HSUS’s Lawyers Squeeze a Dead Billionaire

It’s probably been a while since you thought about Leona Helmsley, the late hotel magnate better known as the “Queen of Mean.” But the ever-clever bean counters at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have kept Helmsley front-of-mind since her death in 2007, with the hope that they could magically make part of her multi-billion dollar estate appear on their already bloated balance sheet.

Like a bloodhound, HSUS has a keen sense of smell—especially when it picks up the scent of cash. And the $8 billion dollar estate Helmsley left mainly “for the care of dogs” has put the national animal-rights lobbying group in a state of Pavlovian salivation for the past four years.

HSUS’s legal petition for a slice of the Helmsley billions is old news. A judge has already sided with the estate’s trustees, who have elected to spend comparatively little on animal issues—and nothing on national animal rights groups. And last week a court denied a motion from HSUS, the ASPCA, and Maddie’s Fund to reopen proceedings in the case.

In reaction, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle uttered one of the most ironic sentences we’ve ever heard. “Giving just one-fiftieth of one percent of the trust’s grants to dog-related organizations is a trifling amount,” Pacelle told The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “and contrary to Leona Helmsley’s expressed intentions.”

Did you catch the irony? Apparently, Pacelle didn’t. His sound bite reads like something our HumaneWatch project would say—about his group.

Ours would go something like this: “Giving just one-half of one percent of HSUS’s budget to pet shelters is a trifling amount, and contrary to HSUS donors’ expressed intentions.”

After all, 59 percent of Americans mistakenly believe HSUS gives most of its money to groups that perform hands-on care for dogs and cats. Yet HSUS shares less than one percent of its budget with hands-on pet shelters, according to its own tax returns.

Here’s our advice to the Helmsley trustees: Give as much money as possible to small organizations that really lend a hand with dog care and adoption. The trustees’ decision to not send wheelbarrows full of cash to HSUS indicates that they’re already well-informed. After all, dogs wouldn’t benefit if a windfall wound up in a multimillion-dollar pension plan for HSUS’s six-figure executives.