A Tale of Lists and E-mails

With corporate supporters of HSUS dropping like flies, it's natural that companies are beginning to be wary of any perceived connection to the super-rich animal rights group. Take the case of "Doctors Foster & Smith," a Wisconsin pet supply company.

The saga started on Tuesday, when a dog breeder sent us the following e-mail:

I made a chilling discovery last night. Drs. Foster & Smith, the company in Wisconsin where I buy some of my pet medications and other supplies (they are like PetEdge or JB Wholesale and carry everything from crates to cat toys) is either selling or giving their customer lists to H$U$.

How do I know this?

Because for  the first time ever, I got a solicitation envelope from H$U$ in the post yesterday. Complete with the same bizarre misspelling of my own name, combined with my Dad's first name in place of my last name, that only Foster and Smith have ever done. I contacted F&S by email last night and still have heard nothing in response. I told them that I knew they were the ones who sold or gave away my name to H$U$, what I thought of H$U$ and why (and provided my website URL as a source of links to research information) as well as some more links, then asked them do do their homework and get back to me with their answers.

At the time, we were skeptical.

Here's what we wrote back to her:

I think it’s highly likely that the company sells its mailing list to a broker, and HSUS then rents the list from them. It’s very common in this day and age. So I’d guess that Drs. Foster & Smith probably have no idea who rents their lists, only that they get a commission any time someone does. You can always “opt out” by asking a company not to sell or otherwise share your personal information.

Case closed? Well, if you follow the HumaneWatch page on Facebook, you know that information gets quickly shared, passed around, verified, triple-checked, and so on. And you know that the companies involved in these sagas also read what we're saying. So it wasn't surprising when Drs. Foster & Smith started e-mailing lots of you on Thursday morning with the following denial (emphasis added):

We apologize for the recent concerns raised regarding the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) and questions raised concerning one of their recent mailings.  The statement we released earlier explains that HSUS does not have a list of Drs. Foster and Smith customers and never has. Neither was your name included in any third part [sic] list rental.

Additionally, Drs. Foster and Smith does not finance political organizations and to be specific, have not financially supported HSUS or any other organization of perhaps a different persuasion than HSUS.

To view the complete release, please click on the following link: http://www.drsfostersmith.com/general.cfm?gid=1075

Yeah, we know. The link is dead. And if you visit their "press room" web page, there's nothing there about this issue. But still, we figured that this denial was pretty airtight.

And then we heard from Danielle. She got the Thursday morning e-mail, but she also got a different one on Wednesday at 6:10pm. She shared the complete message with us, including the headers that show where it came from. She also notes that the e-mail had "my LEGAL name on it–the one I don't give out, the one on my credit cards." This is the real deal (again, emphasis added):

We appreciate your past loyalty and we would never intentionally do anything that would betray that trust.  As is common in the catalog industry we share names with companies, and we have shared a small number of names with the HSUS.  We do understand your concern and appreciate your opinion.  We will reconsider our position regarding the HSUS going forward. 

If we can be of additional assistance, please contact our Internet Customer Service Department at 1-800-381-7179, via email or on our Live Help link. Live Help is available 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. CST Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. CST weekends.

So what's the deal? We're not suggesting that anyone light their torches and sharpen their pitchfork tines, but talking out of both sides of your mouth doesn't make for good customer service. It's the kind of behavior we expect to see out of an animal rights group.

As always, our e-mail box is open.