Protecting the horses that did the city’s work

Before cars, subways, and trucks took over transporting residents and objects around the city, the job was the responsibility of horses. And of course, not everyone treated those horses humanely.

Spending their days pulling streetcars and wagons, horses were routinely beaten by drivers, and they often were literally worked to death.


This prompted wealthy resident Henry Bergh to found the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866. With Bergh at the helm, the ASPCA helped write anti-cruelty laws and built public water troughs for horses (at least one of which still exists near Sixth Avenue and 59th Street).

They also created the first horse ambulance, as seen in the photo above. 

Today the ASPCA is a national animal welfare organization that operates a shelter on 92nd Street where four-legged New Yorkers can be adopted.

Another adoption option: New York City Animal Care & Control, which operates three shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. NYCACC doesn’t have the funds and history of the ASPCA, but they too have lots of sweet, loving dogs and cats looking for new homes.

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11 Responses to “Protecting the horses that did the city’s work”

  1. Force Tube Avenue Says:

    Henry Bergh is one of the notable “residents” of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. He has an Egyptian-style mausoleum there, and recently, in his honor a bas-relief sculpture, taken from the ASPCA headquarters, was placed in front of his final resting place.

    You can see this at Wikipedia –

  2. petey Says:

    “public water troughs for horses (at least one of which still exists on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street).”
    really! which corner? it must be the SW, but i can’t picture it in my mind.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    I meant Sixth Avenue and 59th Street, just inside the park I believe. I saw it about a year ago. Guess I’d better check to make sure it’s still there! You never know in this city.

    I’ve heard there are others scattered around. And this newly discovered one in Riverside Park:

  4. petey Says:

    yes i read that article about the one in riverside park. amazing how since only 1935 the dirt has been piled up to that extent.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Force Tube: I saw the sculpture in front of Bergh’s mausoleum last time I was visiting Greenwood Cemetery. It’s partly the inspiration for the post!

  6. Force Tube Avenue Says:

    WildNY: That makes sense, thanks. Green-wood is a great place for an uncrowded, unhurried visit, especially in spring (for the flowering cherries) and the fall (for the foliage), not to mention the “roll-call of notables”.


  7. PizzaBagel Says:

    Note the horse figure (partially cut off at the top of the photo) which is hanging above the doors of the building directly behind the horse. On the right door it reads “NEW YORK VETERINARY HOSPITAL.”

  8. How working horses handled hot city summers « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] How working horses handled hot city summers By wildnewyork By about 1900, the city had set up drinking fountains for its thousands of working horses. They were also treated to free cold curbside showers, courtesy of the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. […]

  9. Beth Says:

    A friend who’s the director of the Fire Museum told me that the horses who pulled the fire apparatus were treated better than many humans back in the day. Fire companies were very proud of their animals and took pains to make sure they were healthy.

  10. The 1872 “horse plague” cripples New York City | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Henry Bergh (left and checking street car horses in the illustration at top), who headed the recently formed American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, stood outside of Cooper Union and personally “ordered the brutes to stop driving the gasping beasts.” […]

  11. A West Side statue for firemen—and their horses | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] How did horses handle hot summer days? With horse showers and special hats, thanks to efforts of the ASPCA. […]

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