The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh
Founder of the ASPCA and Friend to Animals
Henry Bergh was born in 1813 to a wealthy family and lived a privileged lifestyle. As many rich children often do, he had no desire for real work and instead wandered the globe as a young man living off his family’s wealth. He eventually settled down and got married. While on his honeymoon in Europe he and his wife witnessed the horrific and bloody end of 25 horses and 8 bulls in an afternoon of bullfighting. His response to the enthusiastically cheering crowd was “Never before has a similar degree of disgust been experienced by us, or such a hearty contempt for a people calling themselves civilized and at the same time Christians.”
Later on he spent time in Russia where he came to the defense of a wagon driver beating his horse. In 1865 he moved back to New York with a new found mission in life – that of saving animals from a life of abuse and cruelty. February of 1866 saw Bergh form the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals. From that time forward he spent his life fighting for the rights of abused animals everywhere. Through the hard and diligent work of Mr. Bergh we have laws against animal cruelty today.
I enjoyed reading this book – it is written for middle grade children but is easily accessible to all ages. For younger kids, it might be wise to have an older child or adult read this to them so they may skip over the abusive parts. Although not overly graphic in description, the abuse suffered is nonetheless terrible and for sensitive children, it might be nightmare inducing. The illustrations are interesting but don’t necessarily add anything to the overall message of the book. There are photographs as well and it is always interesting to look at records of a long-gone era.
This biography provides a good overview of Mr. Bergh’s struggle with changing the way society looks and treats its animals. It reinforces a lesson of perseverance in the face of resistance. Mr. Bergh endured years of humiliating articles and cartoons in newspapers as well as ridicule and mocking. But he continued to work without fail. Through his life we can learn to fight for what we believe in, and know that it is okay to go home, have a good cry and get back up the next day and do it all again. If you are in animal rescue and need encouragement, want something uplifting and very quick to read (I read it in about 3 hours), consider this book. It may have you reenergized to get out and fight the good fight.
This review is also published on Library of Cats under the non de plume, Jack.