Posts Tagged ‘ASPCA’

When dog vs. rat fights entertained the city

February 3, 2011

New York after the Civil War had a feral edge.

Amid the poverty, crime, and gangs that packed the Bowery, Five Points, and waterfront districts, a brutal pastime reached new heights in popularity: rat-baiting—pitting a terrier against a rat until they fought to the death.

And no dive was more famous for its rat-baiting than Kit Burns’ Sportsmen’s Hall at 273 Water Street (illustrated at right and below).

“The pits, at Kit Burns’ and elsewhere, were uscreened boxes, with zinc-lined wooden walls eight feet long and four and a half feet high,” wrote Luc Sante in his must-read account of 19th century Bowery, Low Life.

“Matches typically drew no fewer than one hundred betting spectators, from all walks of life, with purses starting at $125. A good rat dog could kill a hundred rats in half an hour to forty-five minutes….”

But not all New Yorkers considered rat-baiting morally okay.

A New York Times article about 273 Water Street (now luxury apartments, of course) quoted Edward Winslow Martin’s 1868 The Secrets of the Great City:

“Most of our readers have witnessed a dog fight in the streets. Let them imagine the animals surrounded by a crowd of brutal wretches whose conduct stamps them as beneath the struggling beasts, and they will have a fair idea of the scene at Kit Burns.”’

The sport died out by the 20th century, thanks to the new ASPCA.

How working horses handled hot city summers

June 28, 2010

By about 1900, some city streets featured drinking fountains for thousands of working horses, courtesy of the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

They were also treated to free cold curbside showers, as seen in the 1911 Library of Congress photo above.

And in the strange but true category, the SPCA had a plan to give away free straw sombreros to shield working horses’ eyes from the sun:

“The hats will be specially prepared by a horse outfitter in Union Square, following a pattern designed by [SPCA superintendent] Hankinson,” wrote the New York Times in June 1902.

“The hat, known as the horse sombrero, will be made of coarsely woven straw, about sixteen inches in diameter. The hat has an extraordinary flat brim, and, with the exception of the large holes for the horse’s ears, has the appearance of an ordinary hat.”

The SPCA got the idea from the street horses in Paris, all of whom wore sombreros in the summer, the Times goes on to say. Photo above sent in by an Ephemeral reader.

Protecting the horses that did the city’s work

September 26, 2009

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.