This article in no way represents the views or opinions of the Examiner.
During the holiday season, many animal lovers are even more deeply moved than normal by the pitiful sights and sounds of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) commercials. The music of Sarah McLachlan plays in the background, and as strains of “Angel” flow through your living room, images of tortured, horrifically abused dogs and cats fill your vision. If you donate today, lives will be saved – or so the advertisement claims. In this season of giving, increasing numbers of people are moved to open their hearts – and their wallets – for the sake of helping animals in need. But what is the reality of the ASPCA’s spending habits? For that matter, how do other organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) operate? Before you write out that check or hand over your debit information, stop and consider a few facts.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
The President and CEO of the ASPCA is Matthew Bershadker. Prior to June 2013, Ed Sayre held the position of power within the ASPCA, but after a seemingly endless stream of scandals, Sayre was removed. Those who were hopefully that Sayre’s removal would lead to a moral and upright man being put in charge were disappointed to see Bershadker come on the scene. As men running one of the largest Animal Cruelty Groups (ACG) in the nation, and an ACG run by donations, to boot, you’d think they would be modest men working for the greater good. Unfortunately, it is the almighty dollar that the former and current President/CEO are working towards. Sayre’s annual income from the ASPCA’s bulging coffers was reported over $550,000 annually while Bershadker has, thus far, pulled in what will become more than $566,000 a year. The average annual salary for local ASPCA heads has been reported to the IRS at approximately $70,000 while directors pull in upwards of $100,000 each year and so-called consulting animal behaviorists net $65,000. That said, there are independent branches of the SPCA without ties to the New York ACG, such as the Wake County SPCA in North Carolina, where the shelter managers work for next-to-nothing or nothing. They are the exception rather than the rule and are, ironically, the very people who should be receiving some portion of the ASPCA President’s bloated salary. Of course, the ASPCA at large sees Bershadker as immensely successful, citing increased donations and expansion as markers of their great wisdom in bringing him onto their team. In the eyes of the ASPCA upper echelon, success is created not by saving the sad-eyed, broken-down creatures featured in their ads but by raking in money. But just where does that money come from, and where does it go?
One of the ASPCA’s and HSUS’s favored expenditures is advertising. And although it is logical that one must spend money to make money, perhaps they get a bit carried away. In 2009, ASPCA Senior Vice-President Todd Hendricks said the ASPCA spent twenty cents for every one dollar of donations. In 2013, the number has changed to approximately twenty-seven cents per dollar. Now, it is worth noting that when Hendricks talks about that ratio of cost to donations, he is discussing the cost of advertisements such as the hugely successful Sarah McLachlan television commercials. Money is also spent on fancy pay-per-plate dinners, among other upper-class fundraisers, and those funds are not included in this figure. In 2009, the ASPCA spent more than 19 million dollars on advertising, a number which has only increased in recent years.
A weighty issue for critics of the ASPCA is their handling of advertising on a national level. The ASPCA is one of the largest and most profitable ACG charities in the country, but it is located in New York. There are an estimated 3,500 animal shelters in the United States, some of which are SPCAs and some of which the public believes are HSUS-affiliated. The perception that your local SPCA shelter is linked to the ASPCA and therefore will receive some portion of the donations you make to the phone number shown during commercials like Sarah McLachlan’s ad is false. The New York-based ASPCA was founded as its own entity in 1866 while your local SPCA’s have various dates of establishment. There is no actual link between the two, meaning the ASPCA is not an umbrella corporation for the smaller, locally-run SPCAs. When you call the phone number at the bottom of the screen during an ASPCA commercial, your money goes to the New York-based ASPCA, not to your local SPCA. If you want to support your local SPCA shelter, you have to call them directly. Of course, the ASPCA makes a point to say they give a portion of donations to local shelters. But the reality is that in 2012, the ASPCA gave just 0.045% of its multi-million dollar donations to local shelters. That’s less than one-half of one percent, broken down in even tinier portions in order to be spread all over the country. Remember those 3,500 shelters in the U.S.? A surprisingly large number of those are SPCAs. Imagine the funding they receive from a tiny fraction of what was, in the first place, a tiny fraction.
Just what percentage of the ASPCA’s massive donations actually goes to the animals is up for some debate. Although tax information is publically available, finding out what the accurate percentages are is a whole different story. At the high end, some claim as much as just below 50% of donations goes to the animals. At the low end, there is a growing group of critics claiming the ASPCA uses only $11.00 of every $100.00 donated on the animals. In order to get an idea of the most likely situation for yourself, consider these verifiable statistics regarding how many animals the ASCPA “saved” in 2012. The ASPCA themselves claims they saved 4,000 dogs last year. Their IRS statement for 2012 shows $226 million dollars in gross receipts. Let’s be generous and say the ASPCA gives half its donations to the animals. That would mean each dog was given $28,250 of care and supplies. When you consider most shelters feed their dogs cheap grocery-store dog foods like Pedigree and Atta Boy, which runs about $20 for a forty-pound bag and will feed a large dog for a month or more, you cannot help but wonder where the money has gone (and, of course, dog food is a common donation item at all shelters, so it is often free to feed the dogs in residence). It certainly does not cost tens of thousands of dollars per year per dog to keep their run clean and their water bowl full. If your dog had $28,250 just for them each year, how would you spend it? Even the most elaborate surgeries – many of which a shelters cannot provide – would not take as much out of those funds as you might think. Now let’s consider the numbers at the lower level. Ten percent of donations going to the animals equates to approximately $5,650 per dog. Even that is a large number considering most dogs receive inexpensive kibble, tap water and vaccines (vaccines adopting parents are often asked to pay for). Dogs who are not already neutered or spayed will, of course, be altered, but many dogs have already been fixed before ending up at the ASPCA. And when you consider the way surgical and other veterinary costs are marked up – iso anesthetic is often marked up as much as ten or fifteen times its actual cost when billed to a client – you might wonder if the ASPCA is paying exorbitant amounts on medical needs. However, many shelter veterinarians either volunteer their time or receive practically nothing for their services. And medical supplies, including medications and IV bags, are often donated. Interestingly, on their public IRS forms, 90 million dollars is written off as “other”. So why has no one noticed that there is trouble in ASPCA land? Actually, they have.
The ASPCA has been part of a RICO case for quite some time. RICO stands for “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations”. As of 1970, the RICO act made it possible for organizations like the ASPCA to be charged with crimes they either assisted in or ordered others to carry out for them. The case was kept out of the mainstream media spotlight with a great deal of finesse, which is most likely where some of the ASPCA’s money went for years. In 2000, the ASPCA, along with Tom Rider, a man claiming to be a former Ringling Bros. employee, filed a complaint against Ringling Bros. The gist of the case was that Tom Rider had witnessed Ringling Bros. employees abusing animals – specifically, elephants – and that his exposure to said abuse resulted in his own emotional trauma. In 2012, yes, twelve years after the original complaint was filed, the courts finally figured out that the ASPCA was paying Tom Rider to be the plaintiff in the case. This discovery resulted in RICO charges being filed against the ASPCA – and they lost. Tom Rider, the courts decided, never witnessed any such abuse. The ASPCA was simply paying him to say he did. Interestingly, the ASPCA is not the only ACG involved. Also involved is a group that is said to have overstepped the boundaries of right and wrong on numerous occasions – HSUS.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
During the Academy Awards in February 2012, an ad campaign was launched against HSUS. The ad painted HSUS as a money-hungry organization with little to no interest in actually helping animals. The main point of the brief commercial was a claim that less than one-half of one percent of its budget – coming out to less than one penny for each dollar spent – is spent on shelters. (It’s worth noting HSUS donated $2.25 million to a political campaign that was anti-meat in one year alone, which is far more than quadruple the $450,000 they doled out to the thousands of shelters in the country in that same year.) The tiny shelter contributions caused an uproar in the pet-loving community and, of course, within HSUS itself. However, when the media approached Human Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle and gave him a chance to defend the constantly-expanding ACG, he couldn’t. Turns out, it’s true. Much like the ASPCA, HSUS is not actually affiliated with your local shelters. Just because they have parts of their name in common with the massive organization does not mean the humane shelter down the street has any ties whatsoever to HSUS. Pacelle righteously informed the media that HSUS never said they would give money to shelters, making the ad’s accusations what he referred to as a “false frame” of HSUS’s financial numbers. After all, according to Pacelle, they spent “tens of millions” annually on sterilization, an issue they take seriously. Therefore, in Pacelle’s logic, HSUS’s paltry handouts to various shelters shouldn’t matter. But ask yourself, when you are moved by the images of filthy, wounded and otherwise pitiful puppies and kittens in an HSUS advertisement and pull out your wallet, are you hoping your hard-earned cash goes to spays and neuters, or food, actual shelter and emergent medical care? That’s not to say it isn’t important to stop just any cat or dog from reproducing at random but rather it is a matter of perspective (also, the horrifying statistics on the reproduction of the U.S. animal population pushed by shelters have been proven to be hugely inflated). And, again, remember that having a pet fixed is not actually a pricey venture. Low-cost sterilization clinics associated with local shelters typically charge around $55 per procedure. Ten million dollars alone would buy hundreds of thousands of spays and neuters if they were paying patient rates at a low-cost clinic. Imagine what tens of millions could do. The markup of services for the general public is understandable and seen for services rendered across the board, but supplies are considerably cheaper for your average shelter as are services in general. So how many spays and neuters would tens of millions buy at cost?
And how much money does HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle bring home? Unlike Bershadker, who brings in more than half a million dollars annually, Pacelle has been making more than $270,000 a year for some time now. While this may seem a paltry number beside Bershadker’s annual take, it’s still quite impressive. After all, only those in the doctor-lawyer-wall street banker class make over $100,000 in the real world, let alone over a quarter million. Anesthesiologists, who hold people’s very lives in their hands, can make $250,000 and more, and so can UPS pilots. Not your average pilot, though, many of them don’t even make half that. Pacelle’s qualifications? Degrees in history and environmental studies. Pretty good considering most history teachers only manage to scrape by on about $40,000 a year. But maybe he has a heart for animals and throws himself into his work wholeheartedly. Maybe he’s a diehard animal lover. You’d have to be, right, to work for THE Humane Society?
“I don’t love animals or think they’re cute.” – Wayne Pacelle
“I don’t love animals or think they’re cute.” Yes, Wayne Pacelle said that. His supporters say any journalist using that phrase as a stand-alone quote is misrepresenting his beliefs, so here is the entire quote: “I don’t love animals or think they’re cute. I respect them.” In the quote he goes on to say that he would be in the forests around Yale Thanksgiving morning fighting against Yale and the DEP’s annual deer hunt. He spent years as a member of the extraordinarily radical anti-hunting group Fund for Animals, even working his way into a director position. In fact, before he was even out of college, he had been arrested for his extreme behavior harassing hunters. Pacelle equates hunting as on par with cock fights and dog fighting, which is a brutal stereotype for a pastime where most who participate take care to utilize every part of the animal. Yes, some people are wasteful, but even those who waste the skin still eat the meat. You don’t find many hunters wandering into the woods to shoot a deer, watch it fall, say “well, that was fun” and go home empty-handed. So why is the head of HSUS so concerned with sport hunting? Because that’s what the Humane Society of the United States does.
Polls and common sense show that more than 71% of Americans believe HSUS’s focus is dog and cat shelters. When you picture HSUS, do you picture a bunch of PETA-like animal-rights activists, or do you picture a group working to rescue, feed and house helpless cats and dogs? Probably the latter, which makes you like just about every other American. However, public records and decades of business practices show that HSUS’s goals actually revolve around animal rights, to an extreme. In fact, many farmers are now speaking out against HSUS because the Humane Society has taken it upon itself to try to force GMO labeling, at any cost. This is neither the time nor word-count place to get into the pros and cons of GMO labeling, so let’s simply ask why a group that advertises itself as an ACG (remember, that’s Animal Cruelty Group, as in they try to stop it) is wading into the GMO labeling fight? And that’s not all they’re involved in. Unsurprising considering who runs things at HSUS.
John Goodwin, one of the men hired by Wayne Pacelle, was brought into HSUS in 1997 and is, today, their director of animal cruelty/animal fighting policy. What would people say if they knew Goodwin made the FBI’s terror watch list decades ago thanks to his involvement with an exceedingly violent group called the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)? When questioned by the media about a fire set by ALF members that caused million-dollar damage, Goodwin was quoted as saying he is “ecstatic” about the event. Goodwin also had his hand in the Michael Vick case, which brings us to the next issue: how does HSUS spend the money it collects for specific events? Let’s take a look at Michael Vick and Hurricane Katrina.
“Your gift will be put to use right away to care for these dogs.” HSUS ad regarding the Michael Vick case
Following the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal’s hard-to-miss splash into mainstream media, HSUS decided to get involved. Dog fighting is a horrific atrocity, and no matter how big or small their names are, those involved should always be punished not only to the full extent of the law but far beyond it. Unfortunately, for the most part animal cruelty laws are depressingly lax across the entire country. When agents raided Vick’s property, almost fifty dogs were healthy enough to be taken away. Of those, only one was so irredeemably aggressive that rescuers had no choice but to euthanize him after countless failed attempts to save him. Twenty-two of the more problematic dogs went to Best Friends Animal Society whose headquarters are in Utah, but who also have a branch in Los Angeles. Best Friends worked tirelessly to teach the lifelong fighting dogs what it means to simply be a pet rather than a cold-blooded killer. The real killer was Vick, who murdered eight dogs in and around April of 2007 - that we know of, a number which is, in reality, probably much higher. Considering Vick is known to have been fighting dogs for nearly a decade, the April 2007 killings are most likely just the tip of the iceberg. Dogs were killed by hanging from trees on the property, having their heads held underwater in a five-gallon bucket and, in at least one case, a dog had his head repeatedly bashed into the ground until he died. Dogs in Vick’s “care” could count on being electrocuted, shot, burned and beaten, among other methods of torture. It is clear that the forty-nine living dogs seized by agents needed extra-special care, and in advertisements hastily created and broadcast, HSUS promised to do just that. In the ads, HSUS asked for money specifically to help the dozens of dogs still living who were abused by Vick. The print ad read: “…make a special gift to help the Humane Society of the United States care for the dogs seized in the Michael Vick case… your gift will be put to use right away to care for these dogs.” And since the dogs were in the public spotlight and clearly needed help, the donations immediately began to pour in, as usual. However, this one rare time, HSUS was called on its crap. The New York Times reported accurately that not only was HSUS not providing any care whatsoever to the Vick dogs but that Wayne Pacelle went on the record saying the dogs should be immediately euthanized. After being caught with their hand in the doggy cookie jar, HSUS was forced to halt all Michael Vicks-related donation requests.
Another troubling donation campaign occurred at the time of the infamous Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans, famous for Mardi Gras and the French Quarter (and a scarily high crime rate), sits below sea level. The poorly-engineered levees that were stopping the city from being completely immersed under water finally gave up during Hurricane Katrina. FEMA’s sluggish response to the disaster, despite then-President Bush’s declaring New Orleans an emergency quickly and also signing the initial 10.5 billion dollar relief package without delay, received national attention. FEMA even sidetracked rescuers coming from out of the state into Atlanta, Georgia, for two solid days of training on subject matter like sexual harassment. Pets of the displaced residents were hardly considered in the disastrously bungled relief response. In their usual style, HSUS immediately began campaigning to raise funds for the dogs and cats of New Orleans. If there’s one thing they’re talented at, it’s raising money, and indeed HSUS raised over 34 million dollars for the pets of New Orleans residents. How did they spend the money? Actually, only $7 million of that $34 million was spent on New Orleans. The remaining $27 million remains unaccounted for to this day. There were quite a few rescue groups and animal shelters involved in the post-Katrina efforts whose volunteers worked tirelessly and with hardly any funding whatsoever. Thousands of pets were saved, no thanks to HSUS. The fact that those pets were saved with hardly any financial support makes it all the more impressive. The countless Americans who wanted to help the then-homeless cats and dogs funneled their money to HSUS, thinking it would be spent on New Orleans, just as the ads said it would be. But it wasn’t.
The reality of the matter is that HSUS does not own any shelters, making the advertisements depicting trembling dogs and cats misleading – at best. The few reserves they own are mostly for wildlife. Their focus is and always has been on political policies relating to issues such as hunting (they want to make it illegal), eating meat (yes, they also want to make it illegal) and farm animals (apparently they should be extinct because, Pacelle says, they are the result of “human selective breeding”). And while animal rights is, on its surface, a worthwhile cause, HSUS tends to support the extremist side. Just like the ASPCA. For example, they have made it clear their belief is that animals should run free and those of us who keep cats and dogs as pets are abusing them. When a special breed of cattle was created for the consumer market, HSUS was there saying on the record they were fine with the extinction of domestic cattle. They grudgingly deal with a very few pet-related issues which seems to be more for appearance’s sake and makes up only a fraction of a single percentage point of their spending. And even that is misrepresented. If you see their number of dogs and cats they supposedly helped to spay and neuter, bear in mind the number is rather inflated. Their annual report showing tens of thousands of altered pets is more than a little hyper-inflated. They come up with that number by counting pets altered by more than 400 shelters and countless spay/neuter organizations. HSUS didn’t actually have those tens of thousands of pets fixed. Their tie is tenuous at best and typically means they, at some point, included that shelter in their annual one-half of one percentage point shelter contributions. Many shelters make local headlines when they reach their breaking point after tiring of people thinking HSUS is a shelter-focused entity when their own shelter received either nothing or simply a thousand dollars from the group. HSUS is the richest and most powerful ACG in the world, and not many people realize where their donation dollars go. Out of the approximately $100 million in donations they receive every year through campaigns like those for Michael Vick’s dogs and Hurricane Katrina-affected pets, $20 million goes to salaries. They defend Pacelle’s bloated salary with the ludicrous comparison that, after all, it’s only one-quarter the size of the National Rifle Association (NRA) President’s. Comparing HSUS to the NRA is not apples and oranges, it’s apples and ammo. There is simply no comparison. Remember, HSUS is a 501(c)(3) (the NRA is not), meaning it is considered a charitable organization. They gather funding from unsuspecting animal lovers by presenting themselves as the rescuers of helpless cats and dogs, but the reality is they are far more focused on how dairy cattle and pigs used for meat are housed than they are on whether or not Fido has a loving home. They’ve gone on the record repeatedly saying they have “no problem with the extinction of domestic animals.” And when Michael Vick decided to make his comeback as a dog owner, HSUS was right there to help with Pacelle telling the media Vick “would do a good job as a pet owner.” That was also one of the rare times the ASPCA did the right thing, because they flat-out refused to deal with Vick, let alone endorse him or help him obtain a pet. So what is the result of all this misleading advertising for financial gain? Some sources claim the ASPCA may be losing its 501(c)(3) status.
While this may all seem rather depressing, there are plenty of charities out there that not only need but deserve your help. Sticking with local shelters tends to be wisest, although you should keep in mind that most are kill shelters. That means they euthanize pets that either surpass a set number of days in residence or have little to no chance of adoption (think elderly and infirm). There are no-kill shelters out there, and it is well worth finding one in your area. Rather than sending a check or debit payment to the ASPCA or HSUS this Christmas, why not send your donation to your local no-kill shelter? They need the money far more and will put it to much better use. Do you eat meat? Do you have a beloved dog or cat in your home that you no doubt spoil and love enormously? Are you a farmer, or do you support your local farmers? Do you like to hunt, no doubt making very good use of the resulting meat? Then you are exactly the kind of person HSUS is fighting against. It appears the fraction of a percentage point both the ASPCA and HSUS actually spend on pet rescues is done simply so they can say they’ve done it. No one thinks to check but instead simply trusts the public face presented by both groups. In this season of giving, make sure your gift of donor dollars goes to a deserving charity. Don’t be fooled by the ACG equivalent of the Grinch stealing any hope of Christmas from helpless dogs and cats. After all, would you rather your money goes to actually rescue an abandoned pet or do you want to pay an extreme activist’s salary? Abraham Lincoln said “I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.” One could easily restate the words of one of our country’s most famous Presidents as “I care not much for a man’s charity whose dog and cat are not the better for it.” What group do you know that puts real time and energy into bettering dogs and cats? Seek them out, and make them the recipients of your donations, both for Christmas and year-round.
Coming soon: charities worth the donation
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UPDATE: The financial data presented in this article was not taken from any opinion-based site but was taken directly from publicly available finance records for both the ASPCA and HSUS. Facts were double and triple-checked from both sides to the best of my still-human abilities. The real issue is that the advertising presented by both ACG's clearly portrays donations as being spent for the care and rescue of pet dogs and cats while the reality of their spending is focused almost entirely on what would be considered by most to be fairly extreme activism. If they were to truthfully present themselves to the public rather than pretending your donations help abandoned and abused cats and dogs, it would be an entirely different situation. Truth in advertising is hard to come by in this current age. The point of this piece is not to create controversy but to present people with the factually verifiable truth that their donations are spent not on cats and dogs but on political lobbying and animal rights campaigns such as how pigs are crated by farmers and GMO labeling. If you donate ten dollars, for example, you may as well cut a penny in half with tin snips and present that to a random shelter, because that's how much they'll get out of it - IF they're on the ASPCA or HSUS donor list. Ha'pennies are not made anymore, but if they were, you could simply hand that over to the shelter of your choosing for every ten dollars you plan to give the ASPCA and HSUS.
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