Animal charities want your money

Help with making informed choices


As holiday season draws closer, charities prepare for the end-of-the year push to fatten their coffers with tax deductible donations. Animal charities join the rush; they send packets offering greeting cards and other merchandise accompanied by letters and photos highlighting unspeakable cruelties that can be corrected only by donating to their organization. The pictures sway the hearts and minds, but dog owners need more than images to help determine where their charity dollars are best spent.

Animal charities run the gamut from animal welfare to animal rights, and they all want a share of the dog owner's holiday budget. They include ...

When dog owners donate to a charity devoted to improving the lives of dogs, they do so because they love their pets, not because they want their dollars channeled into a fund-raising loop or used to finance political or social agendas. So, how to choose?

Several charity watchdog groups help donors wend their way through the maze before writing a check.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus Philanthropic Advisory Service and the National Charities Information Bureau combined forces at www.give.org, a charity overseer that rates most national and many local organizations that solicit donations.

Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) rates the financial health of more than 2000 charities and provides comparisons to other charities in the same category.

Guidestar (www.guidestar.org) also examines charities and makes bare-bones reports available online to those who sign up for its free service. In-depth reports are available for a fee.

The American Institute of Philanthropy publishes a charity guide that can be purchased through www.charitywatch.org, and the Federal Trade Commission provides tips for donors (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/telemarketing/tel01.shtm) and handles complaints about charities.

Even if a particular animal charity is not rated by one of these groups, the PAS, AIP and FTC guidelines can help dog owners make an informed choice of where to donate.

In addition to the charity watchdog groups, the Center for Consumer Freedom, a food industry public relations coalition, researches animal rights groups and publishes reports of their findings at www.consumerfreedom.com and www.activistcash.com. Consumer Freedom analyzes animal rights organizations and criticizes their fundraising tactics, policies, and social and political agendas.

National groups

Many national groups espouse animal rights. Some describe themselves as animal protection groups, so potential donors who cherish their pets and understand that animal ownership is a personal choice and legal right should look at the total mission of an organization when making decisions. The language used to describe the mission and programs and the organization position on various animal legislation are good clues. For example, if the terms "guardian," "cruelty," and "puppy mill" occur frequently in organization materials or the association opposes animal-based biomedical research, animal acts in circuses, eating meat or other animal products, wearing leather or fur, hunting, breeding dogs and cats, owning exotic animals, etc., the group is animal rights, not animal welfare.

On the other hand, if the organization promotes reasonable use of animals, supports measures that provide for animal welfare without interfering in responsible use, and actually does hands-on work with animals that need medical care or new homes, it's more likely that donations will be used directly for animal welfare, not as a means of achieving a political end.

The Humane Society of the US, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are among the national animal charities begging for dollars at end of each year.

HSUS

Although they make effective use of puppies and dogs in their solicitations and base some of their appeals on "pet overpopulation," HSUS has no dog shelters and is not connected to local shelters that bear the words "humane society" in their names. The closest they come is to offer a consulting service to shelters for a fee up to $20,000, depending on the size of the facility.

In its 2004 merger with the Fund for Animals, HSUS gained affiliation with two wildlife centers, a rabbit sanctuary, and Black Beauty Ranch, a rescue facility in Texas that takes in hoofed animals and primates. These facilities do not rescue dogs.

A master at creating conflict that touches people's hearts and capitalizes on the love Americans have for their pets, HSUS raises money on every issue that upsets animal owners, from the rescue of dogs in natural disasters to the arrest of people involved in dog fighting. As a result, HSUS income in 2005 was more than $124 million, and HSUS had net assets of more than $200 million that year. The organization raised more than $30 million in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Following complaints about this fundraising campaign, the Louisiana Attorney General opened an investigation to find out where the money went.(1)

In July 2007, HSUS mounted an aggressive fundraising campaign to "help the Humane Society of the United States care for the dogs seized in the Michael Vick case." The plea pledged "Your gift will be put to use right away to care for these dogs ..." The organization published frequent updates on the case, always accompanied by a plea for dollars. However, the dogs were in federal custody; HSUS did not have possession and was not financially responsible for their care.(2)

Furthermore, after raising the money, HSUS recommended that the 53 Vick dogs be euthanized, but canine behavior experts recommended by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at the request of the US Department of Agriculture determined that all but one of the dogs could be rehabilitated because they were not aggressive to humans. The evaluator appointed by the federal court agreed with ASPCA experts; only two of the dogs were euthanized, one for illness and one for aggression.(3)

HSUS is also in the forefront of attacks on so-called 'puppy mills,' but it fails to differentiate between poorly run kennels with sick dogs and kennels with good conditions and healthy dogs. This strategy benefits HSUS in three ways: it increases donations, raises the organization's profile with lawmakers who enact and enforce kennel regulations, and diminishes scrutiny of the organization's unauthorized undercover operations that are used to tarnish dog breeders and retailers. These agenda-driven investigations bypass due process for those accused of running bad kennels or retail stores by going directly to the public and circumvent the chain of evidence required of official investigations by law enforcement agencies.

ASPCA

Unlike HSUS, the ASPCA has a local constituency as well as a national presence. The ASPCA runs a shelter and a veterinary clinic in New York City; is directly involved in Greyhound rescue through the National Greyhound Association; and manages the Animal Poison Control Center at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. The ASPCA shelter aid program is titled Mission Orange; unlike HSUS, it gives grant money to help shelters upgrade their programs instead of charging money to consult with local officials.

This group is a puzzle. While many of its position statements place it squarely in the animal welfare camp, they join animal rights advocates in opposing animal acts in circuses and other venues, dissection in classrooms, hunting, and in supporting replacement of animal "owner" with animal "guardian."

The ASPCA did not join the frenzy to raise money for the care of the dogs confiscated from Michael Vick's property. Instead, the group helped evaluate the dogs at the request of the US Department of Agriculture and recommended that all but one was a candidate for rehabilitation.

PeTA

This extreme animal rights organization opposes all human interaction with animals: pets, biomedical research, hunting, fishing, meat, fibers, sports, zoos, circuses, etc. And PeTA is not above using the media and blatant ad campaigns to achieve its goals. Its latest campaign uses emotional blackmail to convince potential pet owners that buying a purebred puppy from a breeder results in the death of a dog in a shelter.

According to founder Ingrid Newkirk, "We are complete press sluts."(4)

PeTA does operate an animal shelter but has been criticized for its high euthanasia rate. In 2005, two PeTA employees were accused of cruelty and unauthorized use of euthanasia drugs for collecting animals under the pretense of finding them new homes and then killing them and dumping their bodies in a trash dumpster. They were ultimately exonerated of the cruelty charges by a jury, but were convicted of littering. (5)

Following the cruelty trial, the federal government opened an investigation of PeTA's use of euthansia drugs, which are federally-controlled substances. PeTA is also under scrutiny for possible violations of its tax exempt status for its support of violent groups such as the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. More than one spokesmen for the organization has advocated violence as the solution for achieving animal rights' goals(6) which include the abolition of pet ownership.(7) PeTA opposes dog breeding and the use of service dogs.(8)

Perusal of PeTA's tax returns shows that the organization contributed thousands of dollars to a convicted arsonist who now teaches activists how to make incendiary devices with $2 worth of materials.(9) PeTA founder Ingrid Newkirk called this criminal "a fine young man."(9)

Other national groups

Animal charities also include organizations that fund health studies and those that raise and train dogs for work as helpers to handicapped owners. The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Paws With a Cause, and Canine Companions for Independence are in these categories.

Most national breed clubs have health committees and rescue committees that can use funds for medical studies or for housing dogs until they can be placed in new homes. The American Kennel Club website (www.akc.org) has a list of national clubs with contact information for those who would like to support efforts to rescue purebred dogs.

Local groups

Most local animal charities are not listed in an online service, a lack that has no meaning. The listings are a convenience and an aid, not a judgment. Potential donors can get the information they need by requesting the latest IRS forms and asking questions about top salaries, fundraising practices (do they use a fundraising service or do volunteers do the work), make-up of the board of directors, etc. They can also contact the local Better Business Bureau and the charities division of the state attorney general's office when investigating an organization to receive donations.

The biggest advantage of donating locally is that dog owners can visit facilities to see how shelters are operated, talk about wish lists and funding needs, and even volunteer to make sure the organization's practices carry out the stated policies.

Emotional appeals

Many charities depend on emotional appeals to loosen a donor's grip on his checkbook. PAS advises donors to "Beware of appeals that bring tears to your eyes but tell you nothing of the charity or what it's doing about the problem it describes so well."

Charities also present their cases in a manner most likely to get donations, so donors should be aware that some appeals may not be based on the latest facts available. For example, some animal charities decry pet overpopulation, claiming that 12 or even 18 or 20 million dogs and cats die in shelters each year and urging people to send money to change this deplorable situation. However, the latest figures indicate that the number of pet deaths (cats and dogs combined) in shelters is closer to four or five million and that many of those animals are euthanized at owner request or because they are too old, aggressive, or sick to be adopted. In addition, some sectors of the US are experiencing a shortage of puppies and small dogs for adoption, and some shelters are importing dogs from other parts of the country, from offshore islands, or from foreign countries to fill the demand and keep up the myth that there is an 'overpopulation' of dogs.(10)

Notes

1. On March 27, 2006, Louisiana Attorney General announced an investigation into HSUS fundraising after Hurricane Katrina. The announcement of the investigation can be found at http://www.ag.state.la.us/ViewPressRel.aspx?RelID=451. No results of the investigation were reported as of December 11, 2007.

2. The Center for Consumer Freedom captured the HSUS fundraising plea for dogs confiscated in Vick dogfighting case before HSUS changed the wording. The screen capture can be seen at http://www.consumerfreedom.com/images/hsus_clip.png

3. Vick dogs recommended for placement, by The Associated Press, December 5, 2007; http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribunereview/sports/s_541216.html

4. Quoted in The New Yorker, April 14,20035.

5. "PETA possibly involved with dead dogs" by Cal Bryant, Roanoke-Chowan News Herald, June 16, 2005; "PETA workers cleared of animal cruelty," Associated Press, February 2, 2007; "DEA investigating PETA over euthanasia drug training," by Tim McGlone, The Virginian-Pilot, May 25, 2007.

6. "... I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and the banks that fund them exploded tomorrow. ... Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it." Bruce Friedrich, PeTA's director of Vegan Outreach, Animal Rights Conference, 2001. Also: "I wish we all would get up and go into the labs and take the animals out or burn them down." Ingrid Newkirk, President, PETA, National Animal Rights Convention June 27, 1997

7. "I don't use the word 'pet.' I think it's speciesist language. I prefer 'companion animal.' For one thing, we would no longer allow breeding. People could not create different breeds. There would be no pet shops. If people had companion animals in their homes, those animals would have to be refugees from the animal shelters and the streets. You would have a protective relationship with them just as you would with an orphaned child. ... eventually companion animals would be phased out, and we would return to a more symbiotic relationship - enjoyment at a distance." - The Harper's Forum Book, Jack Hitt, ed., 1989, p.223

8. "Relationships of mutual respect and benefit are truly wonderful. However, working dogs are often used as a substitute for innovative programs that intelligently address human needs. ... Optimally, human services for the disabled should be improved rather than relying on the breeding and exploitation of animals." - PeTA fact sheet on companion animals, www.peta.org. Also PeTA spokesmen on various radio talk shows.

9. Rodney Coronado, animal rights felon for the 1992 Michigan State University firebombing, speaking at the National conference on Organized Resistance, American University, Washington DC, January 26, 2003. PeTA gave the Coronado support fund more than $45,000 in 1995. Ingrid Newkirk called Coronado "a nice young man in an interview on ABC News in February 2003."

10. "Humane or insane? Importation of foreign stray animals into US shelters threatens health, sustains 'overpopulation'" by Patti L. Strand, National Animal Interest Alliance http://www.naiaonline.org/articles/archives/humane_insane.htm; "More animal shelters trade responsible conduct for media limelight by importing foreign strays for adoption" by Patti Strand, NAIA (http://www.naiatrust.org/resources/foreign_strays.htm); October 2007 letter from NAIA to the US Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention in support of regulations for dog imports (http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/proposedrulemaking-final3.pdf)

Norma Bennett Woolf

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