The early defenders of the animal welfare cause tended to enjoy close relations with members of the judiciary and the clergy. Most of their counterparts, on the other hand, were doctors and veterinarians, working in alliance with aristocratic landowners who had been reduced to managing their country estates, having been sidelined by the monarchy. Indeed among the ten founding members of the society – to whom, almost forty years later, the society’s membership would pay tribute – there were no fewer than six doctors, two veterinarians, and an agronomist.
Representatives of these professions continued to wield a great deal of influence well into the last quarter of the 19th century, and the society would accordingly present itself in terms of its essential contribution to the progress of the applied sciences [The works of the society] can be put into two categories. The first involves the definition of your mission, explaining its significance, making it popular and attractive, generating righteous fervor; they constitute your literature and your philosophy. The rest of your work, which is within the domain of the applied sciences, addresses particular questions concerning the methods of application, in real life, of your declared principles.
Thus, in the early days, the society made annual awards, promoting inventions and apparatuses which, by reducing all counterproductive suffering, facilitated the work of domesticated animals. In 1875, the society honored the designers of a variety of devices, including a drinking bottle for helping horses swallow the medicine, a collar to protect young chicks from being attacked by cats and other small predators, a spring-loaded trap to be used by clay pigeon shooters, and a new muzzle which was lighter and less likely to hurt the animal wearing it than previous designs. A doctor who was for many years leading figures in the association invented a number of devices that ensured that if a draft horse collapsed the tongue of its harness would become unbuckled, and the animal immediately freed of its heavy load. Veterinarians within the society were able to participate in broader initiatives that aimed to have the work of veterinarians recognized as an activity requiring scientific expertise gained through studies, which led to a professional qualification.
The promoters of veterinary science, which had hitherto been considered an auxiliary activity in the field of agronomy, undertook to distinguish the work of professional veterinarians from the less prestigious work of blacksmiths, as well as clearly disassociating veterinarians from the numerous healers, bonesetters, and medicine men operating in rural areas, who claimed to be able to cure animals of their various ailments. Thus, when calling for the work of veterinary medicine to be recognized as a science, roundly condemned the “the widespread negligence and ignorance of those who treat sick animals […], the empirics who, despite having no medical training, prescribe remedies prepared in an irrational manner, to the great detriment of the owners of animals and the public purse. The monthly meetings are a forum for preparing arguments, to be presented to the authorities, for reserving the medical treatment of animals to practitioners who had the requisite scientific training.
Here “science” was understood in terms of its capacity to operate free of the irrational prejudices, beliefs, and superstitions that had too often shaped mankind’s dealings with animals. Animal protectionists, drawing on their scientific worldview, were proud of their ability not to be influenced by impulsive emotional reactions which could undermine the progress of reason and humanity. Allow us to acknowledge something for them, namely that hitherto you have admirably managed to avoid a trap which lies in wait for all the best causes, for nobody can accuse you of either sentimentality or affectation. You have enhanced the reputation of the animal protection cause by guiding it into the domains of science and industrial applications. While harsh treatment of animals offends the sense of justice present in all our hearts, we are equally outraged by the excessive sentimentality that makes men forget their dignity and lose sight of the true purpose of animals. Those afflicted by this ridiculous tenderness frequently neglect to behave justly to their fellow humans. It is not uncommon for a needy person to be turned away from the door of a home where a pug dog, suffering from severe indigestion, is unable to swallow the biscuit which his mistress has dunked in her coffee before offering it to him.
We vigorously reject such sentiments and regard them as moral aberrations. Such sentimentality, which excludes true compassion, has been stigmatized. It, therefore, becomes clear that, in this particular historical context, it would be anachronistic to give the same meaning to the expression “animal protection” as we do today. Initially, the main aim of protection societies was to work for the good of humanity, and not primarily for animal welfare. The earliest animal protection activists believed that the suggestion that the fate of animals was anything other than secondary to that of men would involve accepting the validity of representations quite alien to the views of enlightened philanthropists: “we have no intention of following the example of those bigots in Surat, who built a hospital for rats and insects”. More than any other campaign in the 19th century, the mobilization in favor of eating horse meat provides a demonstration of the intellectualized relationship with the animal protection cause which was, for an extended period, characteristic of the views of the most influential members of the society. For centuries horse meat had been considered a “shameful meat”.
More importantly, the horse came to be regarded as an aristocratic animal, associated with the nobility. As a result, it enjoyed a special status, and the consumption of its meat became taboo. On occasion horse meat was eaten when food was scarce, in particular during sieges or arduous military campaigns; this contributed to it being regarded as food eaten only as a last resort by individuals threatened by extreme hunger or starvation. Furthermore, because of its taboo status, horse meat has frequently been sold by traffickers, who have fraudulently passed it off as beef or venison.
Quoting statistics which showed that a sizeable proportion of the population, particularly the working classes, were undernourished, argued that horse meat could provide an accessible and relatively inexpensive source of nourishment. He also points out that, contrary to popular prejudice, horse meat is actually quite palatable and healthy and cites as evidence of this the “hippophagous meal” organized by Professor at the veterinary school during which eleven guests dined on the meat of an old paralytic horse.
The legalization of horse meat butchers shops was also considered to be desirable after that from the point of view of public morality, insofar as it would also put a stop to the illegal trade in horse meat. Cruelty raised with its past journey. The open sale of horse meat by licensed butchers would indeed put a stop to the furtive dealing in “suspect meat,” in attics, in cellars, by passers-by, by smugglers, by prostitutes, and by disreputable individuals without a profession! These transactions take place out of reach of the long arm of the law, by those who fear and flee the police! Instead of honest business conducted openly, they did fraudulent deals struck in the shadows, in “mass graves” hidden deep in the dwellings of the poor!