Friday, January 28, 2011

A History to be Proud of…

I recently read a book called “The Tower Menagerie”, a history of the collection of Royal animals kept in the Tower of London. The book includes fascinating stories like the Polar bear, a gift from the King of Norway, that was kept in the tower beginning in 1252. When the bear became too expensive for the Royal purse to feed, it was allowed into the Thames river daily to fish for salmon!

The latter part of the book was particularly interesting to me, describing the passage of the world’s first animal cruelty legislation in 1822. Two years later, our British ancestor, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was created. (“Royal” was added to the name in 1840 when Queen Victoria granted them a Charter) What particularly interested me was that the new group secured 149 convictions under the new Act in there very first year alone, “...a surprisingly high figure bearing in mind that this was not only the first animal welfare organisation in the world, but also Britain’s first law-enforcement agency of any kind, preceding even the Metropolitan police force by five years.”

Aspects of the book reminded me of our own Ottawa Humane Society history that was captured in the wonderful, “Helping Hands” published by the OHS in 1988 in honour of our 100th anniversary. Our OHS history is pretty amazing too.

When founded, in the 1880’s the Women’s Humane Society of Ottawa, as it was then known, was concerned with both animals and children, it was,“... focused on bettering the lot of neglected children by urging legislation to provide foster homes; supervising the overhaul of Ottawa’s only ambulance; and stirring up the public conscience to the fair treatment of all animals..” Several years later, the Children’s Aid Committee of our Society became the Children’s Aid Society. The same Children’s Aid Society that is in operation today!

Our history includes many ‘firsts’ and outstanding contributions to the Humane movement.

Our Humane Education Program has encouraged a compassionate community and has been in continuous operation since 1905!

Before the advent of the automobile, a great deal of the Society was in addressing the welfare of horses that were then the primary means of transportation. The Society must have done its job very well. A 1940’s visitor to the Capital noted about Ottawa’s 500 or so delivery horses that, “I do not know a city where one can see so many healthy, well-groomed horses, of adequate weight for their work”

In 1962, the OHS convinced the City to pass a bylaw banning the sale of baby chicks as pets – the first such law in Canada. In 1981, the OHS convinced the City to ban all live animal sales in Byward Market.

The OHS took a leading role and was the initial ‘host’ of the first national humane association, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies in 1956.

The OHS established the first companion animals program in Canada in 1980. The now much-expanded program continues to bring pet visitors to senior’s residences, hospitals and other institutions.

‘Helping Hands’ examines many of the other outstanding contributions that the Ottawa Humane Society has made to animals in Ottawa and the animal welfare movement in our city, province and country since our founding 123 years ago. I am very proud to be associated with such a tremendous organisation with such a long and proud history and I hope that you are too.

~ Bruce Roney

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