Writing a book about dogs, starting a dog blog, becoming involved in an online dog community… It’s been a year of continuing education and revelation, including the realization of just how useful an online community can be. The flip side: As a result of connecting with other pet advocates, I learned some things I (almost) wish I didn’t know.
Yes, Nathan Winograd, I’m talking about you. The driving force behind the No-Kill shelter movement, Winograd also writes blistering exposes of abuses at the top of many major animal welfare organizations.
While they are essential reading for anyone interested in the truth and passionate about animal rights, Winograd’s reporting often leaves me upset. In particular, it’s led me to question national organizations I’d always admired, especially the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Winograd also reveals problems with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals but I never respected PETA so I was almost glad to learn there was a solid basis for my longstanding sense that they’re a bunch of hypocritical publicity whores who do the cause of animal rights more harm than good.
Do Winograd’s revelations mean that the HSUS and ASPCA are not worthy of scarce charity dollars? My personal conclusions:
- The ASPCA does more good than harm in its capacity as an educational organization, its primary function. What happens at the only shelter it runs, in NYC — the one where the problem with dogs named Oreo and Max that Winograd discusses occurred — may be high-profile but it’s also local and not a deal breaker for me. The ASPCA’s website and the many events they sponsor are extremely useful, and I would bet that the Meet Your Match programs they’ve helped create and promote have prevented many pets from being returned to shelters around the country.
- HSUS — thumbs down. Yes, they’ve done a great deal of good, especially when it comes to changing laws. But allowing Michael Vick to serve as a spokesperson sends a terrible message, that you can abuse dogs and, after a bout of faux contrition — and anyone who saw Vick on 60 Minutes can’t doubt his contrition was false — be allowed to be the face of an animal rights group. It’s bad enough that Vick was allowed to play football again. He has no place representing a group that represents animals. My other criterion for deciding that HSUS doesn’t deserve my contributions: In spite of the fact that I never joined, they send me stuff in the mail that I never asked for and don’t need.* That, to me, is a sign of waste, suggesting a large percentage of the money I send would not be spent wisely.
But there’s some good news, whatever you think of HSUS and the ASPCA. Other organizations with terms like “Humane Society” and “SPCA” in their names bear no relationship to the national HSUS or ASPCA. This is worth repeating, and loudly: The ASPCA has a single shelter in NYC, but aside from that NO OTHER SHELTERS, SANCTUARIES, OR POUNDS ARE AFFILIATED WITH THE ASPCA OR HSUS. NONE. They are all independent of each other. That’s why it’s so difficult to gather reliable statistics about how many pets are sent to shelters and killed there each year.
This means that other animal assistance organizations can be judged individually. And I urge you to do just that. Go visit the shelters and sanctuaries in your city or state. Read local reporting. Volunteer if you don’t have money.
And one thing you can do that’s extremely easy — and free: Click on The Animal Rescue Site every day. It’s a great way to support not only animals but also the worthy organizations that help them.
*Full disclosure: Right after I wrote this indictment of the HSUS, I went for a walk with Frankie wearing the fleecy gloves that I got from them in the mail.They were wonderfully comfy and people in Tucson don’t think to get out of their cars to buy gloves even though sooner or later it’s going to be chilly enough to wear them. So I feel a little guilty — but not guilty enough to send money because my emotions have been successfully manipulated.