The wildfire that gutted Lahaina has claimed many human and animal lives. In a tragic new story, parents found their 14-year-old son’s body. He had died while hugging his dog.
Unfortunately, as with any disaster, there are those who seek to exploit emotions to raise money.
Today and yesterday we saw a fundraising ad for the ASPCA on Facebook. The ad claimed the ASPCA is “on the ground in Hawaii assisting with animal search and rescue efforts” and “searching for displaced animals.”
There’s one key detail missing from the ad: Animal rescuers are not currently in the burn zone at all. So how exactly is the ASPCA “searching for displaced animals”?
According to news reports, there’s only one paved road in and out of Lahaina. The town is on the northwestern part of Maui and essentially partitioned off from the rest of the island by a mountain and forest preserve.
Meanwhile, Hawaii’s emergency management agency has blocked all animal rescuers from operating in the contained disaster zone. These rescuers are now going to the media, pleading to be let into the disaster area. Hawaiian government leaders have said they have not seen any stray animals in the area, but rescuers have argued that cats, for example, hide and come out at night when they are under duress in a situation like this. (And they’re right.) But the government’s priority at the moment is apparently to keep people out of the area and prioritize recovering humans.
So how exactly is the ASPCA “searching for displaced animals”? Where, exactly? In the eastern part of Maui, where there is no fire?
In fact, one person called out the ASPCA on a different Facebook post, which caused the ASPCA to reveal that it’s not actually in the burn zone. “At this time we unfortunately are not authorized to access the burn area to conduct animal search and rescue,” the ASPCA admitted in the comment section.
So why is the ASPCA still running fundraising ads that claim the opposite, asserting that “The ASPCA is on the ground in Hawaii assisting with animal search and rescue efforts”? The ASPCA has also closed comments on the aforementioned Facebook thread; is it afraid of more tough questions?
Certainly, we hope the incident command allows animal rescuers access of some kind to help save as many pets as they can at this point. But it’s also outrageous that the ASPCA, which raised $300 million in 2021 and pays its CEO Matt Bershadker nearly $1 million, is using this tragedy to raise money when it isn’t even in the disaster zone.
As one animal rescuer told an animal news website:
As to the ASPCA fundraising appeals, [animal disaster responder Mike] Merrill told ANIMALS 24-7, “We saw that after the Kentucky tornado. They [the big organizations] all came in for one day, pulled a few dogs, and left, then did ad campaigns for the next two months. Same thing in Ukraine,” where Merrill was involved in animal rescue operations for ten days after the February 2022 Russian invasion.
“The big organizations raised a ton, and the small boots on the ground groups struggled,” Merrill finished.
Certainly, there is a history of animal groups raising money after a disaster and pocketing much of it. We hope the Hawaii attorney general will require the ASPCA to report how much money it raised in the name of the fire and how much money was actually spent helping in Hawaii.
If you’d like to help local rescuers–who will be helping pets in Hawaii long after the ASPCA flies back to New York–consider donating to the Maui Humane Society.