Dog Welfare; A Brief History

Dog Welfare; A Brief History
Right now there is a disconnect between human welfare and animal welfare. Animal activists are often accused of loving animals more than they love humans. They are often asked (usually mockingly) “which would you save first a human infant or a baby animal?” People have long held an ‘it’s us or them’ approach in regards to the species that we share this earth with. However, that is a logical fallacy. It’s not and never has been us or them, rather it’s us and them. As humans we share 99.9% of the same DNA with chimpanzees, 98% of the same genetic code as pigs and 85% of the same genetic code as dogs. As previously stated, animals are sentient, they are capable of the same basic emotions as humans, they have the capacity to love, grieve, feel pain, and suffer just as humans do. By what right can we say that a human’s capacity to suffer is greater than a horse’s capacity to suffer, or a pig’s or a dog’s?
Charles Darwin found that emotions evolved in both humans and animals. He believed that these emotions connected us, not only with our own social community, but also with the rest of the earth. The very roots of human emotions, intelligence and spirituality came from animals. This is a very important commonality between us and it makes how we treat them more important than ever.
How we treat animals is of the utmost importance because it can only lead to, not detract from, better treatment for all. A person who recognizes the importance of the life of a butterfly will recognize the importance of the life of a human. A person who regards the life of a dog, will be much more likely to regard the life of a person with a different race, religion, or ideology. There is a very well-known link between animal abuse and psychopathic behaviour. The FBI recognizes animal cruelty as a predictor of violence against people. A national study(1) has established that 71% of women in battered women’s shelters have reported that their spouse has threatened to kill one or more of their pets and 57% actually carried out the threat. Of those women, 58% had children and of that 58, 32% of the children have hurt or killed a pet. The Massachusetts SPCA has reported that 70% of animal abusers had committed at least one other crime and 40% had committed violent crimes against people. How we view and treat animals is important because it teaches us how to treat other people.
Human societies have waxed and waned in regards to recognizing the importance of animal welfare. (There is a notable correlation in the timeline in how they treat other humans of differing races, religions and socioeconomic classes.) In the modern western world, we have come so far from where we’ve been but we have so much further to go. This is an issue where we must not become complacent for too much is at stake.
Dog Welfare; A Brief History
A Brief History
The first animal shelters date back as far as the 1700s, but they were used to store animals until they could be killed. Stray dogs and cats were considered a public health and safety threat. Dogs and cats carried diseases such as rabies and the plague. Packs of wild dogs were considered a threat to livestock. To this day, in many countries including Britain and the United States, farmers are allowed to kill dogs on found on their property.
In Britain in 1824, 22 philanthropists came together and founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This was the first organized effort at animal welfare. Society at the time as a whole, did not recognize the sentience of animals, and viewed animal welfare as a waste of time. The original members of the SPCA worked hard to spread a campaign of education to an uncaring public and their diligence paid off. In 1840 Queen Victoria granted permission to rename the organization the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Ideas of animal welfare floated across the pond. In 1854, the Humane Society of the United States was founded. In 1866 Henry Bergh, after witnessing the common cruelty to carriage horses, founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City. This was followed by the American Humane Association in 1877. 
However, the ASPCA was one of the few organizations that put forth the effort to conduct animal welfare campaigns, and educate the public while running animal shelters. The public began to rally behind the ASPCA and support animal rescue. In 1869, the Women’s SPCA of Pennsylvania established the first animals shelter geared towards rescuing animals. By 1894, the ASPCA began sheltering dogs and cats in New York.
While the ASPCA and similar groups were a needed step in the right direction, the rest of society was slow to catch up. Most shelters were merely storage facilities until the dogs could be euthanized, little to no effort was made to re-home them.
The 1960’s and 70’s saw great social change in America. Along with greater freedoms for people, greater welfare was finally granted to dogs as well. In 1966, the Animal Welfare Act was signed into law. It is the only federal law in the U.S. that regulates the treatment of animals in research, transport and exhibition. The AWA requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be provided for animals bred for research, commercial transport, public exhibition or commercial sale.
The 1960’s and 70’s also saw a rise in nonprofit shelters. These organizations were more concerned with the welfare of the dogs than previous ones had been. These shelters were little more than rows of cages placed on concrete floors. The animals inside had a few days or weeks to be adopted before they were euthanized. This is still true in many shelters today. Although greater effort is being made than ever before, there are simply too many dogs. With an average of 6-10 dogs per litter, a single dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in 6 years. There are only 6,000 animal shelters currently in the United States, filled with 8 million dogs and cats. Half of them will die there. There is not enough space to house these animals, and not enough money to properly care for them.
Dog Welfare; A Brief HistoryDue to this problem, better animal shelters are beginning to emerge. Greater effort is made to re-home the animals, and greater care is being placed on the prospective adopters. This is to prevent the dogs and cats from being abused, neglected and even abandoned again.
Among the millions of dogs in shelters, 25% of them are purebred dogs. This prompted some AKC breed organizations to begin to form their own breed-specific rescues. Most of the dogs in these groups are placed in foster homes, rather than kennel-lined shelters, the dogs there have been temperament tested, spayed/neutered, and vaccinated.
In the past, dogs would be adopted out of shelters, and their puppies would wind up in the same shelters. People finally caught wise and began to spay and neuter dogs in shelters. This effort has seen enormous success. In the past 20+ years, the number of homeless dogs has decreased significantly. While about 4 million dogs and cats are killed in shelters each year, in 1990 over 8 million dogs and cats were killed in shelters.
Because the Spay/Neuter programs have been so successful, fewer dogs are winding up in shelters. Most people who work in shelters are animal lovers who oppose euthanasia. This led to the creation of no-kill shelters. These shelters will not kill an animal for space, but they will euthanize those who are very old, ill, injured or aggressive. No-kill shelters do not kill for space, but that means that when they are full, they cannot take in any animals until they have room. The animals that they are forced to turn away end up in other shelters, which may or may not be no-kill.
Animal rescue has come along way in the past 40 years and especially in the past 150 years, but there are still millions of healthy pets that need homes. Every puppy that gets sold by a breeder or pet store means one less dog that will be adopted by a shelter.
The life you save from a shelter could turn out to be your best friend.
Dog Welfare; A Brief History
(1)Frank Ascione Ph.D Department of Psychology Utah State University.