Save the Animals: The Creation of the ASPCA

Save the Animals: The Creation of the ASPCA
Lucretia Garfield: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Two weeks or more


It wasn’t until the last part of the 19th century that mistreatment of animals came to be against the law in the United States.  Largely through the efforts of Henry Burgh of New York, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was chartered by the New York State Legislature, and laws against cruelty to animals were passed.  The story of Bergh’s efforts, as well as information on ways in which we can help currently endangered species of animals, are the subjects of this lesson.


Students who participate in this lesson will read Black Beauty and study the history of the founding of the ASPCA and learn about endangered species today.  Students will write a short paper about the book, or on some aspect of the history of the ASPCA, and, after exploring the Endandered Special website, propose actions that they can take locally to protect endangered species of animals.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials as available; a class set of the novel, Black Beauty (optional); art supplies; tag board or foldable paper.


Introduce the lesson by asking students if they know was the letters “ASPCA” stand for.  Discuss their experience, if any, with cruelty to animals—including any news reports of people who have been cited for such cruelty locally.
Student should all read the novel, Black Beauty.  If a class set of the book is not available, the story can be read aloud by the teacher, stopping periodically to discuss aspects of the novel that illustrate animal cruelty, or any other parts of the novel that are of interest to the class.  If students read the book to themselves, the teacher might design a set of guide questions for students to be thinking about as they read.
After all students have read the book, divide the class into four groups and have them explore the ASPCA website, looking for the following information:
Group 1 – Who was Henry Burgh?  What was his background?  How did he pursue his desire to protect animals?
Group 2 – What were some of the early laws against cruelty to animals?
Group 3 – What was the relation of veterinary medicine to the “save the animals” movement?
Group 4 – When did pet ownership become very fashionable in the United States and what factors contributed to it?
Once the research is completed, each student should write a short (one page) paper on his or her findings and share it with the class.
In order to bring the idea of “saving animals” into contemporary life, students should explore the “Endangered Species” website listed below (it is necessary to click on “Endangered Species” on the home page).  Students can be placed in groups or work individually, but each student should select one way in which today’s endangered species might be protected and prepare a brochure or a poster that explains what needs to be done.
Students should be given an opportunity to share their work in regard to protecting endangered species.

Extending the Lesson:

This is a long project, but the second part of it—protecting endangered species—might be extended into a whole-school project, with some activities actually being carried out in the community in which students live.

Sources & Resources:

Sewell, Anna and Grealy, Lucy. Black  Beauty. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
     History of the ASPCA 

     Endangered  Species 

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.