HSUS: Token Help for Pet Shelters?

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is not affiliated with local humane societies, but it raises money like it is one by showing misleading ads full of dogs and cats. In reality, a minor fraction of HSUS’s efforts involve pets, and HSUS only gives 1 percent of the money is raises to hands-on pet shelters.

HSUS retorts that it provides services to shelters besides grant money. Sure—at a cost. But what does HSUS do for free?

We have noticed that HSUS is involved with the Shelter Pet Project, a series of PSAs encouraging adopting from shelters—a good thing. The project is a collaborative effort between HSUS, the Ad Council, Maddie’s Fund, and a firm called Draftfcb.

But how much of the effort is the genesis of HSUS taking initiative for local humane societies? Not very much, it would seem. Here’s how the head of Maddie’s Fund described the origin of the campaign:

It started in Chicago in 2007 with Howard Draft, a founder of Draftfcb, one of the world’s largest communications agency networks. A longtime animal lover, Draft was a great supporter of PAWS Chicago, the city’s largest No Kill humane organization, and wondered how he could help the No Kill movement could go national. He was on the board of directors of the Ad Council, and it was his idea to get them involved.  It was a little unusual; they had never taken on a project that wasn’t human focused before, but the rest of the board approved it.

PAWS Chicago didn’t have a national outreach, so they thought of Maddie’s Fund, a family foundation established in 1999 to help fund the creation of a No Kill nation. The Ad Council also wanted to have an organization that worked with a greater number of shelters, and selected HSUS as a partner because they have a huge network. With our funding and their network and the Ad Council’s expertise and Draftfcb’s creative talent, it was clear we would have a great partnership.

Just to keep this straight: This wasn’t HSUS’s idea at all, and HSUS was the last one to the party. You might not guess that from the press releases that HSUS puts out.

So what exactly has HSUS done? The ads were made by Draftfcb. The Ad Council specializes in getting donated airtime for PSAs. Maddie’s Fund refers to donating “our funding”–$1.8 million over 4 years, to be precise. (The Ad Council charges about $2.5-3 million for a three-year national campaign. Assuming that's the case here, is HSUS paying the remainder? We can't tell. But it still wouldn't equal what Maddie's Fund is chipping in.)

Maddie’s Fund says HSUS donated “their network,” apparently referring to HSUS’s knowledge of pet shelters. You’d think Petfinder could have helped out in a similar way. (In fact, Petfinder is the basis for the Shelter Pet Project’s website search engine.) Petfinder is certainly less controversial—there are plenty of good folks in the sheltering and rescue community who don’t have the highest opinion of HSUS.

Meanwhile, HSUS is saying things like “We launched the Shelter Pet Project with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council.” Isn’t it the other way around? They launched it, and HSUS was a bit of a “me too”?

We’ll just leave you with this quote from the late Cleveland Amory, a former HSUS board member a while back who left to found the anti-hunting Fund for Animals, where a young Wayne Pacelle cut his teeth before moving to HSUS:

I’m not an admirer of HSUS. They’ve always been primarily a direct-mail operation, and what’s known in animal rights circles as a credit-grabber.