Home > Pet Adoption, Pet News, Pet Topics, Puppy Mills > Is the Humane Society of the United States evil? Or, does HumaneWatch.org just want you to think they are? Part One.

Is the Humane Society of the United States evil? Or, does HumaneWatch.org just want you to think they are? Part One.


This post is the first in a two-part series looking at HumaneWatch.org and it’s campaign against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Many animal lovers and animal advocates have heard stories about HSUS – how they spend their money, how they misrepresent themselves to the public, where the money they raise goes, etc. – but not many people know about HumaneWatch.org and it’s campaign to discredit HSUS. This series aims to educate people on this organization and their purpose.

A couple of years ago, I came across a friend’s Facebook post showing that they had “Liked” a group called HumaneWatch.org. I briefly checked out their Facebook page and discovered that they were a non-profit group dedicated to “Keeping a watchful eye on the Humane Society of the United States” (HSUS). At the time, I had been hearing a lot of negative things about HSUS – they had deceived people into thinking their money was going to shelters when it was actually going back to HSUS, they spent a majority of their money promoting themselves and raising more money for their PR campaign, etc. – so I decided to “Like” Humane Watch too. After all, they were focused on exposing HSUS and their lies, how bad could they be? This group obviously cared about animals right? Heck, they had animals in their logo.

It was only later, after I began to hear little news stories here and there, that I became concerned about HumaneWatch.org. Who was this organization? Who was behind it? What was their purpose and why were they targeting HSUS?

The truth about HumaneWatch.org is much more insidious and political than you could imagine. It takes a little explaining, but I believe that my animal-loving friends would want to know more about this group, their TRUE agenda and why knowing WHO you support is so important these days. More than ever before.

WHAT is HumaneWatch.org?

HumaneWatch.org is a non-profit group solely focused on discrediting (and likely destroying) the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). They attack HSUS using HSUS’s own data, but the way they use it is selective – designed to to distort, obfuscate and confuse people, in hopes of reducing HSUS’ power in animal welfare circles and destroy its base of supporters. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things about HSUS that I don’t like (don’t get me started on their support of Michael Vick), but learning about HumaneWatch.org has led me to believe that perhaps most of what I knew about HSUS was not based on true facts, but on the obfuscation facts provided by HumaneWatch.org via the news, the internet and other media outlets.

If there is one thing HumaneWatch.org has done extremely well it is in taking one piece of data and promoting it over and over again in order to distort what HSUS really does. For example, one of the leading statements promoted by HumaneWatch.org is this: “HSUS devoted less than one-half of one percent of its budget to directly funding hands-on pet shelters.”. True. HSUS doesn’t spend a whole heck of a lot on “hands-on” pet shelters, however they do spend money on five animal care centers they run in Texas, Florida, California, Oregon and Massachusetts. Humane Watch shares this information, but look where they put it (in bold): “So only four-fifths of one percent (0.80%) of the money HSUS collected in 2009—much of it in response to TV ads that begged for money to “save” dogs and cats—actually went to the community-based organizations doing that work. (HSUS runs a handful of “animal care centers,” but no dog or cat shelters and no pet adoption programs.)”

And let’s take a look at those TV ads that HumaneWatch.org says “begged for money to ‘save’ dogs and cats.” Here’s one from one year ago. Or this one from two years ago. Yup. They do talk about saving dogs and cats, but is HumaneWatch.org’s definition of saving dogs and cats the same as how HSUS defines it in their commercials? Or, is it possible that they are purposely confusing people so they think that HSUS’s ads are the same ones put put by the ASPCA and the SPSCA. If so, it would make sense for us to be outraged wouldn’t it?

Another one of HumaneWatch.org’s purported HSUS goals is to make everyone become a vegan. Really? In an interview with Drovers Cattle Network, Wayne Pacelle said “It is my core belief that Americans are going to continue to eat meat, milk and egg products. That is the way it is. These are long-standing cultural practices.” and “Our board of directors is a national volunteer board of directors. Very few of them are vegetarian. I have been since I’ve been a teenager. Whatever I do in my personal life does not necessarily reflect the policies of HSUS and we support certified humane programs, we support other farmers, we work with farmers, we think farming is a noble profession.” Does HSUS support a vegan lifestyle? My guess is they would say yes to that, but it doesn’t appear they have an agenda to make everyone a vegan.

So if HSUS does not support local animal shelters and they don’t have an agenda to make everyone become a vegan, what is their true purpose?

According to Wayne Pacelle, HSUS was “…founded in 1954 specifically to tackle the national problems facing animals, such as puppy mills, inhumane slaughter, animal fighting, and animal trafficking, through education, public policy, investigation, and other conventional means suited to a civil society. Local animal shelters are consumed with the responsibilities of animal care and control in their communities, and they don’t have the reach or the resources to tackle a national dogfighting ring or pet theft ring or examine the practices at research labs or slaughter plants, so that has been the purpose of HSUS for more than 50 years.” (Drover’s Cattle Network, March 5, 2010)

I don’t see “supporting local animal shelters by giving them grants or direct funding” in there do you? Is that something they should be doing? Probably. But is HSUS (as HumaneWatch.org says) really misrepresenting what it does and where its money goes? Or, is HumaneWatch.org deliberately distorting what HSUS does (based on their charter) with what they want you to believe they should be doing? I leave that for you to decide, but it certainly is worthy of exploring.

I’m not here to defend HSUS, but when one looks at the distorted facts so prevalently promoted by HumaneWatch.org on their website (and the many others they have created), one has to wonder… What is the truth?

On Tuesday, we’ll explore: Who is behind HumaneWatch.org.

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  1. April 17, 2011 at 8:06 PM

    Hi Mel. Quite an interesting post. I’m looking forward to part 2. I’m not a big supporter of HSUS but I don’t like to be lied to and mislead either. Thanks for taking a good look at HumaneWatch.org and for letting the rest of know what you’ve discovered. It hasn’t necessarily changed my opinion of HSUS (at least not yet) but it has given me some food for thought.

    • Mel
      April 17, 2011 at 8:26 PM

      Thanks Lorie. It took me forever to write part one and part two, which is why I had delayed writing about it until now.
      I am not a huge fan of HSUS either, but I also don’t like it when one organization has an agenda that is less than honest. You should read Karen’s post over on Doggie Stylish today. It displays a great reason why HSUS is not so well respected in the animal welfare community.

  2. April 17, 2011 at 8:08 PM

    Mel, thank you for addressing this issue with intelligence and an open mind! How refreshing – not the usual repeating what one has heard!! I’ve long thought that the national organizations have their place, and are important in the ways they can contribute to the welfare of animals. To compare them to local shelters and the like is just apples and oranges. Love this!

    • Mel
      April 17, 2011 at 8:28 PM

      Thanks Kim! I’m glad you liked it. And, I agree with you on national organizations and little ones. Each has their place.

      (Ok now I must admit that I didn’t know you wrote CindyLu’s Muse! Duh! So embarrassed!)

  3. April 17, 2011 at 11:24 PM

    The HSUS is a lobbying org. and so is Humane Watch, so it’s a tit-for-tat fight. Getting involved in politics involves mud slinging and dirty fighting. Getting involved with farming and meat animals involves money, profits and livlihoods, so people tend to get upset, protect their interests and fight back. If they were a “straight up” charity, I might feel bad for all the slings and barbs that are being lobbed their way.

    I DO NOT agree with their fundraising tactics and DO NOT believe that they qualify for charitable status. Too much of their money is wasted on administrative expenses for my liking. Do I think that they are fighting the good fight? Sometimes.

  4. April 17, 2011 at 11:28 PM

    Hey Mel, this was a good idea – I am always amazed at people who think HSUS should support private shelters. That is not nor has it ever been their charter. They have been involved in the work that shelters cannot do, including lobbying for animal welfare causes. I am glad you pointed that out. And no, I don’t like everything they do, and I’m not their apologist. I was really affronted by what they did with Fay, using her for fundraising without consulting with and gifting money to the actual group caring for her before they aired such a plea – they were undercutting the group needing to raise funds. MV – can’t go there either…so I’m waiting for part II!

    And I saw Karen’s post at doggiestylish – yet another embarrassing “feel-good” fluffy, non-campaign it would seem. I did not have time to see how many restaurants are actually involved and what percentage might be non-compliant, but this was an interesting little survey she did!

    • Mel
      April 18, 2011 at 7:01 AM

      Thanks Mary. I don’t remember Fay. I’ll have to look that one up! I also found Karen’s restaurant survey interesting.
      I think sometimes HSUS is it’s own worst enemy, but that doesn’t mean I want some group, funded by companies with hidden agendas, to be my resource for how HSUS operates either.

  5. Kristine
    April 18, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    Great post, Mel! Like the others, I am not a supporter of HSUS but I also am always cautious of accepting any organization’s blanket statements about something else. The truth rarely lies at such heated ends of the sprectrum. Lately, I am having a difficult time trusting anyone else’s opinions other than my own. It’s normally best to read as much as I can and kind of piece it all together to find the truth.

    I look forward to reading tomorrow’s instalment!

    • Mel
      April 18, 2011 at 7:26 PM

      Thanks Kristine. I have to say I agree with you on much of your comment. It seems like there is so much disinformation out there about a wide variety of issues and people that it makes it hard to know who to trust. :(

      I hope you like tomorrow’s post.

  6. April 18, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    Mel, really interesting post! I look forward to part 2 – you’ve done an amazing job here at laying out the various issues and some of the misstatements that may end up out there. So important to examine what’s behind all of this…

    • Mel
      April 18, 2011 at 7:25 PM

      Thanks AJ. It has taken a lot of work to lay all of this out, but I think it is worth it to understand all of the players in this game and what agenda they support.
      I hope you like tomorrow’s post as well.

  7. April 18, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    HumaneWatch is run by Center for Consumer Freedom. While I support consumer freedom absolutely, I do not support the tactics of David Martosko, the so-called “director of research” (besides if they really were concerned about true consumer freedom, why did not they release any statement about H.R. 1256? They totally blew me off when I called their office, asking me if I was from the press and denying that they were ever funded by Phillip Morris). Martosko, while he was not bad on Penn & Teller (~5:00), was wrong about drunk driving statistics, and he regularly convolves seafood with canned fish. It’s called astroturf! The argument for consumer freedom can be won legitimately without lies/confusion, if only consumers would be more diligent. As for HSUS, we should take them case by case.

  8. EmilyS
    April 18, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    the Fay story:

    http://www.petconnection.com/blog/2009/12/04/hsus-fund-raising-pitch-raises-hackles/

    If you think HSUS has changed its spots, good for you. I don’t. Some of their local people are good. Nationally, they’re money grubbing scum. HSUS only changed their tune on fighting dogs (they used to actively promote the notion that shelters should kill them all as dangerous.. right up to the minute that they realized how much money-raising opportunities they were missing by now calling the dogs “victims”). They are 2 faced about BSL, claiming to oppose it, but supporting mandatory s/n laws for pit bulls.

    There’s sufficient evidence that dogfighting INCREASED when HSUS started its hysteria campaign 20 or so years ago.. and some evidence that dogfighting in Philadelphia has INCREASED since Vick became HSUS new BFF. Publicity (much of it complete b.s.) about dogfighting only attracts the cretins who would engage in the activity.

    • Mel
      April 18, 2011 at 7:01 PM

      Hi Emily – I want to make clear that I am not a huge supporter of HSUS. However, I think that knowing about HumaneWatch.org is helpful, especially if it is spreading disinformation. Knowing what one’s agenda is always helpful too. I hope you will read tomorrow’s post so you can better understand why I chose to write about HumaneWatch.org.

      You obviously disagree with HSUS and what they do. I welcome you to back up your statements about HSUS with actual facts. I always find that facts are always helpful and can better inform those who know less about a group, issue or individual. Thanks for your comments and for including Fay’s story. I had only heard peripherally about her, but it makes me sad that HSUS used her for their own selfish reasons. I think HSUS is often it’s own worst enemy. HumaneWatch.org need not spend so much money on smearing them when they seem to do just fine on their own.

      I still welcome any facts you can provide on them (non-HumaneWatch.org generated please).

    • Laura N.
      April 18, 2011 at 10:58 PM

      Emily, I agree with you. This was a great post, and it is important for people to discuss and hold major companies like this accountable (both in this sense) Thanks for posting.

  9. Andy
    April 19, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    A couple of years ago, I came across a friend’s Facebook post showing that they had “Liked” a group called HumaneWatch.org.

    You and your friend must be psychic, HumanWatch has only been in existence a year! You may not like them but they have FACTS about H$U$ and their anything for money philosophy. So what if they’re also a lobbying organization? If you like pets and animal protein in your meals you should also be worried about H$U$!

    • Mel
      April 20, 2011 at 6:59 AM

      Oops! You aught me Andy! How did I ever blur the years together? That NEVER happens! If I was wrong about the timeframe I apologize. The older I get the more the years seem to fly by. I would love to respond to the rest of your comment, but honestly, if you choose to believe a lobbying organization and regurgitate information bought and paid for that is your choice. I prefer to do my own research.

  10. alice in LALA land
    April 19, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    If Wayne has members of the BOD that are meat eaters they better bring their own lunch or dinner :

    The good news, and what is really going to help immensely, is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) just passed their vegan policy. They are seen as the mothering organization for the SPCAs, shelters and animal control agencies. And the fact that they have adopted a vegan policy may just be the major breakthrough to bring others along. All HSUS expos, trainings, conferences will be vegan. “ Kim Sturla, in SATYA Magazine, Nov-Dec 2004 (http://www.satyamag.com/nov04/sturla.html)

  11. Mary
    April 19, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    If HumaneWatch was putting out lies about HSUS, don’t you think an organization as big as HSUS with it’s own battery of lawyers, would have already sued? The fact that they haven’t sued is pretty telling; they can’t sue because you can’t sue over the truth.

    HSUS is everyone’s nightmore. From pets to the chicken that laid your breakfast eggs, they want to abolish our ownership and use of animals. No, it won’t happen all at once. It’ll be in phases. Bit by bit, law by law..

    • Mel
      April 20, 2011 at 6:53 AM

      Hi Mary. It’s well-documented that HSUS has it’s own battery of lawyers. I’m not here to defend HSUS – they have their own PR arm as well. The purpose of these two pieces was to bring attention to the forces at play. If I thought HumaneWatch.org would stop at HSUS and PETA then perhaps it would be no big deal, but the reality is that they will go wherever the money tells them to go (and that goes for CCF too). I simply wanted people to understand the things are not always as they seem.

  12. CanAmFam
    April 20, 2011 at 10:29 PM

    Great article Mel! And more than a bit ironic that some of HumaneWatch’s most virulent anti-HSUS commenters have migrated here to cast aspersions on HSUS that are sourced from – of course – HumaneWatch.

    The more you work in animal welfare, the more you realize a national voice, and efforts to help with legislation are critical. Industries that exploit animals all have their own well-funded lobbies working to maximize their members’ profits, which often come at the cost of increasing animal suffering (Agribusiness had a whopping 159 lobbyists in 2010; one for every four members of Congress). In fact, it is precisely because HSUS has been so effective increasing awareness of animal welfare issues at a national level, and affecting legislation that they have incurred the rank of the likes of HumaneWatch!

    When you look below the surface at the criticism that HSUS doesn’t fund shelters, the motivation behind these criticisms is obvious. If HSUS did spend more on shelters, they would have fewer resources to put towards national campaigns to end things like extreme confinement for livestock or puppy mills – not coincidentally the very parties the most opposed to HSUS. And HSUS is actually doing really important things for shelters… working to end the oversupply of pets problem by running spay & neuter clinics, raising awareness about adoption and curbing the insane overbreeding from puppy mills! It’s called dealing with the cause of a problem, not continually throwing money at it.

  13. Lynne's Honey
    April 21, 2011 at 6:36 AM

    I’ve read both your posts. You so much as admit that none of the information posted on Humane Watch is false, but rather argue that the information is applied selectively and does twist the argument. I would think that this would be the tactic you would use in a similar situation for yourself.

    You use the same arguments that HSUS uses to attack Humane Watch, which really are not arguments at all. They never dispute the facts–pretty tough since HSUS publishes them, nor do they claim anything about the selective use of them. One then, has no real choice, in a logical world, but to conclude that Humane Watch has gotten it right.

    In your little history of HSUS, you seem to have left out an import part. Before the AR infiltrated HSUS, they gave 60% of their money to local shelters for the care of animals. The other 40% was retained for expenses, including salaries, the cost of raising funds, and put toward the development of materials to be used by the shelters and the public.

    As for the sanctuaries, it is my understanding that the funding for the sanctuaries is left to the groups that founded them, even though they are now, one way or another, associated with HSUS. Any monies that HSUS may put toward the operation of them is not listed on their form 990, and IRS form found on their site. The most recent one available is for 2009. I would expect the 2010 one to be posted when it is ready.

    • Mel
      April 21, 2011 at 7:25 AM

      Thanks for your comments Steve.

      It depends on how you define “truth”. If Humane Watch reports they contribute very little to local animal shelters, but it’s not even an objective listed in HSUS’ charter is that a lie? Or is that a misrepresentation of the truth? I don’t have any love or hate for HSUS, but I believe people should use actual facts when smearing or slamming another organization. I welcome any evidence you have that HSUS used to give 60% of their money to local shelters. As far as I can tell, their charter has been in existence since 1954 (when they formed) and it doesn’t appear to have been a goal of their charter. But, feel free to provide links to whatever you have that can prove your assertions. This applies to your assertions on the sanctuaries as well. (This is why I admire Very Vizsla – She gets the facts and does not claim theories based on “I believe…”

      I recommend you check out HumaneWatchinfo.com for more info on the misrepresentation of truth by Humane Watch.

      • December 16, 2011 at 4:04 PM

        501c3 Tax returns are available to all who request them. HSUS used to share about half its money with local shelters which they called field offices. The incorporation in Delaware and their charter require that they not lobby extensively for animal law and not become a school. They do both.

        Speaking of showing proof, what exactly on HumaneWatch do you consider to be anything less than factual? So far, they backed up all articles with board of directors documents, tax returns, surveys by independent pollsters.

        Just because you don’t like the motives of one group (protecting the choice to buy the food you want) and you do like the motives of another group (reducing access to and use of non humans for any purpose including companionship) does not make it right to weigh the tactics they use differently.

        Both groups use mass media to pass their ideas on to you. Check them out. Which group provides more facts should matter far more than why they are doing it, although that certainly matters.

        Former HSUS employee
        Diana Culp

  14. e flowers
    December 21, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    Look at this link to see where their money is spent. This is from their tax records. Some is spent on shelters, but a tiny amount compared to what they raise.http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/hsus-2007-990-pp50_80.pdf

  15. Penny
    August 3, 2012 at 6:32 PM

    “Food for thought” However… While HSUS may not directly say that they support local shelters or that money donated will go to a shelter (theirs or a different one) IMHO it is implied by the ads… or maybe it’s just that they know (how could they not) that the vast majority of viewers and donators will believe that their donation is going to help all those animals by helping a shelter take care of them! I have no use for the HSUS esp after hearing about rescue after rescue where the HSUS initiated the seizure of large numbers of animals and then “farmed them out” to dozens of small rescues who ended up footing the bills for extensive vet care and rehab. What did HSUS do? They rallied and “begged” for money to help with the rescue of such and such animals… and didn’t share a single dime with all those rescues who actually took in the animals…You cannot tell me that HSUS didn’t know that every single person donating would believe they were helping Those Exact Animals Shown!!!
    I haven’t heard much about HumaneWatch and do need to educate myself about their policies. I will say that almost every one I know who has donated to HSUS did so believing that their donation would be used as if it was given to a local shelter but, with the bonus that the neediest shelter(s) would get the largest portion of funds donated. I don’t know a single person who donates and/or donated to HSUS who knew/understood exactly what HSUS money is spent on… they All thought it was going to shelters!!! Right, wrong or indifferent, HumaneWatch has at least made people pay attention to who gets their money!

  16. Suzanne Moore
    October 18, 2012 at 10:50 PM

    Rick Berman is nothing but a PR flack and Humane Watch is a phoney organization created to fight any and all animal welfare initiatives. These groups are funded by Big Ag – factory farms, etc. – to try to block animal welfare legislation not only in Congress, but in local legislatures as well.

    You wouldn’t BELIEVE some of the things that have been passed or at least brought up in local legislatures. The so-called “Ag Gag” laws that want to outlaw photographing instances of animal cruelty on personal property even it if’s in plain sight and you are standing on a public sidewalk or street. Then there is the legislator – can’t remember the state – who submitted a bill to change the classification of dogs from “companion animals” to “livestock!” I couldn’t make this up! This is just a smattering of the whacky “war on animals” that would weaken or even destroy animal cruelty regulations.

    And of course every bit of anti-horse slaughter legislation is ALWAYS DOA thanks to Big Ag funded lobbyists. The HSUS is the ONLY entity lobbying FOR horses.

    Rick Berman is a piece of work. 60 Minutes once called him “evil.” Personally, I agree.

  17. Avacado
    July 14, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Well I’m glad you’re at least trying to find the truth, unlike the 1/2 million people who liked HumaneWatch’s FB page, but really, all it takes is a quick search to find out how phoney HumaneWatch is. They’re founded by someone who is basically a criminal, and they’re only goal is to protect big corporations. Google is your friend people!

  1. April 18, 2011 at 10:57 PM
  2. April 25, 2011 at 8:30 AM

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