MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Humane Society of the United States says it’s under attack by a new group that’s trying to starve it of funding by urging donors to send money to local animal shelters instead.

The society has long been a thorn in the side of some in agriculture with its undercover investigations and campaigns against animal cruelty. It claims the new group is the brainchild of conservative public relations executive Rick Berman, who spearheaded an earlier campaign against it, and that it’s supported by big agricultural interests.

Berman won’t say who’s funding the Humane Society for Shelter Pets.

The new group announced itself two weeks ago with full-page ads in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and New York Times. They show a sad-eyed dog and ask, “Please help shelter pets by donating locally, not to HSUS,” and direct people to HumaneForPets.com, where they can find links to local shelters and more information.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS, said he’s certain that agribusiness concerns are behind the campaign because he’s heard that Berman made the rounds of major trade groups seeking support for it.

“We consider it the highest compliment because it demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re the most effective organization in the field of animal protection, and one that industries that have something to hide are most worried about,” Pacelle said.

The HSUS has long campaigned for more humane conditions for farm animals, opposing the use of cramped cages for pregnant sows and egg-laying hens and the slaughter of horses for food. It lobbies Congress and state legislatures and frequently launches ballot initiatives to achieve its goals.

Jeff Douglas, co-director of the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, said his organization was formed simply to educate people who want to donate money to shelters. He said about 650 shelters have expressed support for his group.

“People think that when they give to national organizations like the Humane Society of the United States that the money is being returned to localities, but the reality is only about a penny of every dollar raised by the Humane Society of the United States is returned (to local shelters),” Douglas said.

Pacelle said that’s misleading because shelters aren’t his group’s main mission — it’s an animal welfare advocacy group. But he also said the society has given $43 million in grants to other animal welfare groups over the past four years alone, helps rescue thousands of animals every year and provides training and services to local shelters and rescue groups. HSUS donors understand its role, he said.

It’s easy to confuse animal protection groups and shelters because their names often contain the terms “humane society” or “society for the prevention of cruelty.” Usually, they’re independent.

Although Douglas said his group only wants to help shelters, the dispute highlights the deep rift between HSUS and those who contend its long-term goal is to reduce meat consumption.

Pacelle denies his group is anti-meat, saying it includes everyone from livestock producers to vegetarians. He said HSUS has a history of working with industry, pointing to its efforts leading to last week’s announcement by Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s largest pork producer, that it will stop confining pregnant sows in small metal crates by 2017.

Kay Johnson Smith, CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a nonprofit backed by livestock, poultry and other industry groups, said HSUS has “the same radical agenda” as groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which opposes eating animals. The difference, she said, is that HSUS wants to work incrementally to reach its goal of raising the prices of meat, milk and eggs so they’re out of reach to most Americans.

Berman owns the Washington-based public relations firm Berman and Co., which runs the Center for Consumer Freedom. That group operates HumaneWatch, which has kept up a steady stream of attacks on HSUS since it launched early in 2010.

Berman insists the idea for the new effort came from others but said his firm has donated more than 1,000 hours of work to help it get off the ground and is providing free public relations and other services.

Pacelle, however, contends the Human Society for Shelter Pets has been Berman’s idea from the start. He provided The Associated Press with a memo he said was leaked by “a source in an animal-use industry” he declined to name. In the memo to big donors, Berman lamented the difficulties he was having in recruiting a suitable leader for a project then called the Humane Society for America’s Pets.

But Berman also told them HumaneWatch had been “far more successful than I anticipated in re-branding and re-positioning HSUS among a wide variety of Americans. … HumaneWatch is having the intended effect of chilling some of the donation stream that HSUS would have expected prior to our campaign.”

Berman confirmed he wrote the memo but said Humane Society for America’s Pets was a different project that never got off the ground. He said that idea came from supporters of HumaneWatch’s message, while HSSP was a later initiative by different people, though he used the same corporate shell.

He also said he refunded donations for the first project to contributors who wanted them back, but others agreed to let their money be used for similar purposes.

Neither Berman nor Douglas would disclose who’s funding HSSP. Its IRS filing for 2010, prepared by a Berman accountant, lists donations of more than $1.2 million, including 11 of $50,000, one of $100,000 and one of $300,000. Berman said he wasn’t one of them. Douglas said the money came from “foundations and organizations that are involved in the pet industry.” He said he didn’t know if any were involved in agriculture.

“We never tell anyone who contributes to any of the organizations that I’m connected with,” Berman said. “Just as the Humane Society does not disclose its donors.”

Pacelle said Berman’s efforts are backfiring.

“I’m happy to say that our budget has grown substantially during the period of Berman’s campaign,” he said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (28)
  1. kevin says:

    This couldn’t be happening tto a bigger bunch of a holes. There main theme is to stop all forms of hunting with little money going to local animal shelters. Starve them out of existance.

  2. $$$$ says:

    I don’t get it. Aren’t the Humane Society and local shelters on the same team? If not, I have a problem with that.

    1. Sam I am says:

      I believe they are referring to the little animal shelters around the TC. Not the national Humane Society.

      1. JGE says:

        That’s the funny thing, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is not affiliated with or anything like your local Humane Society (or shelter). They would like you to believe that and that is how they generate a lot of funding/donations, but they are actually quite an extreme organization that provides little of their profit to the actual sheltering of animals.

  3. GN says:

    The Humane Society has become nothing more than a super radical group. Like most groups that start out with good intentions and eventually gain more power, they have crossed the threshold of their primary purpose. Giving to the local shelters would be a much better alternative than to the Humane Society of the United States. Mr. Pacelle has more than crossed the line.

  4. PETA says:

    People Eating Tasty Animals, pass the garlic and butter.

  5. Citizen says:

    It is obvious that the above posters do not understand the role of HSUS. When there are disasters like Hurricane Katrina, HSUS is one of the first responders there to take care of the abandoned animals. So is the ASPCA. That is one of the primary roles of the national humane societies. The role of small local shelters is to take care of abandoned pets in the local area. No humane society from Minneapolis will be in Texas rescuing animals. Both types of humane societies have the same essential mission, but they have different roles. Animal abuse is abuse whether on a farm, in city streets and homes, or in rural areas where animals get abandoned or left to starve and die. It is disgusting to see that any humane organization would try to undermine another. I for one will increase my donation to HSUS this year.

    1. BARBBF says:

      THANK YOU! I saw the anti-HSUS on the TV this week..and was very shocked…as I have been supporting them for years, I will continue my support.

      1. JGE says:

        I am involved in dog rescue and donate my time and money to the cause and I think that the HSUS is the last organization that should be getting any donations.


        1. kate says:

          You are posting a link from teh group that has said it is trying to undermine teh HSUS. How balanced do you think their story is?
          Post one from an independant group.

          1. JGE says:

            Kate-Your criticism is justified. However, I do think a lot of their information is legit as it is from HSUS’s own records.

      2. BARBBF 2 says:

        You need to keep your donations going their so they can collect big salaries.
        That is why they are crying for more money. Local shelters most of the people are volunteers so more of your money will go to take care of the animals.
        As far as other states go they have their own local shelters to take care of the animals. Have wcco do an article on how much of your money goes to care for the animals from HSUS. My bet is not much.

    2. Ricky_O says:

      I think you are quite wrong about ‘no humane society from Minneapolis will be in Texas rescuing animals. The truth is that Animal Ark and a number of other No Kill local rescue groups were in New Orleans within days of Katrina.

  6. j says:

    Give to your local shelters. HSUS spends 1% MAYBE on animal shelters. Check what they pay their officials–from funds donated for the animals.

    1. Citizen says:

      @j. Prove that statement with facts. Nonprofits HAVE to use donations to support the dedicated staff. Or do you want to volunteer to rescue strange, upset, possibly starving animals in a natural disaster or an abuse situation?

      1. Citizen 2 says:

        Why 6 figure incomes?

      2. JGE says:

        Actually, according to the HSUS’s own tax returns less than 0.05% of their budget went to grants to hands on animal shelters.


      3. JGE says:

        “Too many Americans—donors and non-donors alike—mistakenly think HSUS is a pet-shelter umbrella group, when it’s actually an animal rights organization akin to the better-known PETA.”

        If you are a supporter of organizations like PETA and such and want to donate to organizations like that, that’s one thing. BUT, the HSUS portraying themselves like an animal RESCUE organization is misleading.

      4. Ricky_O says:

        No, not true. Non-profits have to NOT SHOW A PROFIT. That means they can pay staff anything they want. You need to bone-up on your business law. Example: Blue Cross Mn is a ‘non-profit’. Care to guess what they payout in executive salaries?

  7. redneck purist says:

    The animal rights crowd is going backwards. Now they’re eating their own. Fun to watch though.

  8. Ace says:

    I quit donating to them because they kept sending me gift wrap, labels, stuffed animals and then follow up with more letters asking if I received my gifts and wanting more money. It seemed that they spent a lot of money on “gifts” I donate to the Humane Farming Assn. instead and of course my local Humane Society.

  9. angus says:

    Ace, I agree with your thoughts. We have received coffee cups with your name on them so you hesitate to give them away, umbrellas, etc. etc. etc. We have never given to them and we still get their merchandise.

    A few years ago they were charged and found guilty in NY state of spending too much ofthe budget on promotional items.

    We also give to our local huame society so the money stays local

  10. Ricky_O says:

    There has been a point of contention between the HSUS and local animal rescue groups for years. One of the main issues, if not the main issue, is who actually practices ‘No Kill’ practices. The HS does euthenize, whereas many local rescue groups do not. However, there is no reason to donate to this new national group any more than there is reason to donate to the HSUS. It is quite obvious, as pointed out in the article, that this new group has made connection with agricultural groups who oppose the HSUS’ efforts to get humane treatment for farm animals. (Remember, those are the animals you and I include in our diets; so there are reasons why you should care about that treatment, for you and your family). If in fact you are concerned with supporting the best efforts for humane animal treatment, all you have to do is a little bit of googling for ‘No Kill’ Shelters in your community. Off the top of my head, and quickly, I can think of a few great organizations you can send your donations to and get the most bang for your buck in contributions. I’d start with Animal Ark in Hastings, Pet Haven in the Twin Cities, and Paws and Claws in Rochester. Personally, I donate directly to such local No Kill centers. I see no reason to donate to this new organization.

  11. Trish D. says:

    This headline is ALL WRONG!!! It should be the HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES!!! They have NOTHING TO DO WITH local Humane Societies! Whoever wrote this article and whoever proofed it should be fired!!! GET IT STRAIGHT!! UGH! HSUS is a radical animal group out to take away our rights as humans to own pets, including horses, and raise livestock for meat and milk. They want all of us to become vegans. They give less than 1% of their illgotten money to aid animals. They should be renamed Hitler’s Group. They have nothing to do with our local Humane Society shelters. They use this name to dupe people into giving them money.

    1. JGE says:

      I agree. The title is VERY misleading and only contributes to the confusion between the HSUS and the local Humane Societies.

  12. Hamry says:

    Don’t give money to the local municipal agencies either. The money will go straight to the city’s general fund… and not directly to the shelter. The best way to donate is to spend time with the animals and help them get adopted.

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