Is the ASPCA a Good Animal Charity?

Your heart tells you to adopt homeless animals. However, your everyday schedule says that you don’t have the time and energy, and your apartment suggests that you don’t have enough space. It’s a good thing that you can always donate money to animal welfare organizations, such as ASPCA, to do your share.

ASPCA is a good animal charity in that it’s been around since the mid-1800s, and up to 80% of funds obtained from donations and others go to helping animals. However, ASPCA is never without controversy. For instance, there had been allegations of wasteful spending and accusations of killing animals.

Currently, many organizations provide shelter to stray animals, give medical assistance to sick animals, and offer hope to abused animals.

One of the most popular of the bunch is ASPCA.

While it has a long history and a long list of accomplishments, you can’t help but wonder if, due to a few negative things you may have heard or read about the non-profit organization, you should donate your hard-earned cash to it or another similar group.

Below are some of the most important things you need to know about ASPCA, such as 10 facts about it. By the time you get to the end of this article, you will have a better idea if it’s the best charity to donate money to.

But before anything else, let’s get one very important thing straight…

Are ASPCA and SPCA the Same?

ASPCA and SPCA are not related. Short for Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, SPCA was established in 1824 in England. It’s now found in more than 60 countries. ASPCA may be one of the largest in the world alright, but it’s only found in the US, with its headquarters in New York City.

Many people believe that ASPCA and SPCA are one and the same because their names look similar.

However, they are two different non-profit organizations, although both of them are dedicated to preventing cruelty to animals.

For instance, ASPCA was founded in 1866, making it the first animal welfare organization in the US. On the other hand, SPCA was established earlier than that, making it the first humane society on the planet.

One of the nicest things about ASPCA is that it passes laws to help protect animals. In many states, ASPCA can also fine and punish people who harm animals.

SPCA does not and cannot carry out both, although in the past, it helped to pass laws that regulated the carriage-horse business in England. These days, SPCA is busy assisting in cases that have something to do with animal cruelty. It also partakes in providing food, shelter, and medical care to animals.

The letter “A” in ASPCA’s name stands for “American”.

While that’s not in the name of SPCA, the non-profit organization still exists in the US. In fact, the first SPCA started in 1866 in New York City, the birthplace of ASPCA.

It was in 2006 when SCPA International was founded in the US. Since then, many SPCA branches have come into being in the country.

There are also numerous US animal shelters carrying an SPCA certificate, proving that they are associated with the England-based humane society that’s been trying to deal with animal cruelty for almost two centuries now.

10 Important Facts on ASPCA

Because the money you worked hard for is the one involved, it’s completely understandable if you would like to learn as many things as you can about ASPCA before mailing that check.

Well, look no further because here are 10 important matters about it, both good and not-so-good ones:

A fallen cart-horse started it all

In 1863, a 54-year-old New Yorker named Henry Bergh was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to a diplomatic post in Russia. One day during his assignment, he came across a carriage driver beating his fallen cart horse.

This was when Bergh realized that he could inspire more change than just being an American diplomat in a foreign land. Soon enough, he resigned and went back to New York to devote his time and energy to the prevention of cruelty to animals.

And, in 1866, Bergh founded ASPCA.

It was an uphill battle for Bergh from the start, given the fact that the US back then was not a friendly place for animals.

For instance, dogfights and cockfights were popular forms of entertainment during that time. Workhorses hauling overloaded carts through the streets were also the leading couriers in those days.

Making things worse was the fact that ASPCA was the first and only humane society in the West in the mid-1800s.

But the good news is that Bergh was determined, believing that all animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment and must be protected under the law.

And, thanks to the founding of ASPCA, the New York State Legislature passed the country’s first effective anti-cruelty law.

Five Freedoms all animals should have

animal shelter
Image credit: Canva

When determining whether the treatment of animals is humane, ASPCA considers if the physiological, behavioral, social, and emotional needs of animals are fully met.

Besides the welfare of each and every animal, the non-profit organization is also concerned with the preservation of species and populations. And this is when the importance of making evaluations within the context of what ASPCA calls the Five Freedoms comes in:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst. Food and water are fundamental to life, including animal life. This is why cats, dogs, and other animals need to have ready access to drinking water and also a diet necessary for attaining and maintaining full health and vitality.
  • Freedom from discomfort. Other than food and water, shelter is another basic essential animals need to have. The appropriate environment should be provided, including a comfortable resting area and home that can help protect the animals from the elements.
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease. Prevention of health-related matters and immediate diagnosis and treatment help fend off unnecessary suffering and progression of the illness. Vaccinating animals, treating injuries, monitoring and providing appropriate medications are all vital.
  • Freedom to express behaviors that promote well-being. Animals need to be able to stretch, run, jump and play. They also need to be able to interact with their own kind. All of these can be achieved by providing them with sufficient space and proper facilities.
  • Freedom from fear and distress. It’s not just the physical health of animals that should be safeguarded but also their mental wellness — psychological stress can lead to physical illness. This is why it’s important to deal with conditions and treatments that can cause mental distress in animals.

Various sources of funds

ASPCA is dedicated to ensuring the safety and protection of animals. It does so by carrying out various activities, including community outreach, animal health services, anti-cruelty operations, and government relations.

ASPCA also supports different non-profit animal welfare organizations in the US via cash grants, sponsorships, etc.

To be able to carry out these things and more, ASPCA needs money.

And to get the necessary funds, the organization raises money in a variety of ways. They range anywhere from receiving contributions, selling assets to holding fundraising events.

Here’s a rough breakdown of the sources of ASPCA’s funds in 2014, according to its IRS Form 990:

Grants, contributions, gifts, campaigns$164 million (86%)
Program service fees$15 million (8%)
Investment income, royalties, sale of assets, miscellaneous income, fundraisers$12 million (6%)
TOTAL$191 million

Busy with many things, including legislature

Since the very first anti-cruelty law was passed by the New York State Legislature because of ASPCA, hundreds of similar or related laws have been enacted on federal, state, and local levels.

Similarly, ASPCA has become a model for numerous humane organizations throughout the US.

Besides via the legislative process, ASPCA also protects animals and maintains their well-being through public policies. These days, some of these policies include but are not limited to:

  • Safeguarding horses from slaughter and entertainment-related cruelty.
  • Securing a healthy and sustainable future for protected wild horses and burros.
  • Putting an end to puppy mills.
  • Fighting against animal fighting, such as cockfighting and dogfighting.
  • Defending farm animals through the opposition of extreme speed slaughter.
  • Coordinating with communities to abolish breed-specific legislation that regulates or bans certain dog breeds.
  • Making sure that veterinarians are allowed to travel during an animal crisis.
  • Strengthening anti-cruelty laws as well as related punishments.

Disbandment of a law enforcement division

In the past, ASPCA had a department called the Humane Law Enforcement (HLE). As the name suggests, it was tasked with investigating animal cruelty cases and enforcing humane laws.

Staffed by 20 armed New York State peace officers, HLE responded to reports of animal cruelty in ASPCA patrol cars and performed undercover operations, too. In 2000, HLE received around 33,000 calls, which resulted in over 500 animal seizures, 55 arrests, and 30 orders to appear before a judge.

Unfortunately, HLE disbanded back in 2013.

The reason given by ASPCA was that the NYPD was more equipped and staffed to respond to animal cruelty calls and enforce humane laws, which is why the responsibility of HLE became NYPD’s.

In the top 10 best animal charities

When ASPCA was founded in the mid-1800s, as mentioned earlier, it was the first and only humane society in the West. These days, however, there are a lot of organizations similar to it.

While ASPCA is in the top 10 of the best animal charities people who would like to donate should know about, others are making a name for themselves, too.

All sorts of questions can pop into the mind when planning to donate money for the welfare of animals.

How much of the proceeds will go to the animals? Which one will inspire the most change? With so many questions that need an answer, it’s a must that you research before springing into action.

The following are some of ASPCA’s alternatives and what makes them better:

  • SPCA – it has many branches in the US and other countries, too.
  • Best Friends Animal Society – it doesn’t consider euthanasia, except under severe instances.
  • The Humane Society of the United States – it responds to large-scale cruelty cases worldwide.
  • No Kill Advocacy Center – it dedicates itself to expanding no-kill sheltering.
  • The Animal Rescue Site – it has funded over 800,000,000 bowls of food for shelter animals.
  • Petfinder – it helps to adopt from shelters more accessible to all.
  • Pets for Vets – it matches vets with the right pets, thus changing the lives of both parties.
  • American Pet Association – commits itself to promote responsible pet ownership.
  • Friends of Animals – it advocates the rights of animals, free-living and domestic alike.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Settlement

ASPCA paid Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 2012 a legal settlement amounting to a staggering $9.3 million.

It had something to do with ASPCA bribing a former employee of the circus to testify that the company, which came into being in 1919 when the Greatest Show on Earth merged with the Ringling Bros., was involved in animal cruelty.

Under the said legal settlement, which involved two federal court cases, ASPCA had to withdraw its manufactured litigation that attempted to outlaw Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ use of elephants.

For decades, animal activists, including the welfare organization, ASPCA, had been attacking the family-owned circus business for decades because they opposed the presence of animals in circuses. Luckily for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the court did not take the side of ASPCA’s hired plaintiff.

Resulting from the litigation’s outcome was the subsequent stepping down of the CEO of ASPCA during that time, Edwin J. Sayres. He became ASPCA’s consultant in 2013 after resigning.

And speaking of which…

Exorbitant annual CEO compensation

Before we talk about how much money the CEO of ASPCA is getting paid annually, let’s first get to know how much a non-profit organization’s CEO makes every year on average.

It’s a good idea to establish a baseline against which we can measure the annual compensation of ASPCA’s CEO, thus allowing us to put it into context better.

As of 2021, the average yearly salary of a non-profit CEO in the US is $173,589. It doesn’t come as a surprise since a CEO is tasked with critical responsibilities, such as making major decisions and managing the overall resources and operations.

Let’s now take a quick look at the estimated annual salary of ASPCA’s CEO in the past few years:


Based on the figures in the table above and the average salary of a US non-profit organization’s CEO, it’s clear that the CEO of ASPCA is making almost five times more money than the rest.

By the way, 80% of donations to ASPCA go straight to helping animals. On the other hand, the rest goes to other expenses, including administration.

Supports no-kill communities

According to the ASPCA itself, it strongly supports no-kill community coalitions dedicated to reducing the number of community cats and dogs that are at risk of becoming lost or abandoned or surrendered to animal shelters.

ASPCA does so by carrying out activities such as:

  • Maximizing accessibility to affordable spay and neuter services.
  • Partaking in trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs for feral cats.
  • Promoting the adoption of homeless animals.
  • Educating potential guardians on pet selection and micro-chipping.
  • Providing guardians expert training and behavior assistance.

In 2016, ASPCA seized more than 600 animals from a private no-kill shelter in North Carolina because they were not getting adequate water and medical care, among other deficiencies.

In 2012, the organization rescued over 700 cats in Florida. ASPCA also once rescued around 4,000 roosters in a cockfighting raid.

Accusations of killing animals

Refrain from assuming that ASPCA and no-kill shelters do not put animals to sleep. In some instances, the non-profit organization and many others similar to it have no other choice but to euthanize animals.

Even when full, no healthy or treatable animals will be killed.

However, it’s a completely different story if the animal is terminally ill — it will be euthanized.

The same is true for animals that are considered dangerous to other animals, volunteers, and other people. A shelter can kill up to 10% of animals and still be regarded as a no-kill shelter.

By the way, in the past, ASPCA also got involved in some controversies involving killing animals.

For instance, in 2007, a sick dog that was taken to ASPCA’s animal hospital in Manhattan for treatment died after an abusive employee kicked it to death. Then, in 2009, a dog that was thrown off the roof of a six-story apartment in Brooklyn and suffered multiple fractures was euthanized by ASPCA after showing signs of aggression.

Just Before You Join Team ASPCA

It’s true that ASPCA found itself in hot water a few times in the past. Still, it remains as one of the most popular and trusted non-profit animal welfare organizations in the US.

As a matter of fact, based on a 2021 rating by Charity Navigator, an independent non-profit organization evaluator slash charitable institution, the accountability and transparency of ASPCA are 97 out of 100.

On the other hand, the animal welfare’s overall score is 83.36.

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