That Whole Name-Confusion Thing, Part Deux

We've written about how HSUS’s “dialing for doggy dollars” tactics have an abysmal return on investment. We believe the reason for this is that HSUS is essentially paying someone else (the telemarketers) to build its mailing list. Then HSUS can use it for more and more fundraising in the future. It can also rent the massive list out to to other groups.

It’s that idea of HSUS as a mailing-list rental house that I want to explore a bit. Some of you HumaneWatchers may know of the no-kill shelter advocate Nathan Winograd. We find his books refreshing to say the least (click here and here). We recognize that his uncompromising "no kill" campaigning has served to highlight an ideological split in the animal welfare world, so not everyone appreciates his frankness. But he does have some choice words about HSUS, both in his books and on his blog.

In December, Winograd highlighted a disturbing instance of HSUS continuing to muddy the waters about its relationship (or lack thereof) with local humane societies. The Nevada Humane Society wanted to rent HSUS’s list to do a statewide fundraiser. But to do so, the organization had to get HSUS's approval. And as Winograd writes, HSUS had certain demands:

Over the years, the Nevada Humane Society has learned that people are often confused by fundraising appeals from HSUS. Local residents think they are donating to the local humane society when they give money to HSUS. In fact, NHS has been told by local residents that they have already donated to them, when in fact they gave to HSUS. This confusion goes beyond fundraising: NHS was publicly criticized for “embracing Michael Vick”—which they did not—because people thought HSUS (“the humane society”) was NHS. They submitted their proposed mailing for HSUS approval which included the statement that:

Nevada Humane Society is a nonprofit organization. We rely upon donations to make our lifesaving work possible. We do not receive funding from national groups or the government. Your contribution is tax-deductible. Please return this reply slip in the enclosed envelope to Nevada Humane Society. Thank you.

After doing so, HSUS denied the request, stating that unless NHS “remove[d] ‘national groups’ from this copy,” they could not use the list. In other words, HSUS did not want NHS informing these individuals that when they give to groups like HSUS, they are not giving money to local lifesaving efforts.

That's not all. HSUS also made it clear that in order to use its list the Nevada Humane Society would have to agree to not include such a distinguishing disclaimer in any future mailings—even those that didn't make use of HSUS's mailing list. (Presumably NHS would have had to change its website FAQ, too. Talk about ridiculous.)

We think it’s fair to say that HSUS is intentionally deceiving members of the public about its relationship with local humane societies. And why not, from HSUS’s point of view? Sixty three percent of Americans think that HSUS is affiliated with their local humane society or pet shelter and fifty nine percent think that HSUS “contributes most of its money to local organizations that care for dogs and cats.”

Neither is true. But to disabuse Americans of these notions—as the fine print in the Nevada Humane Society’s appeal threatened to do (on a very minor scale)—would hurt HSUS’s bottom line. HSUS's reaction shows how far the group will go to avoid letting the truth become conventional wisdom. Which makes it all the more important that we spread it far and wide.

Wayne Pacelle can claim “we’ve never said we run animal shelters” until he’s blue in the face. “Never saying” doesn’t have much meaning if your group is actively squelching the truth from becoming more widely known. (And no, putting a disclaimer on the far reaches of your website doesn't make things all better. At least not in my opinion.)

Given that HSUS doesn’t appear to want to clarify for the public, maybe the Nevada Humane Society can do what other local humane societies are doing, and change its name. The “Nevada Pet Care Center” has a nice ring to it. Since HSUS doesn't run any pet-care facilities, we seriously doubt any Nevadans would be confused.