The Humane Society of the United States and Pet Shelter Giving

Penny Shavings ImageBackground: Despite the words “humane society” in its name, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) isn’t affiliated with any community-based humane societies or other pet shelters. HSUS doesn’t run a single pet shelter, nor does it serve as a national headquarters for humane societies that serve cities, towns, counties or states.

Most Americans are not aware of these facts. According to national polling, 71 percent of Americans think HSUS is a pet shelter “umbrella” group. Also, 59 percent think HSUS contributes most of its money to local organizations that care for dogs and cats. Neither of these is true.

The Facts: The Humane Society of the United States actively perpetuates this name confusion. An enormous majority of the animals in HSUS’s seemingly ubiquitous commercials—nearly all of them, really—are cats and dogs. This leaves many Americans with the false impression that HSUS is affiliated with the humane societies in their communities, and implies that their “$19 per month” (the commercials’ typical request) will provide care for animals near where they live.

In fact, very little money given to the Humane Society of the United States will ever reach a pet shelter. According to HSUS’s 2008 tax returnless than half of one percent (0.5%) of HSUS budget consisted of grants to hands-on pet shelters. And in 2009, again according to HSUS’s the tax returns, less than one percent of HSUS’s budget (0.8%, to be exact) consisted of grants to shelters.

Despite its annual budget of more than $100 million, the Humane Society of the United States doesn’t actually provide much hands-on care to pets. HSUS and its affiliated groups have more than $191 million in assets, $160 million of which HSUS itself holds. And HSUS has put away millions in an executive pension plan—more than $16 million since 1998. During the same period, HSUS shared less money with pet shelters.

The Humane Society of the United States generally responds to this criticism by saying that it focuses on the larger, systematic issues affecting animal welfare. It does, but not in the way you might think. HSUS spends millions on lobbying, including costly ballot initiatives that target family farmers. HSUS’s national agenda is fundamentally focused on furthering an animal “rights” philosophy.

The Bottom Line: The Humane Society of the United States is not what it seems. HSUS is focused on winning “rights” for animals—not helping the pets depicted in its TV ads. Americans who want their contributions to impact pet shelters should give locally.

Further Reading