Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

On a cold February morning in 1965, Donora Mayor Albert P. Delsandro took his daily stroll in the Washington County community’s Palmer Park and made a shocking discovery. Thirteen dead dogs, each with amputated ears, lay in the tall, yellowed grass. A little-known Pennsylvania stray dog law authorized a $2 bounty for every pair of grisly trophies sent to Harrisburg. Countless citizens expressed outrage as the account of the mutilated animals spread throughout the Keystone State. The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society (WPHS), headquartered in Pittsburgh, immediately organized a legal protest and the ear bounty law was repealed within months. This legislative victory was only one of many in the history of Pittsburgh’s oldest charitable institution. When WPHS was founded in 1874, rapid industrialization made cities filthy, dangerous places where living beings suffered from cruelty, ignorance, and indifference. In response, the society launched a cultural revolution of compassion, reformed attitudes and behavior, and improved the lives of the vulnerable.

A revolution is a dramatic change in ideas or practice and the humane movement truly has been revolutionary. Over the centuries the relationship between humans and animals moved from one extreme to the other. Ancient Egyptians worshipped some animals. Greek philosopher Aristotle believed beasts were capable of voluntary action. Medieval lawyers considered animals responsible enough to prosecute them for crimes yet, according to Descartes in 1632, animals were machines that did not feel pain and cried out merely as metal squeaked if it lacked oil. Even anatomy scholars who recognized similarities between animals and people believed lower creatures existed for superior humans to use at will.

Animal welfare began in eighteenth-century England where urban areas mushroomed and life was dismal for man and beast alike. Although the Bible advocated treating animals well, many philosophers excused brutality, believing beasts had no souls. In 1751, however, artist William Hogarth condemned inhumaneness with a powerful set of engravings entitled The Four Stages of Cruelty. To combat apathy Hogarth depicted commonplace, oft-ignored activities familiar to his audience. In the first scene a fictitious boy, Nero, tortures dogs; in the second, teenage Nero beats his overworked horse; in the third, adult Nero has murdered his mistress; and in the final scene, Nero’s corpse, sporting a hangman’s noose, is casually dissected by anatomists as a dog gnaws his heart. While Hogarth condemned animal cruelty because it can lead to human violence, other thinkers advocated kindness for animals’ own sakes. Influential lawyer Jeremy Bentham in 1781 wrote, “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” Bentham advocated punishment for animal brutality and so began a movement that led to legal protection for beasts and the formation of humane societies worldwide.

The first humane legislation that authorized prosecution was partly inspired by the growth of pet ownership. Prior to the late eighteenth century pets were enjoyed by nobility, but the common man shared his life with beasts who served him: cats protected grain from vermin, horses pulled plows or wagons, and dogs were shepherds or guards. As more working-class individuals discovered the joy of animal companionship, it became clear that pets both displayed and deserved loyalty and affection. At the time, however, England embraced cruel blood sports such as bull baiting, dog fights, and other animal-maiming contests. These events were considered lower class entertainments, although many aristocrats gambled at cock fights. Over several decades multiple bills to illegalize blood sports were defeated when members of Parliament claimed that as long as the wealthy continued to enjoy legal fox hunting, it would be unfair to forbid bloody, vicious animal fights that were the poor man’s sport. Feisty animal rights activist Richard Martin argued that using class fairness to excuse animal torture was absurd, but he was also a realist who knew how to be patient. His Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle Act passed in 1822 protected livestock from cruelty but did not forbid blood sports or safeguard pets. The humane revolution eventually exploded and by 1835 a stronger law was passed that outlawed both blood sports and pet abuse. Queen Victoria, a dog lover, commissioned the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1840 and the humane revolution sailed across the Atlantic.

The animal welfare movement spread rapidly in America. In 1866 New York lawyer Henry Bergh founded the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and lobbied for anti-cruelty legislation. Animal welfare organizations sprang up throughout the country and the Allegheny County Humane Society, later renamed the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, held its inaugural meeting in Pittsburgh on November 4, 1874. WPHS’s vision of humane action was broader than Bergh’s, however. It extended to all vulnerable members of society and included children and the elderly. Although many animal rights activists also supported other social causes — Martin was also an abolitionist — WPHS was unique, serving both animals and people. The organization embraced the humane revolution and successfully transformed the social attitudes of Pittsburgh, one of the largest industrial cities of the period.

To advance such a revolutionary drastic change of ideas from social indifference to compassion, WPHS recruited the support of community leaders as well as the press. A roster of original members of the organization lists philanthropists Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Thomas Mellon. Although these individuals provided some of the initial funds to launch WPHS, if the organization was to survive and fulfill its mission to be a “voice for the voiceless” in society, it needed to mobilize the community. What better way to do this than to use newspapers, the most effective media of the time?

WPHS used newspapers to both educate and motivate the public. Even though city life in the late nineteenth century included many large working and market animals, most people considered the creatures merely part of the landscape. WPHS supported journalism that exposed cruelty and combated indifference. For instance, market animals such as pigs and beef cows contracted diseases when transported in overcrowded, filthy railway cars and WPHS gained public support for livestock reforms by advertising human deaths resulting from consumption of meat from sick animals. Attention was then expanded to the plight of work horses. Reports and photographs of horse beatings, starvation, and harness sores made readers sympathetic to the cause of the poor beasts. Individuals who mistreated their animals were fined and their crimes became a matter of public record. Additionally, the fledgling society considered the protection of children and seniors integral parts of its mission and sponsored a revolution against the traditional view that child abuse was a private, family matter. Adults who abused children faced public scrutiny and WPHS officers assisted families to better care for their frail or infirmed senior members. However, the organization did not limit its publications to a list of successes; it also continued to educate the public in humane concerns.

WPHS furthered its revolution of compassion with instructive and motivational programs that involved average citizens. In 1897 it joined other humane societies to sponsor a national prize with a cash award of $5,000 for the best designed animal transport rail car. WPHS also successfully promoted a “curriculum of kindness” that was approved in 1911 by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania and became mandatory for all the Commonwealth’s school children. The school-based lessons that taught consideration to humans and animals were supplemented with heavily advertised events such as “Be Kind to Animals Week,” which in 1915 included thousands of balloons filled with messages extolling kindness, thoughtfulness, and compassion. Nonviolent coping skills were taught in schools and in 1940 youngsters were encouraged to exchange their bird-shooting BB guns for cameras. Annual WPHS-sponsored horse parades from 1923 to 1931 encouraged individuals to view horses as wonderful creatures and not mere living machines. Throughout the twentieth century, poster contests encouraged youth to think about humane issues, and local businesses donated prizes. These initiatives helped shape public opinion in favor of responsibility for the weak and vulnerable.

It was not enough to revolutionize attitudes; in addition, WPHS sought to change behavior. The organization accomplished this through both legal means and community outreach. During the organization’s early years, there were few laws to protect either abused animals or people. Zadock Street, WPHS’s first secretary and superintendent, crusaded for market animals. In an effort to stop abuses of transported livestock, Street not only inspected local Pittsburgh slaughterhouses, but also went undercover on a cross-country trip that exposed the suffering of animals on trains. He reported that, “in one overloaded car, one of the cows had lain down and could not rise again, and the hogs had eaten a portion of her udder and were pulling her entrails out.” Street became a national authority whose influence persisted decades after his death and led to the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. Likewise, WPHS petitioned for state and local laws to combat child abuse and cruelty to working beasts, especially horses. Since a law is powerless without the ability to enforce it, civil authorities authorized WPHS representatives to not only investigate complaints, but to arrest offenders, sometimes at great risk to the officers. The public’s trust increased after WPHS officers obtained identification credentials that prevented imposters.

Over the decades WPHS’s focus continued to be both local and national. Its representatives joined other groups in the 1930s and 1940s to ensure the safety of animals in the entertainment business. In the 1950s WPHS joined international protests against the killing of animals in Soviet space programs and American nuclear tests. It initiated a 1964 investigation into abuse of laboratory animals and exposed a Pennsylvania clearinghouse for stolen pets sold to researchers. A year later the publication of the tragic story of Pepper, a Dalmatian who died during a medical experiment five days after being kidnapped from the Peter and Julia Lakavage family farm at the base of the Blue Mountain above Slatington, Lehigh County, led to national indignation and eventual passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It is the only federal act in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research and exhibition. WPHS’s efforts helped make Pennsylvania’s laboratory animal legislation the strongest in the United States. The society also successfully fought to outlaw the statewide sale of cuddly chicks and ducklings that were sometimes brightly dyed and nearly always dead within days of arrival in a child’s Easter basket. Regarding children and the elderly, WPHS in the 1960s supported the separate housing of abused children from delinquent youths and the passage of healthcare for seniors.

The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society changed behavior not just through the legal system, but also through community outreach. In its early years the organization obtained local support to install water troughs throughout Pittsburgh and maintain several horse ambulances for incapacitated large animals. The trust and generosity of the community enabled the humane society to do a great deal of good with minimal resources. In the economically depressed 1930s WPHS was able to dramatically improve the lives of thousands of animals, children, and seniors yearly at a fraction of the cost of government funded services — every penny of WPHS’s budget came from private donations! WPHS remained successful because it actually practiced what it preached. For instance, WPHS staff helped offenders who were ignorant or desperate rather than cruel by giving concrete instruction, finding employment, or providing food, clothing, and other aid. Even as late as 1963 the society was the most effective organization to care for abused children and seniors; it focused on strengthening families rather than dissolving them. Needy children were cared for, preferably by newly educated family members, and the adults who neglected them were given support (often more than once) to help change their actions. Of course, sometimes foster care or institutionalization was unavoidable. Protecting children, the elderly, and animals was enhanced by WPHS’s guarantee that those who reported abuse would remain anonymous.

WPHS sometimes unintentionally increased suffering. It vehemently opposed widespread rabies vaccination as late as 1948, even though rabies was a serious problem for both humans and dogs. WPHS officials eventually admitted their error and offered reduced-price rabies clinics which continue to this day. Perhaps the most serious unintended consequence of WPHS’s initiatives concerned animal overpopulation. For years photographs of cuddly kittens on WPHS newsletters hindered public awareness of overpopulation and led to critical overcrowding of shelters. Numerous careless pet owners repeatedly delivered litters of animals to shelters without considering that many of the animals would remain unadopted. Although WPHS continually updated its methods of euthanasia to the most humane available, the staff naturally wished to euthanize fewer animals. In 1965 WPHS launched the most comprehensive spay/neuter program in the history of the humane movement and offered this subsidized service on-site for all adoptees. The program became a model for humane organizations worldwide. WPHS also began low-cost spay/neuter clinics for non-adopted pets and the number of homeless animals in Western Pennsylvania plummeted.

With the passage of both federal and state laws that mandated government-funded protective services, WPHS closed its Children and Senior Divisions in 1975, but continued to improve the lives of humans as well as animals. In the 1970s, long before licensed animal therapy existed, the society instituted free pet therapy programs that aided hospitalized patients. Additionally, it offered greyhound rehabilitation and developed general pet care and obedience classes. By 1990 its education department had established guidelines for humane organizations throughout the Northeast with radio and television speakers’ series and on-site training programs. In recent years WPHS has offered economic assistance to needy pet owners, including sliding-fee veterinary services and a free pantry providing pet food. WPHS engages in many innovative programs such as pre-adoption foster care for ill animals and programs to humanely trap, neuter, and release feral cats to live healthy, free lives. The society still cares for humans and offers opportunities for both court-ordered rehabilitation and educational community service. Because its communication style has evolved alongside technology, WPHS has thrived for nearly one hundred and forty years. The periodicals of the 1870s have progressed to today’s Internet where individuals can meet their future pets through website shelter photographs.

The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society launched a cultural revolution of compassion, reformed the attitudes and behavior of society, and improved the lives of the vulnerable. The Pittsburgh-based charity demonstrates how a small organization can make the world a better place. Like many local shelters, WPHS provides hands-on care for needy animals and, like the larger Humane Society of the United States, it also influences humane legislation. Unlike animal rights lawyer Stephen Wise, WPHS does not endorse a progressive system of increasing legal rights based upon animal intelligence, nor does it oppose pet ownership as do several organizations. Yet WPHS is an integral participant in the worldwide humane movement and its spay/neuter program has become the industry standard. The organization’s most pressing challenge is the current controversy over no-kill shelters which preferentially select only highly adoptable animals. Thankfully, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, with its open door policy, “never turns away a pet in need.”


2013 National History Day in Pennsylvania

Organizers emphasize “National History Day is not just one day, but every day!” It’s a year-long educational program that culminates in a national contest every June.

National History Day has promoted systemic educational reform related to the teaching and learning of history in the nation’s schools since 1974. The combination of creativity and scholarship built into the program anticipated current educational reforms, making National History Day a leading model of performance-based learning. The initiative engages students in grades six through twelve in the exciting process of discovery and interpretation of historical topics. Students produce dramatic performances, imaginative papers, multimedia documentaries, and websites related to an annual theme. These projects are evaluated at local, state, and national competitions.

National History Day teaches students important literacy skills and engages them in the use and understanding of museum, archives, and library resources. The program inspires them to expand their thinking and apply knowledge of local events to the national — or even worldwide — scene. The program also teaches students to become technologically literate through the use of computer and Internet research methods and the use of technologically advanced applications in their presentations. Recent studies indicate students participating in National History Day outperform their peers on standardized tests across all subjects, are better writers, and are better prepared with twenty-first-century college and career readiness skills.

National History Day in Pennsylvania is sponsored by the U.S. Army Heritage Center Foundation located in Carlisle, Cumberland County. The Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission has been actively involved in the statewide initiative for a number of years.

The National History Day theme for 2013 is “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events.” Students, teachers, and parents wanting to learn more about the 2013 competition are encouraged to visit the National History Day in Pennsylvania website.


Meet a Winner!

For many years the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) has supported National History Day in Pennsylvania to stimulate and nurture school students’ interest in and appreciation of the Keystone State’s heritage and culture. By promoting understanding of local, regional, and state history, PHMC strives to educate and inform students, parents, and teachers about important lessons that can be learned from the past. Many PHMC staff members serve as judges for the competition on the regional and state levels.

Pennsylvania Heritage and the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation award cash prizes each year to deserving students in the junior division (sixth through eighth grades) and the senior division (ninth through twelfth grades) for individual research papers. Occasionally a paper merits publication in Pennsylvania Heritage as a full-length feature; this is only the second time an award-winning National History Day paper has been selected. The topic for the 2012 competition was “Revolution, Reaction, and Reform in History.”

This year’s winner of the Pennsylvania Heritage Award in the junior division for papers is thirteen-year-old Isabelle Schroeder of New Kensington, Westmoreland County, who placed second in the statewide competition. The daughter of Maryellen and Edward Schroeder, Isabelle — who has an older brother and sister and a younger brother — entered the eighth grade at Mary Queen of Apostles School in her hometown this autumn, where she is an A-student. “She loves to read,” says her mother, “and has been part of a competitive reading club for several years. Isabelle is also a scientist — she holds a U.S. patent for a laptop protective electromagnetic radiation shield which she designed as part of a science competition.” Mary Queen of Apostles School offers a strong writing program, available to students as early as the first grade.

Isabelle’s other interests include music; she has played the piano since the age of five and is a percussionist with the school band. She has studied taekwondo and earned a brown belt. As a member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, she completed her bronze and silver awards. She is an altar server for her church and is involved in various projects through her school and scout troop. Her goal in life is to be a veterinarian and she likes animals of all types — except insects! — which prompted her interest in the history of the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society as her topic for this year’s National History Day.

“Isabelle enjoyed researching the history paper, especially since the sources were actually part of history themselves, including handwritten notebooks from the late nineteenth century,” her mother continues. “She has already begun to think about next year’s History Day research topic because the most interesting aspect of history is that it’s hardly a ‘dead subject’ — the people, events, and places are all real. Isabelle understands that what we do today will be the history of tomorrow. We may think that the entertainments of the past were odd, but years from now future generations will think the same of us.”

Isabelle’s seventh-grade teacher at Mary Queen of Apostles School was Evelyn Quade. This is the tenth year the school has participated in the competition.

“All Creatures Great and Small: The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society’s Revolution of Kindness Reformed Society and Improved Lives” was only lightly edited to preserve Isabelle’s writing style, original voice, and interpretation. Her original paper submitted to the 2012 competition contained extensive footnotes and an expansive bibliography, which have been removed from this version because of space constraints.

The editor and staff hope you enjoy this award-winning article.