A Traitor to His Species | Ernest Freeberg

Summary of: A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement
By: Ernest Freeberg

Bergh’s Legacy

Henry Bergh was verbally abused and mocked in newspapers until his death in 1888, but his pivotal role in moving Americans away from disregarding animal welfare had a positive impact on the United States and the world. Bergh’s efforts also influenced the treatment of minors, leading to the foundation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Bergh’s work sparked a new humanitarian impulse that inspired numerous animal welfare advocates such as lawyer George Angell, fur magnate Louis Bonard, and women activists. Ministers across the United States also supported Bergh’s cause, leading to a greater tenderness for all breathing life.


Dive into the world of Henry Bergh, a pioneer of the animal rights movement, in A Traitor to His Species by Ernest Freeberg. The book takes you on a gripping journey through the gritty, dark reality of 19th century urban life, where animals suffered greatly at the hands of humans. Follow Bergh’s quest to create a more compassionate world for animals, as he establishes the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and challenges powerful opponents. Discover how Bergh’s unwavering determination sparked essential conversations about animal welfare that have shaped our modern understanding of the topic. Prepare for tales of tragedy and triumph, as Bergh confronts various cases of cruelty and abuse while fighting an uphill battle for the rights of our fellow creatures.

Animals in 1800s Cities

Vintage engravings reveal the animal dystopia that was 1800s big city streets. Animals, including cows and pigs, suffered in cramped stockyards and makeshift sheds. Cruelty towards animals that included bashing horses’ skulls with rocks, setting cats on fire and abandoning sick or hurt animals on the streets was commonplace. However, a concerned group of individuals emerged as lobbyists for animal rights and welfare.

The Champion of Animal Welfare

In the mid-1800s, a man named Henry Bergh became the leading advocate for animal welfare in New York. He witnessed brutal abuse of horses in Russia and dedicated his life to protecting all animals. Bergh believed that animals were not just property, but creatures deserving of love and respect. As the most influential advocate for the movement, he faced criticism and opposition but remained steadfast in his mission. The animal-welfare movement was relatively new at the time, and Bergh’s supporters regarded him as a visionary and moral leader. Meanwhile, his opponents accused him of betraying his species and even hating people. Nevertheless, Bergh’s legacy continues, and his commitment to the welfare of animals lives on.

Bergh’s Crusade for Animal Rights

In 1866, Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the first animal anti-cruelty organization in the United States. The ASPCA fought against various injustices, and Bergh’s efforts led to the formation of similar organizations across the country. Bergh’s advocacy for animal welfare gained support from influential individuals, including New York City’s mayor and police chief. Despite facing opposition from those who viewed animals solely as commodities, Bergh remained steadfast and devoted to his cause, eventually shifting public attitudes towards greater concern for animals and children.

ASPCA: Revolutionizing Animal Welfare

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded by Henry Bergh to enforce animal welfare laws effectively. Although previous legislation existed, few authorities enforced them. The ASPCA empowered agents to report and arrest violators, leading to increased protection for animals. Bergh’s work brought about an emancipation proclamation from cruelty towards animals, spanning beyond livestock protection. This innovative approach revolutionized animal welfare in America.

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