“Life is a thing of common use, by Heaven as well as to insects, as to monarch given.” – Quote found in the Erie County SPCA 1893 annual report, originally by Edmund Waller from the Maid’s Tragedy.
May is National Pet Month. To celebrate, delve into the early history of the Erie County SPCA. The images below are from the organization’s annual reports 1883-1938. The reports are available in the Grosvenor Room’s Buffalo Collection at the following call number: Buffalo HV4702 .E6. There are some gaps in the collection.
The Erie County SPCA was incorporated in 1888, though the roots of the society date back to 1867 when a Buffalo chapter of the SPCA was formed. Work to prevent the cruelty to animals was particularly difficult in its fledgling years, especially for women. Before the society was incorporated, there was a women’s branch of the ASPCA in Buffalo and in that time, it was seen as inappropriate for women to protest. It was common belief during the Victorian Era that women belonged in the home, and some who acted on behalf of animal rights were harassed and threatened with violence. Of course, men too were commonly threatened at this time when many were ignorant to the idea of animal rights.
Unsurprisingly, the first court case brought forth by the society was regarding the mistreatment of canal mules. Mules were used to pull boats along the Erie Canal and often worked for six-hour shifts. The mules in question were malnourished and driven while injured. Happily, the verdict was in favor of the SPCA. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, SPCA agents were appointed to watch over canal animals as well as those in stockyards. Buffalo at that time was the second largest railroad center in the country; its livestock trade business was extensive because of the ease of animal transport. Brave volunteers made arrests, ordered animals to be fed, took off painful collars and restraints, and removed animals from abusive or negligent caretakers.
The organization worked for pro-animal legislation and lobbied against animal dissection. Volunteers educated local police on new animal laws, on proper animal handling, and police officers were made honorary members of the society. Members talked to school children about respecting animals, essay contests on animal rights topics were sponsored, junior humane societies were formed, and local schools were given books on “kindness to animals.” Of course, the society had many other achievements, such as installing water fountains to encourage the watering of animals, building an animal shelter, and free veterinary clinics.
To read about the modern day programs and achievements of the Erie County SPCA, see the society’s website: https://www.yourspca.org/.