Being Agreeable

HumaneWatch’s three-fold mission is to “watchdog” the Humane Society of the United States; keep the $100-million organization as honest as we can; and encourage public support of community-based “humane societies” and other underfunded pet shelters.

There’s good reason for this: Most Americans think the Humane Society of the United States is a pet shelter umbrella group, or that it gives most of its money to pet shelters. (And given HSUS’s pet-centered fundraising ads, why shouldn’t they?) But neither of these things is true.

Countless Americans who donate to HSUS don’t know where their money ends up. It’s appropriate—needed, really—to keep this lumbering animal-rights behemoth accountable to the largely unknowing public.

The more we dig into HSUS, the more things we find that are simply unacceptable. So it’s easy to assume that HumaneWatch “hates” HSUS, or that we disagree with the group on every animal-protection issue there is.

This is untrue. We’re animal-lovers too, but we sometimes have a very different idea of what “advocating for animals” should mean. And there are several issues on which we share common ground with HSUS.

  • Animal fighting. Whether with dogs or roosters, “sport” fighting of animals is cruel and wrong. End of story.
  • Substandard breeding. While “puppy mill” is generally a loaded term, there are dog breeders—large and small—who don’t maintain proper conditions for their animals. This is wrong. Breeding animals of all species shouldn’t want for food, water, shelter, hygiene or medical care. (Those words, however, should be defined by qualified scientific experts, not by activists who lack practical experience handling animals.)
  • Hoarding. Animal hoarding is often symptomatic of underlying psychological problems that indicate a person’s lack of fitness to own pets. (For example, the A&E show Hoardershas profiled a home with 2,000 rats.)  Animal ownership comes with the responsibility to provide proper care and a suitable environment for dogs, cats, rats, or any other animal one might choose to live with.
  • Livestock abuse. We strongly condemn farm animal abuse such as that seen in 2010 at a dairy farm in Ohio.
  • Poaching. We believe people who illegally poach wildlife, for any reason, should never be considered legitimate hunters or fishermen. Poaching is to hunting what grand theft auto is to car shopping.

We always try to avoid broad overgeneralizations. For example, we don’t accept the idea that all large-scale breeders are “puppy millers,” that producing eggs in a large building makes you a “factory farmer,” or that anyone who owns more than a few cats is a “hoarder.” Cases should be judged on their individual merits.

On other specific animal-welfare issues, we defer to science-based recommendations of organizations such as the American Humane Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association (the largest veterinary organization in the United States).

Even though we have found some areas of agreement with HSUS, we don’t expect the organization to like us, or to say anything pleasant about us. That’s only natural. Nobody likes being “watchdogged.” Our constant promotion of community-based pet shelters naturally drives fundraising dollars away from HSUS. And our belief in animal welfare ultimately diverges from HSUS’s longstanding philosophical goal of establishing rights for animals.

For example, we’re comfortable with the use of animals and animal products for food. The Humane Society of the United States is not. The ancient Romans had an expression—abusus non tollit usum—meaning “abuse doesn’t preclude proper use.” It neatly sums up our approach. We see nothing wrong with objecting to people who beat cows, while also approving of those who choose to eat steak.

When HSUS combats animal fighting and other true abuses of animals, that’s just fine with us. We’re also glad that HSUS shares some of it riches, however little, with the pet shelters many of its donors think they’re funding. And we continue to hope HSUS will improve its record in this area.

We have no illusion that HSUS will ever “go away” or stop doing whatever its leaders think it should. But we believe our voice serves to nudge the organization in a positive direction—one that accurately reflects what HSUS’s roughly 450,000 members support.