Facts about HSUS
In recent years we have experienced a sharp increase in the challenges facing animal agriculture from animal rights and environmental activist groups. One of the groups that challenges animal agriculture the most is HSUS. HSUS is the largest and most well-funded animal rights organization in the U.S. Contrary to how it inaccurately portrays itself as a mainstream animal care organization, HSUS is neither affiliated with any of America’s more than 10,000 hands-on pet shelters, nor is it an animal care organization. Despite the omnipresent dogs and cats in its fundraising materials and television commercials, it’s neither an organization that runs spay/neuter programs, nor does it take in stray, neglected, and abused pets.1 It works through the courts, the legislative process, mass education, and the media. Claiming to be a more moderate, mainstream animal “welfare” organization, HSUS has sought to abolish modern livestock and poultry farming, hunting, circuses, rodeos, horse and dog racing, animal dissection, the keeping of marine animals in aquariums, hunting of seals, whales and elephants, trapping and raising of fur bearing animals, and the commercial breeding of dogs. 2 Quite unlike the common image of animal protection agencies as cash-strapped organizations dedicated to animal welfare, HSUS has become the wealthiest animal rights organization on earth. While most local animal shelters are underfunded and unsung, HSUS has accumulated $162 million in assets and built a recognizable brand by capitalizing on the confusion its very name provokes. 3 This misdirection results in an irony of which most animal lovers are unaware: HSUS raises enough money to finance animal shelters in every single state with money to spare, yet it doesn’t operate a single one anywhere. 4 HSUS is an organization that is inexperienced when it comes to livestock operations and livestock care. HSUS would create sweeping policy changes—with dangers of unintended consequences—in an industry where it offers opinion but no expertise. HSUS appeals to consumer’s emotions, while ignoring science, human and animal welfare and safety considerations, and the hardships it could cause farmers across the United States. 5
HSUS’s campaign strategy is aimed primarily at states with ballot initiative processes. They use compelling, yet misleading, situations and exploit misinformation in their advertisements to appeal to the voting public, and, ultimately, increase contributions to the organization. HSUS has recently campaigned for legislation in the ballot initiative states of California, Florida and Ohio. There are two types of initiatives–Direct and In-direct. There are 24 states with some form of initiative6; however, Direct initiative states are most at risk of HSUS intervention because they do not require prior review by the state legislature. “Direct Initiative is when constitutional amendments or statutes proposed by the people are directly placed on the election ballot and then submitted to the people for their approval or rejection (the state legislature has no role in this process).”7 At present, there are 15 states with direct amendment and 14 states with direct statute processes in place. 8
The Wrong Idea
In a February 2010 poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, 71% of Americans agreed that the Humane Society of the United States “is an umbrella group that represents thousands of local humane societies across America.” 9 This is not true. The Humane Society of the United States is not affiliated with any local animal shelters. That poll also shows that 59% believe the group gives “most of its money” to local pet shelters. That’s false, too. In fact, hands-on dog and cat shelters at the local level received less than 1% of the $86 million HSUS raised in 2008. 10
HSUS’s grants to pet shelters in the 50 United States between the years of 2006 to 2008 can be found in HSUS’s tax filings with the IRS, documents which are kept in public record. 11 For the years 2006 to 2008, HSUS total grants to hands-on U.S. pet shelters was $6,892,205, which was only 2.49% of their $277,009,635 in total spending. 12 In 2008, the most recent tax year for which nonprofit IRS filings are available, HSUS raised $86.7 million from the public, spent $99.7 million—an $8 million increase over 2007—and ended the year with $162.2 million in assets. 13 Of this $99.7 million operating budget, HSUS paid out $4.7 million in grants to other organizations and individuals in 2008. However, only $450,000 of this consists of checks that HSUS wrote to organizations doing hands-on sheltering of dogs and cats–the functions its TV ads suggest are HSUS’s main focus. 14 This means it shared less than one-half of one percent of its 2008 operating budget with legitimate “humane societies” and other pet shelters. 15 If an individual took up HSUS on their infomercial offer of “just $19 a month” to help take care of animals, they would be donating $228 over the course of a year, with just $1.03 of that reaching an actual hands-on pet shelter. 16 By comparison, HSUS had 555 employees, and paid them $37.8 million in 2008. This includes over $2.5 million contributed to employee pension plans. HSUS’ Chief Executive, Wayne Pacelle, made just over $251,000 in salary and benefits. 17
Shelter Support Reality
During the 2006-2008 period, HSUS donated zero dollars to hands-on pet shelters in five states: Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, and Wyoming. 18 HSUS made zero donations to Ohio pet shelters in 2007 and 2008, and gave just $5,200 in 2006. This year, however, the organization is gearing up to spend millions of dollars in Ohio on the anti-livestock farming ballot initiative. 19 In 2008, HSUS made donations to pet shelter organizations in only 15 states—down from 24 states in 2007—even though its overall budget increased by more than $8 million. HSUS routinely spends far more on state-level political fights than on pet shelters in those same states. 20 For example, HSUS spent ten times more money in passing “Proposition 2” in California—a ballot initiative to create new livestock farming regulations—than on pet shelters there. 21 Even some of the grants from the “less than one-half of one percent of the budget” seem dubious. For example, David Mastio of The Washington Times wrote that HSUS in Iowa gave $9,044 to a shelter in Fairfield. According to the shelter’s web site, the money was used to give HSUS animal rights propaganda to grade school teachers. This material asked the children to pressure their schools to use only cage-free eggs and write to their congressmen. 22
HSUS raised $34 million in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, supposedly to help reunite lost pets with their owners. However, comparatively little of that money was spent for that purpose. In 2009, Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB-TV reported that public disclosures of the disposition of the $34 million in Katrina-related donations added up to less than $7 million. 23 A 2008 Los Angeles Times investigation found that HSUS receives less than 12% of the money raised on its behalf by California telemarketers. In 2008, HSUS collected more than $86 million in contributions, but spent more than $24 million on fundraising. 24 Beginning on the day of NFL Quarterback Michael Vick’s 2007 dog-fighting indictment, HSUS raised money online with the false promise that it would “care for the dogs seized in the Michael Vick case.” The New York Times later reported that HSUS wasn’t caring for Vick’s dogs at all, and HSUS President Wayne Pacelle told the Times that his group urged government officials to “put down” the dogs rather than adopt them out to suitable homes. 25
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