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History of the NBSPCA

The New Brunswick SPCA was incorporated by an act of the provincial legislature in 1881, after fifteen citizens of the city of Saint John had petitioned the legislative council for the creation of such a body.

One of the first public acts of the new Society was to commission a drinking fountain for horses in 1882 that still exists in uptown Saint John, New Brunswick. As that action suggests, the chief humanitarian concern of most early SPCAs was with horses and their abuse. The modern SPCA focus on companion animals followed the decline of the horse for work and transportation in the twentieth century. The movement to found animal shelters (which mostly serve companion animals) also followed this shift of emphasis. Livestock and their protection, however, has been a continuing concern of most SPCAs.

In 1911 the NBSPCA Act was amended to change the name of the Society to the “New Brunswick Society for the Prevention of Cruelty” and to expand its mandate to the protection of women and children. This step conformed to the practice of many other societies in England and North America. The Victorian “protection” movement had begun with the anti-slavery campaigns, and its broad humanitarian focus embraced oppressed peoples, women, children, animals, and the poor. Not until 1958 was the name and mission of the Society in New Brunswick changed to again place an exclusive focus on animals. By that time, interventions to protect women and children had become increasingly a mandate of government or specialized private societies.

Very little has been written or is known about the NBSPCA’s first 80 years. The rare surviving papers hint at predictable themes: debates over amendments to the act or the Society bylaws; successful prosecutions for animal abuse; minor disputes about governance; and occasional financial crises, sometimes triggered by seizures of livestock and the resulting expenses of boarding and legal defences. The Society seems to have had no employees other than its network of part-time inspectors, and no fixed office. Funding came from donations and membership fees, contributions by a few well-to-do supporters, and charitable trusts. In addition, the Society seems to have had modest and irregular funding from the provincial government and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, at times during the 1960s and ’70s. Branch societies in the larger cities, mostly created after WWII, were usually better-financed than the provincial body, and in some cases assumed responsibility of paying for humane enforcement within their municipal boundaries.

In 1961 Senator Frederic A. McGrand of Saint John, then President of the NBSPCA, appointed Brian Davies from Oromocto as a part-time Inspector. In 1965 Davies became the Society’s Executive Secretary, its first full-time employee. With the backing of the NBSPCA, Davies threw himself into campaigns against the leg-hold trap and for more humane methods in Canadian slaughterhouses. From there he moved into the campaign, already gaining momentum in the early 1960s, to regulate or stop the hunt for young harp seals off the coast of Newfoundland. Both Davies and the NBSPCA quickly rose to national attention through the NBSPCA Save the Seals Fund that Davies created 1965. Although Davies enjoyed strong support from the NBSPCA, in May, 1968, the board of directors voted to split the Society off from the save-the-seals campaign and return to a focus on the protection of domestic animals in New Brunswick. The split seems to have been an amicable one, however. Davies for his part in 1969 converted the NBSPCA Save the Seals Fund into the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which remained centred in Fredericton. In 1977 Davies took the IFAW out of New Brunswick and to the United States, after the Canadian Federal Government threatened to revoke the organization’s charitable status. IFAW is today one of the largest animal rights organizations in the world.

Davies’ leaving the NBSPCA plunged the Society into a financial crisis, although the exact causes and circumstances of the crisis are unclear. By the end of the 1970s the Society had righted itself, now under the leadership of Executive Director Ray Ward. Although the Society maintained a small network of part-time Inspectors, funding was precarious through the 1980s. Many functions had been assumed by the larger branch societies, and the NBSPCA itself was relatively inactive. (For more on this episode in the history of the NBSPCA, see Christy Clarke, IFAW Begins: Brian Davies and the New Brunswick Humane Community (unpublished MA thesis, the Department of History, the University of New Brunswick, 2009)).

The 1990s brought a revival of government interest in the NBSPCA and in animal protection issues. In 1996 the Liberal government of Frank McKenna appointed an SPCA task force. Acting on the recommendations of the task force, the legislature in 1997 passed amendments to the SPCA Act. These modernized the act, set up the current system of government-sanctioned Animal Protection Officers (replacing the older inspector system), established the new APOs with the status of peace officers, and gave the government greater authority over the Society’s operations. Under new president James Little (elected in 1997), change came rapidly, including a shift of the Society’s office from Moncton to Fredericton and a one-time grant of $150,000 from government for training and implementation (1999).

Under Chief APO Paul Melanson, the corps of APOs underwent a rapid professionalization after 2000 (although most remained part-time officials). Exercising their increased legal authority, the officers launched a number of large puppy mill seizures that raised public awareness of the Society, but that generated large expenditures. By 2005 the Society was in financial difficulties, and was obliged to turn to government for special grants to cover its campaign against puppy mills.

The financial difficulties of the Society were eased somewhat in 2009, when the NBSPCA assumed the contract to provide dog control services in the rural areas, a service previously delivered directly by government. The new financial stability allowed the Society to move to its current offices on the grounds of Fredericton’s former experimental farm, to hire a number of full-time staff, and to assume complete financial responsibility for animal protection in the province. In 2010, after years of advocacy by the Society, government proclaimed new legislation establishing mandatory inspection and licensing of pet establishments (including dog kennels) and giving the NBSPCA authority for that licensing. In 2010 the Society established a province-wide hot-line that could be used by the public to report allegations of cruelty and abuse. The NBSPCA was also assisted in these years by a substantial bequest from the estates of Forbes and Ruth MacLeod, long-time SPCA supporters in New Brunswick. By 2012, after a challenging decade of growth and change, the Society had attained a level of functioning and stability comparable to those of other provincial SPCAs in the smaller provinces of Canada.