Guiding Principles

The ASPCA is guided today by the same belief on which it was founded in 1866: Animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment by humans, and this is not to be left to the compassionate impulses of humans, but is an entitlement that must be protected under the law. Many things have changed in the nearly 150 years since the ASPCA was chartered, but the ASPCA believes that society’s obligation toward animals remains. The ASPCA continues its established role of preventing cruelty by the direct action of law enforcement. In addition, the ASPCA also recognizes that achieving our vision of humane communities across the United States will require education, advocacy and other forms of intervention that support the beneficial relationship between humans and animals.

The ASPCA has been and continues to be wholly committed to effecting change through nonviolent approaches. The ASPCA does not believe that threats, destruction of property or violence appropriately express the nature of a movement that promotes kindness and respect.
The ASPCA recognizes that the mistreatment of animals by abuse or neglect is often linked to the commission of other violent crimes, and that penalties for animal cruelty should reflect this link. The ASPCA believes that the successful prosecution of animal cruelty offenders should include fines, jail sentences and counseling to prevent additional acts of cruelty.

Although the ASPCA was founded to protect New York City’s working horses, our mission, as stated by Henry Bergh, has always included all animals in the United States. In 1866, the ASPCA was the only organization in North America dedicated to animal protection. Since that time, however, many additional humane, wildlife and environmental organizations have been created to protect specific kinds of animals, such as farm animals, marine animals and wildlife.

The ASPCA recognizes the value of the human animal bond and the many advantages derived by both people and animals through this association, which includes both the keeping of animal companions and the use of assistance and service animals.

In gauging whether the treatment of animals in specific situations is humane, the ASPCA considers whether or not the animals’ physiological, behavioral, social and emotional needs are fully met. The ASPCA is always as concerned with the welfare of individual animals as with the preservation of populations and species. These evaluations are made within the context of what are commonly known as the Five Freedoms:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.

  2. Freedom from Discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.

  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.