The Animal Medical Center began in 1906 as the brainchild of Ellin Prince Speyer when she founded the Women’s Auxiliary to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Believing that there were, “branches of humane work especially suited for women,” Ellin and her friends developed their organization as a way to supplement the activities of the male-dominated ASPCA. The first major activity organized by the Women’s Auxiliary was the Work Horse Parade. Held on Memorial Day in 1907, the parade encouraged streetcar drivers, peddlers and other horse owners to treat their animals better. Thousands turned out for the event forecasting a bright future for the organization that would one day become the Animal Medical Center
Spurred by their initial successes, in 1909 the Women’s Auxiliary set out to establish a dispensary and out-patient clinic for all animals whose owners could not afford to pay for medical treatment. The clinic opened in 1910 on the Lower East Side in the heart of New York’s largest poor and immigrant section. Several veterinarians volunteered their services on a part-time basis while Auxiliary members and friends donated money and resources. The clinic treated 6,028 animals in the first full year.
By 1910, the Women’s Auxiliary had grown to more than 120 members and had established itself as a strong force in the humane movement separate from the ASPCA. On May 12, 1910 Auxiliary members officially separated when they incorporated themselves as the New York Women’s League for Animals. Meanwhile, the animals needing treatment at the Lower East Side clinic were increasing significantly each year. It was decided that the newly-founded New York Women’s League for Animals would raise the funds for a permanent animal hospital that was better staffed and equipped to treat more animals.
The new animal hospital opened in 1914, just down the street from the original clinic’s location. The hospital was a new, three-story building equipped with offices, an examination room, a reception room, an emergency room for horses, operating rooms, a padded stall for horses, isolation wards, quarters for birds, and an apartment for resident veterinarian, Dr. Bruce Blair, and his assistants. By 1920, the hospital was treating well over 9000 patients annually.
The hospital faced difficult times through the 20s and 30s, beginning in 1921 when founder and president, Ellin Prince Speyer passed away. The Great Depression caused an explosion of sick and abandoned animals, as well as a rise in owners who could no longer afford to pay for their pet’s care and treatment. Somehow, the League met this challenge, holding its own through tight economies and steady, generous support and actually increasing its level of service to the public.
In 1946 the end of wartime shortages and price restrictions sparked a post-war inflation that hit the League hard. Despite its pressing finances, the League continued to strive forward in several new areas. First of all, the hospital benefited from new advances made in human and veterinary science, such as the discovery of powerful antibiotics such as penicillin, and the development of vaccines for distemper and rabies. The League also implemented a mobile animal clinic in 1951 to supplement the work of the hospital. The mobile clinic rode through different neighborhoods treating the pets of the poor and teaching them about proper animal care.
In 1954, the League proposed to create an institute for veterinary studies. The institute would take the Leagues mandate a step further by exploring the causes of animal disease and developing possible treatments. Thanks to the contribution of late League Director Margaret M. Caspary’s husband, it looked like the institute would become a reality. Under the influence of the new Caspary Institute, the animal hospital evolved into a veterinary medical center of national stature. In 1959 the League voted to change the name to the Animal Medical Center and thus the modern-day AMC was born.
In January, 1960 construction began on a new 4 million dollar facility for the Animal Medical Center on 62nd Street, just west of the East River. In 1962, the new building which featured state-of-the-art laboratories, operating suites, and sophisticated medical equipment, threw its doors open to an expectant public, beginning a new era in veterinary medicine.
Throughout the 60s and 70s the AMC launched many new initiatives, including an intensive internship and residency program, a medical and surgical team concept that concentrated the energy and talent of several veterinarians on difficult cases, and an emergency medical service clinic open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The AMC also greatly increased the size of its staff by increasing the number of vets from 20 to 70, hiring more animal nurses, initiating an animal aides program, and bringing in scores of attending physicians, and veterinary consultants.
By the 1980s the AMC had begun to set itself apart as an institute of higher learning as well. In 1983 the AMC launched an intensive postgraduate course in clinical veterinary medicine. It also sponsors regular lectures and seminars, as well as clinical training programs for senior veterinary students, visiting veterinarians, and animal health technicians.
Throughout the 80s and 90s the AMC continued to expand its reputation by acquiring the latest technological advances, offering more specialized services and programs and performing revolutionary operations.
From its humble beginnings in the mind of Ellin Prince Speyer to the world’s largest hospital for small animals, the AMC has successfully positioned itself as a leading center for research, clinical advances, and veterinary medicine.