By Eliza McGraw
Red Star Animal Emergency Services, a wing of the American Humane Association (AHA), deals specifically with animals in danger from emergencies like fires and floods. To me, “Red Star” sounds like something horse-related: jockey silks, or a barn, and a quick Internet search reveals that there is, in fact, a Red Star feed dealership in Iowa. As the AHA website says, the idea for the Red Star began in August of 1916, when the War Department asked the AHA for help with wounded war animals, from German Shepherds to cavalry horses.
Many of these Red Star animals were Thoroughbreds, who could have been racehorses in a different set of circumstances. America’s World War I cavalry became linked to Thoroughbred racing because mount scarcity presented a problem, even before the war. In 1914, a New York Times reporter warned that “a bitter, silent war is being fought, especially between Great Britain and Germany, each having forethought for that day when the bugles may blow.” This war was over cavalry horses, and it was leaving far too few horses for America. In a time when some Americans protested racing as overly tied to gambling, Thoroughbred owners seized the opportunity to prove their wholesome patriotism by donating prized stallions to the Army’s remount service, which bred horses specifically for soldiers. Others simply gave their horses jingoistic names: in 1918, Thoroughbred owner A. Kingsley Macomber gave 37 of his 39 colts and fillies war-related names. The Thoroughbred Record of March 16, 1918 published a list that included War Bond, War Kiss, War Idol, War Music, War Pennant, War Smoke, and War Togs. (A side note: Jenny Camp, an Olympic eventer in both 1932 and 1936, was probably the most celebrated army-bred horse. She was a daughter of the Thoroughbred stallion Gordon Russell and had some Standardbred blood on her dam’s side.)
As the cavalry grew and the war raged, so did the need for emergency services for Thoroughbreds and other service animals. Increasingly, horses and dogs were characterized as soldiers, with some of the same needs as human ones. In 1917, AHA president William Stillman, a veterinarian from Albany, wrote in an association publication, “If persons believe in the Red Cross work for soldiers, they cannot consistently refuse to believe in Red Star work for Army horses.” The New York Times reported that Stillman did, however, run into some brief trouble from the Red Cross, which hadn’t endorsed use of its name. To pacify the organization, he destroyed the leaflets that used the name of the Red Cross.
Stillman gave talks to raise awareness and funds for his cause. In 1918, Daily Racing Form reported on a Stillman speech he gave at the AHA’s annual meeting. He told his audience that when an American horse reached France in good condition for war service, it was valued at $1000, and that the association had sent six animal ambulances to General Pershing in France. Other money the Red Star raised was spent on bandages and a rest farm in France for battle-weary war horses.
Another Daily Racing Form piece concerned cavalry horses more generally and demonstrated the romanticism attached to war horses, which helped Stillman with his case: “Cavalry Mounts Noted for Their Eagerness to Engage the Enemy and Fight for Their Masters,” ran its subhead. “The average war horse will chafe and stamp with impatience while waiting for the order to advance and, at the signal, will dash forward like a greyhound released from the leash, full of fire and fury, and neighing wildly.” These heroes needed help from the Red Star, which, the article says, “has accomplished good work by providing supplies at the numerous army camps in the country. Thousands of copies of the ‘First Aid’ leaflets, dealing with the care of the army horse, were supplied at the request of army officers. Experienced agents of the Red Star have visited camps and offered suggestions for the better care of the animals detailed at the camps.”
In 1919 Baltimore, Red Star agents used footage of war horses and war dogs to affect residents. The city’s pounds had been given an all-time low rating, and the Red Star hoped that the sight of valiant animals would force Baltimoreans to respect their animals more fully. “The services of horses and dogs in the war also were portrayed in moving pictures and in slides, the speaker making a plea for more humane treatment of all beasts.”
A 1917 New York Times piece reported the Red Star’s goals as including “civil relief, provided there is no war, in cases where animals are affected on a large scale by epidemics, famines, floods, or earthquakes, where conditions of suffering have become too extensive to be met by local organizations.” Today, the Red Star maintains this mission. During Hurricane Sandy, its 82-foot rig carried boats, a hoist, snap-together kennels, and assistants to help animals affected by the storm. Even without horses in the battlefield, the association stands at the ready.