By Shannon Schooley, Project Cataloguer
Americans have a particular interest in animal welfare, which is evident in the establishment of Be Kind to Animals Week in 1914. American Humane created Be Kind to Animals Week in response to the deaths of millions of horses during the First World War. Its purpose was to educate Americans, especially children, about how to care for animals with kindness and respect. This theme was an easy sell for Mainers, who have always had a special relationship with animals.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a frequent visitor to Maine, wrote about Be Kind to Animals Week in her newspaper column, My Day, in 1943. With World War II in mind, she wrote:
Though it may seem to a good many people that a time when the world is hardly a kind world is not a time to emphasize kindness to animals, and that we should think primarily of our attitude toward human beings, I believe there is great value in continuing to train children in the proper attitude toward their pets.
Her message continues to ring true. Teaching children about caring for their pets is a way to prepare them for caring for people as they mature and enter society as adults.
In 1927, children gladly posed for Portland Press Herald photographers with their dogs, cats, and horses. It is clear that these animals were special to the children who cared for them.
Treating animals with respect is not limited to pets and domestic animals. Since there are rural areas in Maine, it was, and is, fairly common to run into wild animals in populated places from time to time. Some of the animals Mainers encountered in the 1920s and 1930s included deer, turkeys, raccoons, and foxes.
In the photos below (ca. 1925), several fawns follow a little boy, who may be proving their meal, through a meadow. In another instance, a man feeds a young fawn with a baby bottle while a small child watches.
Raccoons also interacted with Mainers in different ways. Sometimes they were hunted for their pelts, but other times they were treated more as beloved pets.
More recently, in 1993, President Bill Clinton made a proclamation at the start of Be Kind to Animals Week. He said:
We celebrate this week in order to remember the many ways that animals help us. By serving as guides, animals aid the blind. As lookouts and detectives, animals assist in our military, customs, and law enforcement efforts. As friends and companions, pets befriend our children, ease the loneliness of the elderly and the ill, and entertain our families in our daily lives. We also salute the veterinary professionals and animal protection organizations that help us provide food, shelter, and medical care for animals and pets.
Click here for more on Be Kind to Animals Week: Commemorating a Century of “Be Kind to Animals Week” 1915-2015. American Humane, 2015)