The Montreal SPCA: Speaking on behalf of animals for 150 years

A book about the history of the Montreal SPCA was launched on May 9 as part of the organization’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Entitled Au nom des animaux. L’histoire de la SPCA de Montréal (1869–2019) and published by Somme toute, the work recounts the complex history of the largest organization working for animal welfare in Quebec. It also addresses the philosophical underpinnings and the beginnings of animal welfare in Europe.

Since its founding in 1869, the Montreal SPCA has been dedicated to protecting animals from negligence and abuse of all kinds. Whether educating the public about the importance of showing compassion toward animals or denouncing cruelty to animals, the SPCA has been playing the role of spokesperson for the animals for 150 years.

Initially dedicated to horses

The organization took up this responsibility in 19-century Montreal, a time when many animals, particularly horses, were suffering abuse on a daily basis. At the time, horses were omnipresent in the city, and the many acts of cruelty they suffered shocked members of the English business world. The city needed an institution with the mission to educate the public on how to treat animals and that would enforce municipal animal cruelty laws and regulations. In its very first years of activity, the SPCA created an inspection team and multiplied its initiatives to educate the public on the treatment of horses.

Known for its shelter

The SPCA changed directions at the beginning of the 20th century, which is also when automobiles became more prevalent. Starting in 1914, the organization was known more for its shelter. It opened its first shelter for domestic animals that year on de Maisonneuve Boulevard East (then called Montigny), right in the heart of the Latin Quarter. After moving to Saint-Jacques Street in Little Burgundy in 1928, the SPCA settled definitively on Jean-Talon Street West thanks to generous donors.

It then began looking for a second building for dogs and cats it was trying to place while also raising public awareness on several issues regarding domestic animals, such as abandonment during moving season, urban overpopulation of animals and the importance of sterilization. This gave rise to the first sterilization incentive program at the shelter in 1979.

Defending all animals

Following in the steps of environmentalists, the SPCA began to expand its advocacy work. Starting in the 1960s, the organization included all animals in its mission to protect them from cruelty and negligence. It started working to protect wildlife and regularly went out to assist wild fauna in the city environment. The shelter also began taking in farm animals such as chickens and pigs.

A 150-year long story of compassion

Ever since it began, the Montreal SPCA has taken an interest in the fate of all kinds of animals: first horses, then cats and dogs starting in 1914 and then a vast expansion of its aid recipients during the 1960s. Thanks to continuous public support, the SPCA now has the means to advocate for all animals. With 150 years of work behind it, the organization has succeeded in becoming an essential institution for animal welfare in Quebec and in continuing a story of compassion for more than a century.

About the author:

Virginie Simoneau-Gilbert is a master’s student in philosophy at the Université de Montréal under the guidance of supervisors Marc-Antoine Dilhac and Valéry Giroux. Her thesis will address extending legal capacity to non-human animals in civil law. In May 2019, she launched her book, Au nom des animaux. L’histoire de la SPCA de Montréal (1869-2019), which is now available in bookstores. The book was released as part of the celebrations for the Montreal SPCA’s 150th anniversary. Get your copy from your favourite bookseller!

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