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Meet the Longest-Running Commemorative Week in U.S. History

The American Humane Association's Be Kind to Animals Week is about to leap into its second century, celebrating its 101st anniversary next week. Here's how the event became an institution.

The United States’ longest-running commemorative week, the American Humane Association’s (AHA) Be Kind to Animals Week, takes place May 1 to 7. And even though the event is celebrating its 101st anniversary, it still brings plenty of energy and excitement.

“As we enter a second century of working to rescue and care for our best friends, I hope every American will join us in celebrating ‘Be Kind to Animals Week’—not just this week but all year round,” AHA President and CEO Robin Ganzert said in a news release.

A Century of Tradition

The long-running event started with a tragic moment and a desire to help.

With many horses being killed or wounded on battlefields during World War I (10 million in all by the end of the war, according to the organization), AHA quickly sprung into action. It became a key discussion point during the association’s 38th annual meeting, in October 1914, at which leaders created Humane Sunday and the week known as Be Kind to Animals, which occurs the first week of May.

The inaugural commemorative week drew massive attention to both the association and the movement. “The humane movement never received as much general publicity in the same length of time as during the few weeks before and including ‘Be Kind to Animals Week’ and ‘Humane Sunday,’” then AHA President William O. Stillman said of the 1915 event.

And in 1916, after the second annual Be Kind to Animals Week, U.S. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker called on AHA’s help to rescue warhorses being injured in battle during World War I. AHA formed the Red Star Rescue team, which saved 68,000 military horses every month. And its lifesaving work has continued for decades, with the team assisting animals trapped in disasters such as Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and earthquakes in Japan and Haiti.

President Warren G. Harding gave the week an official proclamation in 1922. And the event kept growing from there; according to AHA, 52,000 “Be Kind to Animals Week” posters were requested in 1931 alone.

Its long history has drawn participation from political figures, including President Bill Clinton and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as from acting legends such as Betty White, Carol Burnett, Clint Eastwood, Doris Day, and Shirley Temple.

The Next 100 Years

AHA is still using the centennial website kindness100.org for this year’s Animals Week.

Visitors can participate in a variety of animal-protection efforts or simply donate to the association. But this year, AHA is upping the stakes by calling on 1 million people to sign a Be Kind to Animals Week pledge. The group says 6 million to 8 million animals are abandoned each year.

“The need for compassion has never been greater,” Ganzert said.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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