By Rick Berman, Executive Director, Center for Consumer Freedom
If a hunter were to be injured by an animal he was hunting, not many people would call it a form of “justice.” But that’s exactly the view that has been espoused by Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). While many in the hunting community are well aware the HSUS is just a slicker version of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the extent of HSUS’ wealth and its potential to be a political threat is largely misunderstood.
Pacelle has said he wants to turn HSUS into a National Rifle Association of the animal-rights movement, which has the avowed goal of stopping hunting, animal agriculture and other uses of animals. The key to fighting HSUS lies in understanding its base of support—achieved through deception—and its piecemeal political strategy to move the goalposts.
From what we eat to what we wear to especially what we come home to, animals play an important part in our lives. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 56 percent of households have a pet, and the pet industry generates more than $50 billion annually.
It is no surprise then that the image of helpless pets scarred by abuse and neglect arouses strong nurturing instincts. And it is no surprise that groups purporting to fight animal cruelty feature such images in commercials soliciting donations. HSUS’ annual budget of about $130 million testifies to the power of this human sentiment.
And it is precisely the nobility of their unwitting donors that makes HSUS’ actual purpose and agenda so wicked by contrast.
Despite having a name similar to the 1,000-plus groups providing animal care nationwide, the HSUS is not affiliated with your local pet shelter. It does not run pet shelters of its own. It does not promote “animal welfare” as the phrase is commonly understood. HSUS differs from PETA and other more radical animal-liberation groups only in its public-relations savvy and short-term strategy. Hunters, farmers, pet owners, anyone who wears leather or enjoys the circus and the 99 percent of Americans who are not vegans are all targets of HSUS’ long-term campaign.
The Less Than 1 Percenters
The truth is, if HSUS dispersed most of its money to local humane society groups, it could finance shelters for stray and abandoned animals in every state. When fundraising, HSUS advertises the fact that millions of dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters every year. Just spending half of the $131 million it raised in 2011 would have saved many of those animals from premature death. But in that year—the most recent reported data—HSUS tax returns show it contributed less than 1 percent of donor funds to pet shelters. In the same year, it put another $2.4 million into its own pension fund—far more than it contributed to shelters nationwide.2
This financial dishonesty is nothing new. HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle started attracting negative attention when he made a full-court press in the media to raise money to aid animals, particularly pets, after Hurricane Katrina. HSUS raised about $34.6 million under the pretense of helping displaced animals. But 2005 tax records show that it dispersed only $8.6 million in grants worldwide, including Louisiana.3 A Huffington Post columnist quipped, “If you care about starving creatures, you’re probably better off grinding your dollars into a nutritious paste and feeding them directly. This may not be the best use of dollars, but at least all of them would be guaranteed to reach the animals.”
It’s hardly shocking then that the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) gives HSUS a “D” rating for spending fistfuls of cash with their fundraisers to churn out fundraising appeal after fundraising appeal.4 AIP’s president has said, “If you like getting those mailings and want to pay for more of them, support the Humane Society [of the U.S.].” (One of the few services that does give HSUS good marks is the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. However, the WGA takes money from charities it rates—$15,000 a year in the case of HSUS.)5
Fundraising aside, what programs does HSUS fund with all the money it gets by tugging at your heart strings? Quixotic political causes, for starters. The focus on political activism means HSUS does more to keep lobbyists, lawyers and professional agitators well-housed and fed than it does stray dogs. The individual issues can sound obscure and even deliberately boring, like HSUS’ campaign to eliminate hen cages (which help protect the birds from disease and predation) or ban lead shot in hunting. But don’t miss the bird’s-eye view: HSUS’ strategy is to overthrow humanity’s relationship with animals—but in incremental steps. To that end it lobbies to pass laws making animal farming or hunting more expensive and more difficult.
In 2009, for example, HSUS spent just over $1,500 in grants to pet shelters in Ohio.6 Yet it earmarked $1.7 million to engage in a political battle over Ohio’s Livestock Care Standards Amendment the next year.7 HSUS was offended that Ohio would appoint a commission to govern livestock standards composed of only farmers and veterinarians rather than animal-liberation activists. It demanded new regulations intended to bankrupt Ohio farmers and dog breeders—and even to prevent the circus from coming to town.
Is that what donors to this charity think they are getting? Do they really understand they may be sending millions more to anti-agriculture activism than to pet shelters?
Animal Rights, Not Animal Welfare
As a student, Pacelle helped lead a protest of Yale’s deer hunt. In his view, “Animals are no one’s property, and they have the right not to be ‘taken,’ ‘harvested,’ or ‘culled’ or any other euphemism for murder that wildlife managers use.” He told the media about a “satirical” play that activists would perform in which hunters were themselves hunted. Bizarrely, it was in his Yale years that Pacelle wrote in the school newspaper, “I don’t love animals or think they are cute.”
Five years after his Yale arrest, as national director for the Fund for Animals, Pacelle conducted a campaign against hunters in the Rocky Mountain West. He told the Associated Press, “... if we could shut down all sport hunting in a moment we would.”
HSUS has an official position on hunting that reads almost exactly like Pacelle’s early position. The organization says it “works to end the worst abuses in hunting and maintain longstanding protection for animals where they already exist.” HSUS carefully avoids saying what it would do, “if we could.” But its well-funded campaigns to ban all lead ammunition in hunting give just a hint of what it would do. Like most of its campaigns the idea is to raise the cost, as non-lead hunting ammunition is significantly more expensive, to drive hunters from the sport.
HSUS is also campaigning to shut down private hunting ranches, which have been successful in increasing populations of exotic animals that are extinct or nearly extinct in the wild—namely the scimitar-horned oryx, addax and dama gazelle—by using the proceeds from hunting a small number of them to grow the overall herd.
But that doesn’t matter to HSUS. It is ideologically opposed to hunting, even if it’s helping endangered species. HSUS and its allies have gotten the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to require a federal permit to hunt these species—which effectively could reduce these populations to nothing in 10 years, according to the Exotic Wildlife Association.8