The History of Human-Animal Interaction - British Law Takes Hold
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Modern legal protections for animals date back to nineteenth-century England. A bill was first introduced in 1800 to make bull-baiting illegal, but it was defeated by Parliament members who argued that it would deny poor people an excellent form of entertainment. Over the next twenty years, several politicians sponsored bills that would have protected cattle and/or horses against mis-treatment, but all of them failed as well. The turning point came in 1822, when Parliament member Richard Martin sponsored a bill prohibiting cruelty to cattle, horses, and sheep. Martin had introduced a similar bill the year before and had been greeted with laughter, but the second time he was able to use his persuasive skills to get the bill passed. It was the first anticruelty law of its kind.
"Humanity Martin," as he came to be called, soon learned that having a law in effect and getting it enforced were two different things. The authorities were not interested in spending time gathering evidence and prosecuting animal abuse cases. Martin conducted his own investigations and managed to get a conviction and fine levied against a man for beating horses. He was helped in his efforts by a group of people led by the Reverend Arthur Broome. In 1824 this group became the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Although people had tried to form such societies before, most notably in 1808 in Liverpool, this was the first time that a group fighting against animal abuse had legal backup for its endeavors. The SPCA managed to win 149 convictions against abusers during its first year of operation.
In 1835 Martin's original act was expanded to protect dogs and bulls. In addition, cockfighting and the practice of baiting were outlawed. In 1840 the SPCA was recognized by Queen Victoria (1837–1901) and became the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The RSPCA appointed inspectors to patrol the markets and slaughterhouses of London and other large cities looking for abuses. The group continued to push for new and tougher legislation against animal cruelty, and the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed in 1849 (and amended in 1854). This act made many common abuses against animals illegal, including cropping (shortening by cutting) a dog's ears. It also spelled out rules for the proper treatment of animals during their impoundment and transport to slaughter. The act was amended again in 1876 to restrict the use of animals in research.
Many people involved in furthering animal welfare in England were also involved in other humanitarian movements of the time, including child welfare and antislavery causes. They believed that these issues were all related by common problems: abuse of power and the domination of the strong over the weak using cruel measures. There was also a growing moral belief that permitting cruelty to animals would lead to violence against humans and weaken society in general. It was also during the mid-1800s that the keeping of pets became popular among the middle classes.
Early U.S. law was patterned after British common law, which viewed animals as pieces of property. However, the reform movements that swept England during the nineteenth century also reached America. In 1828 the state of New York passed the first law against animal cruelty, which read: "Every person who shall maliciously kill, maim or wound any horse, ox or other cattle, or any sheep, belonging to another, or shall maliciously and cruelly beat or torture any such animals, whether belonging to himself or another, shall upon conviction, be adjudged guilty of a misdemeanor."
Within the next decade, similar laws were passed in states throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Some state laws covered only livestock, while others included all domestic animals. Some laws applied only if the animal belonged to someone other than the abuser.
In 1866 Henry Burgh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Fashioned after the RSPCA, the ASPCA received permission from the New York Legislature to enforce anticruelty laws in the state. This meant that ASPCA officers could arrest and seek convictions of animal abusers. Burgh was elected the first ASPCA president and held that post for twenty-two years. Similar societies soon formed in other major cities, including Philadelphia and Boston.
Vivisection, practiced at Europe's medical schools for some time, had also been incorporated into U.S. medical training. In 1871 Harvard University established one of the first vivisection laboratories in the country. The Massachusetts SPCA launched an aggressive media campaign to educate the public about the cruelties of vivisection and turn public support against the university. Antivivisection societies were also started in Illinois and New England; but their attempts to outlaw the practice failed.
The first federal law in the United States dealing with animal cruelty was the Twenty-Eight Hour Law of 1873. This law required that livestock being transported across state lines be rested and watered at least once every twenty-eight hours during the journey. At the time, livestock were transported mainly by rail from farms and ranches to huge central processing stations equipped with meatpacking plants. Chicago's Union Stock Yard and Transit Company was the largest. By the end of the nineteenth century, it covered 475 acres, employed 25,000 people, and processed more than 80% of the meat consumed in the United States.