCA in a variety of ways. You can adopt a pet, become an advocate for animals, donate supplies or funds, and share on social media or by word of mouth. In addition, you can become an ASPCA Guardian, which is their monthly donation program.
Want to get involved in animal welfare? We recommend attending Animal Care Expo. You’ll be sure to meet some folks from the ASPCA.
Animals Deserve Respect and Kindness
Organizations like ASPCA help educate and advocate for animals on a national and international level. Now that you understand how this organization plays a part in animal welfare, you can make informed decisions about where you make your donations. Bottom line, if you want to strictly help animals in your local community, your local SPCA appreciates every penny they can get. If you support the overarching endeavor of the ASPCA, your money can help fund important work that is above and beyond the reach of your local shelter. Animals deserve respect and kindness, and need advocates on all levels.
How can you help be a voice for animals today? Share action steps in the comments below.
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