Big-hearted people tend to have warm and truly fuzzy thoughts about the Humane Society of the United States.
This is, after all, the organization that operates shelters nationwide and saves hundreds of thousands of animals. This is the selfless organization that stands up for the voiceless and abused. Although there are countless alternatives, this is the charity you should be sending your money to if you care about pets. Right?
Wrong. This is a complete crock.
First of all, the Humane Society of the United States -- the HSUS -- has no connection whatsoever to your local Humane Society: the one that runs your local shelter. Second, even those local Humane Societies aren't generally all that humane: most operate high-kill shelters that routinely slaughter healthy dogs and cats. Third, although the HSUS does make a great show of standing up for abused animals -- and sometimes accomplishes good things, and sometimes very much the opposite -- there's nothing remotely selfless about this behavior. Why? Because, fourth, the HSUS just isn't all that charitable. Bear with me, and we'll hold a magnifying glass to their generosity, including their recent sorry report card from CharityWatch.
In fact, if you care about dogs, and cats, and bunnies -- as opposed to lobbyists -- it's your duty to toss a water balloon, mischievously, at this outfit. Preferably a water balloon the size of a small planet. One that initiates a tsunami, floats this pernicious organization out to sea -- safely, of course -- and strands them on a barren island, completely devoid of animal life, where they can do no harm.
Let's begin by addressing some popular misconceptions.
The Humane Society of the United States doesn't run any shelters. It has no veterinary clinics. That abused puppy whose photo they've published widely in an urgent bid for donations? That puppy was almost certainly rescued by someone else. It's certainly being cared for by someone else. And it won't see a penny of your donation. Okay, perhaps one penny out of every dollar. (Literally.)
But that doesn't stop the HSUS from working the cute puppy angle. Even though less than one percent of their budget goes to shelter animals, a full 85 percent of their fundraising propaganda features shelter animals. Cute ones.
The HSUS has a whole program aimed at kids. It also targets the people who influence kids: clever. I urge you to visit their web page, entitled "Resources for Parents & Educators." The first word at the top of the page is "DONATE," but that's perhaps a coincidence. Let your eyes wander down. Check out the not-very-random iconography. Let's see: a kid hugs a cute kitten in the banner. Another feeds a cute puppy next to the headline. A cartoony thumbnail advertises Kind News magazine: "Teach kids to be kind to animals with Kind News, our magazine for K-6 students."
"Kind" is an acronym for "Kids in Nature's Defense." That's sweet: They're hoping to seed a whole new generation of lobbyists. I assume this, because they're not much good at anything else. "Defense" -- for the HSUS -- is overwhelmingly a legal process.
Now, I have nothing against lobbyists in general. Or lawyers (since half of my DNA was supplied by one.) My issue is with lobbyists and lawyers who represent themselves as something else.
As a lobby, the HSUS have in fact done some good. They have made real strides in pushing anti-cruelty legislation (although this has been seriously undercut by their CEO's willingness to pal around with the most notorious animal abuser in the nation: see below.) Their efforts to prevent such activities as cockfighting are laudable. They've worked towards eliminating cruel farming practices. This is all work being done by other groups as well, who don't pay themselves HSUS-level salaries, but any contribution here is welcome.
On the other hand, much of what they do -- and much of what drives them -- is sickening.
Especially nauseating -- given how casually they lean on children's love of pets -- is that their CEO, Wayne Pacelle, has suggested that he would be happy to see pets wiped off the face of the earth: "We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding." Pacelle has admitted to this quotation, but -- always suave and reasonable -- he insists that he said this a long time ago, and that it has been taken out of context and distorted. He was referring to "rare livestock breeds." Funny that he doesn't address another comment made the same year: "In fact, I don't want to see another dog or cat born."
Rare livestock breeds indeed: the dog; the cat. Now, his thoughts on these matters, he insists, have become "more nuanced." Great. I don't want nuance when it comes to extinction. I want to see a complete repudiation of an utterly revolting proposition.
Keeping all of this in mind, let's enjoy some more Kind News, shall we?
More pictures: kids hugging dogs, touching foreheads with a bird, and -- yes -- a smiling educator holding a kittycat. She looks as if she's just taken one of their special "online courses." Or perhaps a "certificate program." All of which is naturally free of charge, because the HSUS has a budget of 131 million dollars, funded mostly through donations. Oh, it's not free? Over a thousand dollars for a 3-credit course? Yes, it appears they make money even from training people to indoctrinate kids. (For what it's worth, Harvard charges this much for an online course. Which is four credits. And Harvard.) Do these guys do anything out of charity?
Not much, according to the people who track such things. CharityWatch has given the HSUS a grade of 'D'. This means what a D generally means: unsatisfactory.
Now, you can find all sorts of easy-going charity evaluators, who give high marks to even the worst delinquents. Just as you can purchase a really swank degree from the right people, even if you were kicked out of high school for cheating. CharityWatch, on the other hand -- which is the name now used by the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) -- is famously rigorous: the most stringent and neutral of the watchdog groups.
What you get from CharityWatch is what you deserve. And a 'D' from these guys is utterly damning. The Mafia could probably manage better than a 'D.' I joke. Okay, I sort of joke. Jim Matthews at Outdoor News Service writes:
In a little-reported ruling by a judge in the District of Columbia earlier this month, the HSUS is going to court to face charges under RICO statutes on racketeering, obstruction of justice, malicious prosecution and other charges.
Those are, yes, the statutes designed to facilitate the prosecution of organized crime: "RICO" stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The federal suit was filed by Feld Entertainment. If they get an 'F' in court, then Matthews suggests we may finally see the end of them: "This future lawsuit could easily bankrupt HSUS and put it out of business."
So. A 'D' in Charity. We can only wonder about their marks for "Faith" and "Hope" -- but let's at least hope that your children get better grades than this. Even an A+ kid can be swayed, however, by photos of her peers snuggling mountains of cuteness. You can see why a good, Kind-hearted child would be moved to send in her allowance.
One friend of mine admitted to me: "I actually did send them two dollars once, decades ago, in memory of a pet who had died. My birthday money from my grandmother. Back when two bucks was like $20 today." To be fair, back then the Humane Society may well have deserved her birthday money. They've changed a lot over the years.
Meanwhile, these days, Little Cindy's not sending the precious pennies from her birthday or her lemonade stand to the underfunded shelter workers around the corner; she's sending her donation to a massively wealthy organization composed of well-paid lawyers and lobbyists and fundraisers. And the HSUS isn't keen on sharing. As I've mentioned, local shelters dealing with real live animals see a bit less than one percent of it. Even if little Cindy's too young to do the percentage thing, she'll probably find this, conceptually, kind of gross.
A much greater proportion of Cindy's money goes towards fundraising. Not funds for abused puppies, but funds for the HSUS. Their budget for fundraising is staggering: they spend 39 percent of their yearly budget on filling the coffers. Explain to little Cindy that 39 percent of 131 million is 51 million dollars.
As far as manipulating children goes, this is slightly less appalling than PETA's "Your Daddy Kills Animals" garbage, but it's still just a bit heartbreaking. Kids in fact care about animals. A lot. They don't generally have strong feelings for lobbyists. They don't cry themselves to sleep over lawyers and fundraisers. I expect they wouldn't donate money to an organization that sees an abused puppy as little more than a photo op.
Frankly, I expect most adults wouldn't send in their donations, if they knew what the Humane Society of the United States actually was. In this sense, the HSUS is very much like PETA: a good deal of their funding comes from people who don't have the slightest idea of their real agenda.
The HSUS was a bit more open about their true nature until recently: They were "registered with the Secretary of the Senate as a 'Lobbying Organization' up until August of 2006."
Discerning agenda is a problem with both the HSUS and its enemies. Their most outspoken opponent is HumaneWatch, Richard Berman's organization, which tends to conceal its link to Big Agriculture. I try to avoid quoting them, not because they're inaccurate -- if they were, they'd be sued into dust -- but because they offer a facile ad hominem argument to HSUS apologists: "That can't be true; it comes from the meat lobby."
Now, I'm no vegan. Nevertheless, my allegiance is to shelter animals, not to cattlemen; and this is true of the No Kill movement in general, with which I'm explicitly aligned (a full disclosure offered proudly). I've made this abundantly clear in my writing about PETA.
You'll almost certainly find that some of what I say leads back to Berman: it's unavoidable -- he's everywhere. That, however, is not a refutation. A refutation requires proving that something is wrong. Having triple-checked everything, I am confident that you won't.
Meanwhile, the seriousness of the "Humane" bait-and-switch cannot be overstressed. Local Humane Societies have in fact been known to change their names to prevent the HSUS from luring away donations that should rightly be going to shelters.
As I say, local Humane Societies are often less than saintly, but they are the ones who run those shelters: They're the ones who see actual animals. And not one of them has anything to do with the Humane Society of the United States. The HSUS, which depends upon shelter porn for donations, doesn't really want you to know this.
One of the ugliest examples of this sleight-of-hand involved Fay, a pit bull rescued in a vast sting that exposed dogfighting rings in eight states. About 500 dogs were rescued, and Fay was a particularly harrowing case: she required reconstructive surgery to recreate her lips; the bone in her jaw was in such bad shape that her teeth were falling out. The photos alone made you want to reach for your wallet.
Which many did.
The HSUS sent out a newsletter: "Faye's a lucky survivor: She now sleeps in a warm bed in a safe place. To help save thousands of animals just like her in the new year, we're doing something we've never done before, and it's BIG: We're hoping to raise a million dollars online by December 31 for our 2010 Animal Survivors Fund."
Big is right. That's a lot of money. The problem was this: the dog's name was Fay, not "Faye." And the Humane Society caring for Fay was not the HSUS, but an entirely separate organization: The Humane Society of Missouri.
The HSUS, whose name is helpfully vague, was indeed trying to raise money by exploiting the efforts of a completely different Humane Society: one with a bona fide shelter. Yes, this title trick is pernicious. But it gets worse.
The organization trying to place Fay in a permanent home was Mutts-n-Stuff, a pit-bull rescue now called Phoenix Pack, and dedicated to the "loving memory of Fay." The HSUS, far from caring for Fay or any of the dogs involved in the sting, had been outspoken in its efforts to kill rescued pit bulls. Their attempt to have Michael Vick's pit bulls slaughtered ("euthanized") were notorious. Doubly so now that a supposedly reformed Michael Vick appears in HSUS propaganda, after a fund set up by the Philadelphia Eagles gave the HSUS a $50,000 grant. (I'll expand upon this charming non-transaction in a coming article.)
To recap -- the HSUS, a lobbying group, raised money by exploiting the misery of an abused dog: one that they hadn't rescued, and weren't caring for. An abused dog whose name they didn't even get right. The HSUS hoped that this repulsive tactic would bag them a million dollars. Chump change for these nice people, but still.
And they pulled this disgraceful stunt despite their stated preference, just a couple of years previously, for the slaughter of rescued pit bulls.
Let's put this in perspective, shall we? Young Cindy Lou Who has saved twenty dollars of her chore money, over the course of six months, and really wants to put it towards helping puppies in distress. Ads drenched in pathos, featuring dogs like Fay, inform her that the major player in the business of helping abused puppies -- the very Michael Vick of canine salvation -- is the Humane Society of the United States.
Cindy Lou, as well as her mom and dad, mistakenly assume that this big national Humane Society has something to do with those local shelters dotting the nation, since many of them are called "Humane Societies." Is the HSUS perhaps an umbrella group? National headquarters? The mothership?
Nobody tells them that this wealthy outfit has absolutely nothing to do with these not-very-wealthy shelters. Nothing whatsoever. Nada.
And so Cindy Lou's twenty dollars goes to the guy in rented Santa garb (which carefully conceals a bespoke pinstripe suit), instead of to the people who urgently need it: the ones in overalls doing their desperate best to save animals. Funny, huh? Thigh-slapping, really. Poor little Cindy Lou Sap, huddled over her Kind News magazine.
Stories of this sort, however, sometimes have a surprisingly happy ending. As far as justice goes, I have faith that there is hope for this charity. That judge, who has given the green light to "racketeering and conspiracy" claims against the HSUS and its allies? He has made an especially fair decision: the alleged victims can include "members of the public who may have been improperly induced to make donations."
In short, Cindy.