The Humane Society: The money vs. the message July 16, 2012Posted by Angelique in Food ethics.
Tags: animal ag, animal rights, Animal welfare, Food ethics
When you think of the Humane Society of the US (HSUS), what images come to mind? For a lot of Americans, stray cat and dog shelters probably top the list. In fact, the HSUS is primarily a huge lobbying organization which works to improve conditions for many kinds of animals by strengthening anti-cruelty laws and their enforcement. Lab animals, animals used for sport (e.g., cock-fighting), and farm animals all matter to the HSUS. The HSUS itself doesn’t operate any animal shelters, and the local organizations which do typically don’t get much money from the HSUS.
Recently the conventional livestock industry, which feels threatened by the HSUS’s push for stricter standards for the humane treatment of farm animals, has come up with a way to attack it by exploiting this discrepancy between what the HSUS does and what people think it does. The industry (which specific companies remains confidential) hired Rick Berman, a lawyer whose biggest-profile former client is the tobacco industry, to create a nonprofit called HumaneWatch to discredit the HSUS. Berman’s most recent tactic has been to invite the Attorneys General of a dozen states to sue the HSUS for misleading its donors. According to HumaneWatch, the HSUS “actively perpetuate(s) the misperception that HSUS’s primary focus is to care for abandoned and abused cats and dogs,” while only one percent of its budget goes to “hands-on shelters and rescues.”
The HSUS doesn’t make it easy to check up on the percent of funding that it allocates to each of its program groups. But HSUS president Wayne Pacelle has stated that it spends about twenty percent on pets. That figure includes not just what it spends on shelters and rescues, but also money used to address issues like puppy mills and pet overpopulation. The question is, does the HSUS mislead its donors into thinking that pets are a much higher priority? Being a donor to the HSUS, I receive its annual report and bi-monthly magazine as well as its (annoyingly frequent) solicitations for money. In its magazine, there is always at least one major story about farm animals. But there are many more stories on dogs and cats. There are also articles on lots of other topics, like the loneliness of dolphins in aquariums and the loss of prairie dogs’ habitat.
The HSUS website also covers a wide range of topics, and its work on farm animal abuse, complete with video coverage of its undercover investigations, is featured quite prominently. Taking into consideration both its print and electronic presence, I’d say the HSUS comes off as an organization with wide-ranging animal concerns, but where cats and dogs figure at least as prominently as any other group. What if we were to discover (and at this point, the information is not public, so it’s impossible to know) that the HSUS devotes twice as much money to farm animals as it does to pets? Would it then be guilty of misrepresentation? What do you think?