American Humane Association Essay

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The American Humane Association (AHA) is the oldest national organization with the dual focus of protecting children and animals, and it provides publicity, education, advocacy, and technical assistance to local child and animal protection organizations. AHA is active in professional training and development, humane education, disaster preparedness, emergency management, and family group decision making, and it operates the National Resource Center on the Link Between Violence to People and Animals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designated AHA the National Resource Center on Child Abuse and Neglect in 1987. AHA sets standards and develops training curricula for child and animal protection agencies. AHA works to create an aware and caring society by strengthening families and eliminating cruelty, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of children and animals.

Historical Background

A growing concern for animal welfare in the 19th century, propelled by an increase in the popularity of pets among a new middle class and by a romantic view of wildlife as no longer being hostile, led to worldwide efforts to prevent cruelty to animals. This movement closely followed other humanitarian reforms addressing slavery, child labor, suffrage, temperance, penal reform, and care for the mentally ill. Cruelty to animals was seen as a deviation from socially responsible behavior and a predictor of further moral degeneration; its suppression would protect potential human victims and mitigate the suffering of beasts.

Although the colonies in North America had enacted animal protection statutes as early as 1641, the founding in England in 1824 of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA; which acquired the prefix “Royal” in 1840) engendered the modern animal protection movement, which spread to the United States with the establishment of the American SPCA in 1866. Early prosecutions for child abuse utilizing animal protection laws inspired numerous organizations for the prevention of cruelty to children and animals.

To unify these groups, 27 local organizations met in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 9, 1877, and formed the International Humane Society. The name was changed in 1878 to the American Humane Association. The reason for the choice of “humane” is unclear, as “humane societies” had existed in England since 1774 to resuscitate drowning sailors.

AHA exposed unsanitary conditions in slaughterhouses and advocated for humane treatment of cattle, water fountains for horses, segregation of juveniles from adult offenders, abolition of corporal punishment of schoolchildren, and retirement for police and fire horses. AHA work led to the first Cruelty to Children’s Act (1883) and legislation to protect child laborers. The link between violence toward animals and children was first noted in 1894.

World War I inaugurated Be Kind to Animals Week, Red Star Animal Relief to protect military horses, and campaigns to mandate humane education in school curricula. Concerns over protecting animals in the making of motion pictures led to establishment of a Hollywood Film Office in 1939 to ensure that animals in the entertainment industry receive the highest standards of care and to a 1980 agreement with the Screen Actors Guild whereby AHA awards compliant films a “no animals were harmed” certification in closing credits.


  1. Ascione, F. R., & Arkow, P. (Eds.). (1999). Child abuse, domestic violence, and animal abuse: Linking the circles of compassion for prevention and intervention. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.
  2. American Humane Association:

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