The journey to establish the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)

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The journey to establish the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is a rich tapestry and a story of how a small dedicated group of people simply refused to give up: “While the first society seeking to improve the lot of animals was the Society for the Suppression and Prevention of Wanton Cruelty to Animals formed in Liverpool in 1809, it was not until the Irish Member of Parliament, Richard Martin, steered a Bill through Whitehall in 1822 giving protection to domestic animals in the United Kingdom. In that same year, the Vicar of Bromley-By-Bow, the Reverend Arthur Broome, set out to create a society who would assist the police in the enforcement of this animal welfare act which had been nicknamed “Martin’s Act”,” explains Al Hickey, HSC Western Regional Director. “In fact, one of Martin’s ancestors now lives in British Columbia.”  Modeled after the British law, that same year, Nova Scotia became the first jurisdiction in North America to pass a law to protect animals from cruelty, the forerunner of a Canadian federal law to protect animals in 1892.

In 1824, the Society held its first meeting where it was resolved “that a Committee be appointed to adopt measures for Inspecting the Markets and Streets of the Metropolis, the Slaughter Houses, the conduct of Coachmen, etc.” For the next several years the society struggled to raise money and to raise awareness amongst the magistrates, with the help of MP Richard Martin, on the importance of prosecuting animal cruelty. Slowly growing momentum, in 1832 the Society was able to employ two Inspectors to investigate cruelty cases.

With the letter from Kensington Palace in 1835, came the acknowledgement of the soon-to-be Queen’s Patronage. Queen Victoria permitted the Society to use the prefix “Royal” to its name, agreed to the establishment of a Queen’s Medal, and even assisted in the design of the medal.

“With the Society gaining acceptance, branches were open in other major urban centers in England and Ireland as well as forming a pattern for the establishment of other societies in Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Holland and the United States. It was the American SPCA in New York which was the first Society to successfully bridge the gap to assist children in need, successfully arguing in court on behalf of an abused child.

The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed soon after, and when the news travelled back to England, provided the impetus for the Secretary of the London RSPCA to found the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The founder of the NSPCC is quoted in saying “the RSPCA, has given birth to a kindred institution whose object is the protection of defenseless children”.