What is a Humane Society and what does it mean to the community?

By definition, the word “humane” means showing compassion or benevolence, and having a civil or refining affect on people.

Those can be characterized by actions of tenderness, compassion and sympathy for animals, especially for those homeless, suffering or distressed. A society is a body of people living together as a community of communities.

It is interesting to note that our first humane societies did not operate animal shelters. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was started in 1866 by Henry Berge, who wished to stop the abuse of carriage horses and other beasts of burden.

Actually, the earliest known humane society, the Royal Humane Society, originated in the United Kingdom in 1774. Its purpose was to grant awards for acts of bravery in the saving of “human” lives. To date, it has issued more than 85,000 awards. You see, the word humane was not intended to relate only to animals.

In the earlier years, many local humane societies were formed with the purpose of preventing cruelty to women, children, and animals. There were no societies for child abuse or battered women in those days. The American Humane Association was founded in 1877 with separate child and animal protection divisions. It carries that same format today.

Over the years, due to human carelessness, the pet overpopulation explosion forced the building of animal shelters by local government and nonprofit humane societies/SPCAs. Dogs and cats were and still are being born at a 10-to-1 faster rate than human babies. Many factors, including indiscriminate breeding, puppy mills, and mainly, lack of spaying/neutering, added fuel to the fire.

Animal shelters face the challenge of finding homes for healthy, stable animals that they receive.

We have all heard that life was simpler back then, and it may well have been for humane societies. I do know that the works of early artists and humane educators show the same issues of animal cruelty as experienced in today’s world. There are however, more people, more animals and many more misuses of animals.

The need for humane societies to promote their purpose, their mission and the role they play in the community is stronger than ever.

The mission of Suncoast Humane Society is to “Reduce the number of homeless animals and improve the quality of life.” We are about the business of promoting love, respect, and compassion. Simply said, our purpose is to help our communities become a more humane society.

Phil Snyder is executive director of the Suncoast Humane Society. Email him at philsnyder@humane.org.

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