Friday, August 13, 2010

Bewildering Love Triangle

This bewildering competition, HSUS vs. HumaneWatch and the common love interest, animal lovers, has me totally flabergasted. Of course there are more players, including the agriculture people, the PETA people, the hobby breeder people and I'm sure the list goes on and on. Here is my understanding.

You have the HSUS. A LARGE national animal advocacy group (companion and wild). They make a LOT of money in donations each year, hundreds of millions. Some of that money (NOT MUCH) is contributed DIRECTLY to shelter animals in need (maybe 1%). A larger (but still NOT MUCH) percentage (maybe 2%) is spent on employee salaries. The rest of the money appears to go INDIRECTLY to the animals through campaigns, advertising, litigation, legislation, lobbys, etc... To me this is the most beneficial use for the money, because I think it is better to fix the problem then to continue to save the animals that result from the problem. However, the HSUS may not be completely straight forward in fund raising efforts that the money is not going DIRECTLY to that particular otter shown in the video clip. An even larger problems is that there are MANY who suspect (I still haven't discovered the source for this suspicion, adds to the flabergastedness) that HSUS is just another PETA... an animals RIGHTS organization rather than an animal WELFARE organization, with the ultimate goal for humans to lose all rights to animals (no more pets, no more meat, etc...). As I mentioned, I just haven't seen any proof of this myself as ALL of the efforts I've seen from the HSUS appear to be in WELFARE.

Next up you have HumaneWatch, an organization of what I can only assume to be the agriculture lobby (but also somewhat deceitful in that they don't come out and say that), that is WATCHING the HSUS with a critical eye and promoting the idea that the HSUS is an animal RIGHTS organization. Today to support that argument, they cited articles on topics such as Ohio legislation which requires NEW farms to provide space for livestock to TURN AROUND (HSUS was involved in the creation of the legislation). That doesn't sound like the end of meat as a food group, but rather a SMALL implementation of BASIC animal welfare. They cited an article in which a judge (at the HSUS's urging) denied hunters the right to hunt a particular kind of wolf in a few states...a wolf that just a few short years ago was endangered and specifically populated for regrowth of the species. Again, it sounds reasonable to postpone hunting for a few years so that when hunting does start up again, there are still sufficient numbers of wolves to keep the species from going extinct. THis group does point out the FLAWS of the HSUS on occasion as well... pointing at complicated number figures that the reader can't understand but the HumaneWatch guarentees to be "unethical", pointing out the difference between the HSUS and local humane society's and blaming the HSUS for any confusion between the two, condemning their use of funds for lobbying efforts rather than individual animal care, etc...

Obviously you can tell what side I'm on. I haven't seen any proof that the HSUS is an evil organization that wants to take away my rights to own dogs. All I have ever seen the HSUS do is promote cases and legislation that are focused on animal welfare, not animal rights. Is it possible they have a secret motivation for animal rights? Absolutely it is possible, but in the mean time they are staying focused and raising societal awareness on issues of animal welfare. For that mean time, I'm totally on board (and they have a LONG way to go before we will lose our rights to own dogs). So it sounds like I am pretty straight on my opinion, right? But, this is where we get into the third part of our triangle... the animal lover.

I know many people from our dog show world who I respect a GREAT deal who are on the HumaneWatch bandwagon. I think they are pretty smart people and I know they love their animals. So what gives, where is the discrepency? What do they see that I don't? The answer is that I don't know and it is somewhat of a taboo, politics, religion and the HSUS... so I am not likely to find out anytime soon.

Many of them are reputable breeders (not puppy millers), and often the HSUS promotes legislation with puppy mill focus that could end up effecting hobby breeders (although usually hobby breeders are so small compared to puppy mills the legislation overlooks them, so I think it is a fear of the regulation concept). Yet, these are people who are very anti-puppy mill. So what are our good, ethical breeders willing to give up to put a stop to puppy mills? That is a different topic for a different day, but I know they are willing to make some sacrifices. Anyways, I would still love to relaly understand what draws these people to HumaneWatch, and when I find out, I will blog it.

But it still begs the question... why do some animal lovers choose HumaneWatch and some choose HSUS? Are people being scared into assumptions promoted by ag lobbiests and HumaneWatch? Afraid of losing their right to own a pet? Afraid of losing the right to eat meat? Afraid of losing the right to breed? On the other side, are they being conned into donating by the HSUS in a belief that the HSUS represents something it really does not?

And I think the problem ultimately arises when you have two extreme groups. You have the HSUS which promotes welfare (I'm going to say welfare because I haven't seen evidence otherwise) at the cost of American's rights to make decisions about their own property (legally animals in America are property), at the cost of increased prices and economic effects. You have the HumaneWatch (lovingly referred to as the ag lobby) who don't want their property rights taken away for any reasons, particularly the reason of animal welfare (or perhaps animal rights disguised as animal welfare).

I'm starting to discover a life lesson perhaps: extremes are never good. Should animal's welfare suffer at times to promote a better economy and American health? It breaks my heart to say so, but perhaps it should. There is ALWAYS a bigger picture to consider. Most likely if the American economy and health is in a better state, American's animals will be as well. Things tend to work that way. Should American farmers operate under a basic legislated standard of care so that animals are guarenteed minimum welfare goals? Probably, being able to stand up and turn around doesn't seem like much to ask for. I think it is often the goals of extreme organizations to lead their followers into believing that there is no middle ground. But there is always middle ground, room for compromise, room for give and take.

So that is the rant of the day. I really need a job!


  1. Kelli, Thank you for a thoughtful post about the HSUS and HumaneWatch. It looks like you've examined the evidence on both sides and come to conclusions based on what you've seen, not some disaster scenario that might or might not take place and some dastardly plot the HSUS might or might not have.

    I am a donor to both my local shelter and the HSUS. Here is my perspective. Both are desperately needed. We know there is a huge overpopulation of companion animals, especially cats. We know there are puppy mills that churn out excess dogs with no thought to where they might end up. The local shelters deal with the daily issues of animal care and control in their communities. And this is a very tall order. They simply don't have time to attack the larger issues.

    That's where the HSUS comes in. They concentrate on the root causes of animal cruelty such as shutting down puppy mills and busting up animal fighting operations. But they don't just concentrate on dogs and cats. They are there for ALL animals, including wildlife and farm animals. On wildlife, their major campaigns are stopping the exotic pet trade (who needs to own a tiger or chimpanzee?), and ending the worst abuses of hunting such as poaching, canned hunting, and hunting endangered species. On farming, their major campaign is to end the intense confinement of egg-laying hens, pregnant pigs, and veal calves on our nation's factory farms. Note, the goal is NOT to end meat eating or farming. It is to get large factory farms to treat their animals better.

    I don’t get why anyone who loves animals would follow HumaneWatch either. But many do, even small dog breeders, small farmers, and veterinarians. Yet NONE of these people would be affected by anything the HSUS does. All I can think is that they actually believe the HumaneWatch rhetoric about the HSUS. HumaneWatch does its best to paint the HSUS as a radical animal rights organization, which it’s not. They want people to think the HSUS is trying to outlaw pet owning and meat eating. These things are just not true. Most of the HSUS staff has pets, and they even bring dogs into the office. They have a page on how to find a good dog breeder on their website. Some of them even (gasp!) eat meat.

    So my next question is, why does HumaneWatch try to paint the HSUS as a much bigger threat than it really is? The answer is in who funds them. HumaneWatch is operated by a corporate funded lobby group called the Center for Consumer Freedom. CCF is paid by tobacco, alcohol, restaurant, and big agribusiness companies to attack public interest groups that pose a threat to their profits. Other targets of CCF attacks have included Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Centers for Disease Control. CCF sets up fake websites to argue that pregnant women won’t be harmed by eating mercury-laden fish, that trans fats are good for you, that you can spend all the time you want in tanning beds with no risk of cancer, etc. The CCF is now attacking the HSUS because its factory farming campaign threatens the profits of companies like Tyson, Monsanto, and Cargill.

    There’s lots of information about the CCF on the web. Here are just a few sources:
    Berman Exposed - –

    Rick Berman Attacks the Humane Society - PR Watch

    Center for Consumer Freedom - SourceWatch

    Who is HumaneWatch?

    Investigation of Berman, CCF -'dr._evil'_makes_a_fine_living_attacking_charities/

    I hope these thoughts help. I do support my local shelter with a lot of time and money. But I also hope the HSUS succeeds in its campaigns for better treatment of all animals, including those we use for food.

  2. Hi Kelli - Thanks for giving this issue such careful consideration. Our organization's programs and campaigns are solidly oriented toward animal welfare; you can view our official statements of policy here - If you're still not sure what to believe, I'd recommend subscribing to our CEO's blog ( for a few weeks to get a better flavor of our work, then draw your own conclusions. I don't think you'll find any surprises.

    You mentioned your colleagues in the dog show world, and I'm guessing their views have more in common with the HSUS than you'd expect. All of us care about dogs and want to see them well provided for. You might be interested in an interview that was conducted a few years back with the staffperson who directs our puppy mill campaign - She's a very down-to-earth person who recognizes that responsible dog breeders are one of our best allies in the fight against puppy mills.

    On the topic of compromise, it's worth noting that the recent agreement reached in Ohio between HSUS and the Farm Bureau was the result of good faith negotiations by both sides. Each side made concessions, but at the end of the day, important gains for farm animal welfare were achieved while avoiding a costly and acrimonious ballot initiative. Hopefully this type of outcome can lay the groundwork for more, not less, civil and productive debate.