Sixteen months into our HumaneWatch.org project, our work has produced yet another shockwave. Yesterday the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times reacted to two ads we placed in the paper recently: the first on Memorial Day weekend and the second the following week. The nation’s fourth-largest paper began by recognizing that our ads tell a shocking truth:
One of the current ads features a photo of dogs looking wide-eyed in shock under the caption "SURPRISED to hear the Humane Society of the United States shares only 1 percent of your donations with local pet shelters?" The ad goes on to state that the Humane Society "is NOT your local animal shelter.
The ad is true on both counts.
We’re thankful that the Times confirmed our central message to its hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million readers. The Times, though, somehow ends up chiding us:
The Humane Society has never claimed that its mission is to fund local animal shelters … While some people may mistakenly believe that the Humane Society of the United States does the same job local humane societies do, it should not surprise anyone who has looked at the organization's website that only a small percentage of its money goes to local shelters.
The Times is mistaken here. Public misconception about HSUS is a bigger problem than the words “some people” suggest. According to national polling conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, 71 percent of Americans mistakenly think HSUS is a pet-shelter “umbrella group.” And 59 percent wrongly believe HSUS gives “most of its money to local organizations that care for dogs and cats.” Neither is true.
There’s a Grand Canyon-sized gap between what HSUS does (promote a PETA-like animal rights agenda) and what the public thinks HSUS does. And HSUS continues to rake in the donations based on that mistaken identity.
Perception, ultimately, is reality. Although HSUS never explicitly claims to support hands-on pet shelters, it does go out of its way to perpetuate the myth that its primary focus is helping homeless dogs and cats. More than 90 percent of the animals appearing in a recent HSUS ad are cats and dogs, for example. And visitors to HSUS’s website are inundated with pictures of pets. If donors are confused by this massive spin campaign, it’s certainly not their fault.
The Times ends by admonishing us not to “drag shelter pets into the fight.” We agree here, at least in principle. But once again the perpetrator is HSUS—not us. Unlike the more infamous PETA, which flaunts an animal-rights bias with scantily clad women, HSUS hides its carbon-copy agenda behind carefully chosen images of puppies and kittens.
Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times editorial is successful, at least, in cluing more Americans in to the fact that HSUS is not a pet shelter group. The more people understand this, the more eager they will be to send their money where it will do the most good—to local organizations that actually care for pets like those in HSUS’s television fundraising ads.