Our Opponents’ Claims Ring Hollow

Whether they’re attacking the Humane Society of the United States for our work to stop factory farming, or to shut down puppy mills, misrepresenting the philosophy of staff members, or launching other attacks to distract from the cruelty we’re working to prevent, there’s one consistent theme when it comes to the deceptions from our opponents. They just can’t get their facts straight, and they don’t bother to try. Quite a few of these groups, such as HumaneWatch (the Center for Consumer Freedom), Protect the Harvest and the Calvary Group, would have no purpose if they had to tell the truth about how animals are treated in the industries they defend. 

We’re transparent about our work and have addressed a few of the claims our detractors make below. If you have a question about our work that you don’t see answered below, don’t hesitate to contact us using the contact form on this site.

Read the HSUS policy statements on specific issues »

Is the HSUS affiliated with local shelters?

No. There are an estimated 3,500 local animal shelters in the U.S., about half run by private organizations and half run by municipal government agencies. The HSUS does not run them or serve as a parent organization, nor could any group serve that purpose. Just like the National Rifle Association does not run local gun clubs, the American Farm Bureau does not run local farms, no single law enforcement agency runs all police departments, and the American Bar Association does not run state or local attorney groups. By long-standing tradition, local shelters are independent. They have their own policies, governance and operational priorities. We support local shelters in many ways, but we primarily run our own programs to care for animals in crisis and tackle systemic abuses on a national and global scale, that is, cruelties beyond the reach of local organizations and agencies. Read more about how the HSUS works together on animal issues with local shelters.

Does the HSUS spend less than 1% on helping animals?

No. While our critics try to falsely frame animal welfare work as the narrow category of just giving pass-through grants to separate organizations, our work is broad and focused on helping all animals. We have our own staff and programs, and we care for thousands of animals each year, and while also providing services and resources to train and professionalize the entire field of animal care and sheltering. We also spend resources protecting the millions of pets who never end up in a shelter—those living in poverty in the U.S., and caught up in puppy mills, dogfighting rings, and other large-scale cruelties. We and our affiliates spend 73% of our funds on program expenses, helping pets, wildlife, animals in laboratories, farm animals, marine mammals and other animals at risk in society.

Our work lifts up the entire field of animal sheltering, such as our partnership with The Ad Council and Maddie’s Fund to create The Shelter Pet Project, the first nationwide public service advertising campaign designed to encourage people to adopt their next pet from their local shelter. This multi-million dollar campaign has been been credited with encouraging thousands more people to adopt than ever before, and has changed the lives of millions of homeless pets. In one shelter director’s own words:

“There is a shelter pet project billboard two blocks from our facility and it has prompted several people to stop in and check us out. It is a cheerful, upbeat and positive “get a buddy” message. Thank you Maddie’s Fund, HSUS and Ad Council and also whoever assisted with placement, as this is the third billboard that has been within one mile of the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County, WA.” – Kathleen Olson, director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society, 2012.

In 2022, the organizations launched the next iteration of the campaign – Pets and People Together

Where are the animals in the HSUS marketing materials from?

The animals we feature in the stories about our work are from campaigns, projects, rescues and investigations in which we are involved. The dogs and cats whose stories we tell are from HSUS rescues from puppy mills, cruelty and neglect cases, dogfighting rings, and other crisis situations. We show a range of animals, including horses, wildlife, and farm animals to show the broad scope of our work to protect all animals from cruelty. On television and streaming advertisements, we also include an on-screen disclaimer to emphasize that local humane societies are independent from the HSUS.

Does the HSUS provide any direct care to animals?

Yes. The HSUS provides direct care to thousands of animals each year through our sanctuaries, programs, transports, emergency shelters and rescues. Our international affiliate sterilizes tens of thousands of street dogs each year.

Is the HSUS affiliated with other national organizations like PETA and the ASPCA?

No. Below are the organizations that the HSUS is directly affiliated with:

If you have questions about the work of other groups, we recommend visiting their websites and contacting them directly.

Does the HSUS support farmers and ranchers?

Yes. We support those farmers and ranchers who give proper care to their animals, act in accordance with the basic ethic of compassion, and practice and promote humane and environmentally sustainable agriculture. We support the Three Rs—reducing the consumption of meat and other animal-based foods; refining the diet by eating products only from animals who have been raised, transported and slaughtered in a system of humane, sustainable agriculture that does not abuse the animals; and replacing meat and other animal-based foods in the diet with plant-based foods. 

Does the HSUS support violence in the name of animals?

No. No animal protection organization has been more resolute and outspoken about condemning violence and vandalism done in the name of animal protection than the HSUS. The very foundation of our work is to protect animals from suffering and cruelty caused by human actions. Any tactic or strategy involving violence toward people undermines the core ethic we espouse. Such tactics are ethically wrong and do fundamental damage to the credibility of the humane movement. The HSUS has repeatedly and publicly criticized individuals who break the law in the name of supposedly protecting animals.

The HSUS asks people to adhere to a code of conduct in how they treat animals, and expects staff and everyone who represents the organization to adhere to a civil code of conduct ourselves. The illegal actions and use of vandalism by a few individuals in the name of protecting animals result in irreparable harm to the cause of animal protection. True animal advocates promote respect and compassion for people as well as animals.

Even Rick Berman and the Center for Consumer Freedom have retracted the false claims they made about HSUS being connected to domestic terrorists. CCF’s published correction.

Did the HSUS pay any settlements to staff that involved allegations of sexual misconduct?

We understand your concerns about this. Like many employers, when we offer payments to employees who are leaving or whose positions are eliminated, they are often accompanied by non-disclosure agreements specifically intended for positions dealing with confidential information such as donor data, which is also customary for many employers. The vast majoirty of contributions to HSUS and its affiliates are spent on programs (a ratio that is in line with other organizations in our field) and we are always looking for ways to stretch our donor’s investments in us as far as possible. We’re confident that we remain the highest impact animal charity in the world. Moreover, we are working diligently to address the culture that led to the situation while also forging ahead in our efforts to protect animals.

Why did Wayne Pacelle resign?

The HSUS hired an external workplace attorney to conduct an investigation after receiving a report of workplace misconduct by Mr. Pacelle during a meeting with an intern (who later became an employee). On Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, the board of directors met to discuss the status of the investigation that had been conducted by Morgan Lewis, the outside firm. The board voted that day to end the external investigation, have any additional investigation needed be done internally, and to keep Wayne Pacelle in office for the time being. After additional information came to light the following day, Mr. Pacelle resigned effective immediately at the insistence of the chair of the board.

Did the HSUS help Michael Vick get a dog or endorse it?

The HSUS had no say in whether Vick would be permitted to own animals; that was a court decision, beyond our influence and authority. We learned about the Vick family’s decision to get a dog in the news. We had urged Vick to rescue a shelter dog, and to give a dog a second chance, but were disappointed that he did not.

Why did the HSUS settle with Ringling Brothers (aka Feld Entertainment)?

The HSUS was dragged into a lawsuit by a corporation that had paid record fines for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The court was never going to reach the original claims made in the initial filing in 2000 of elephant abuse, and continuing to litigate would have been costly. The settlement by 12 parties in 2014 allowed the animal welfare groups to focus on their mission of protecting animals rather than be tied up in court.

The original lawsuit against Feld Entertainment, the owners of the Ringling Bros. circus, centered on claims of animal abuse. The court dismissed the suit without reaching these claims because this court would never address the core claims of elephant abuse. The HSUS was never a party in this lawsuit. The Fund for Animals was a co-plaintiff with other animal welfare groups before becoming affiliated with the HSUS in 2005.

When the circus owners counter sued the plaintiffs, they included several non-parties including the HSUS. The multi-party settlement in this case resolved the matter and specified no wrongdoing by any party.

We expect that a substantial portion, if not all, of the settlement costs to the HSUS and the Fund for Animals will be covered by insurance and that in the end, no donor dollars from the HSUS will go to Feld.

In 2015, following the settlement and after years of mistreatment, Ringling Bros. announced that it would retire its performing elephants in 2018. This is a positive outcome, on the heels of cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland banning the use of bullhooks on elephants. We’ve said all along that the public won’t tolerate the abuse of elephants with sharp bullhooks to get them to perform tricks or the constant chaining of these highly intelligent and mobile animals. 

In 2017, Ringling announced that they were closing the circus entirely. It’s clear from the announcement that the marketplace is leading the way. Further evidence is Ringling’s 2022 announcement that it will again perform in 2023, but without animals. As California, Rhode Island and a number of local communities have demonstrated, government has a complementary role to play. 

Why does the HSUS have lawyers on staff?

The HSUS is not only concerned with having laws on the books to prevent animal cruelty and abuse, but also making sure those laws are properly enforced and upheld. Our Animal Protection Law program was formed in 2005 to advocate for animals protection in the courts at the local, state and federal levels. We knew having a group of litigators dedicated to these issues could right a lot of wrongs, and once formed they hit the ground running. Since then, the program has filed more than 170 legal actions and secured over 150 favorable rulings for animals in state and federal courts around the country (a total win ration of ~85%). HSUS lawyers authored the Endangered Species Act legal petition that resulted in new federal regulations last year halting invasive research on chimpanzees in the U.S., and also hold the record for the largest judgment for animal abuse ever entered in a U.S. court—$155,000,000 against the owners of the infamous Hallmark slaughterhouse in Chino, California. 

Why did Charity Navigator issue a donor advisory on the HSUS?

We disagreed with this 2014 decision. The factually incorrect “donor advisory” concerning the HSUS has been removed, and at no point did that advisory ever have anything to do with financial metrics, governance, transparency, or the impact and effectiveness of our work to protect animals. The advisory came solely as a result of a legal settlement the HSUS and numerous other parties reached with the owner of Ringling Bros. circus. Charity Navigator’s donor advisory penalized animal welfare organizations for advancing their mission through advocacy work and for defending themselves in court against scurrilous charges. The HSUS was never even a plaintiff in the case against Ringling Bros., and we essentially worked to protect ourselves from a lawsuit launched by a company with a history of Animal Welfare Act violations and of infiltrating and fighting animal welfare groups.

For a decade, we got high marks from Charity Navigator, so it was mystifying that the charity evaluator wouldn’t have understood the threats constantly leveled against the HSUS by corporations that use and cause harm to animals.

In fact, following the settlement and after years of mistreatment, and less than a year after Charity Navigator issued its donor advisory, Ringling Bros. announced that it will retire its performing elephants in 2018, and then announced in early 2017 that they were closing their circus entirely.

Charity Navigator is wrong to criticize charities that advocate for animal protection through litigation, which plays an important role in our campaigns protecting animals. The HSUS follows strict standards of governance, transparency and accountability, and is rated the top high-impact animal protection group in the country by our peers.

Why does the HSUS have investments in the Caribbean?

Consistent with its responsibilities and its objectives as a social change organization, HSUS invests its funds wisely to get the best returns, to guarantee its ability to wage and win the biggest fights to protect animals, fights that can frequently be costly. The HSUS’s pursuit of a diverse portfolio—one that spreads risk and increases returns, and one that includes lawful investments outside of the United States—serves that purpose alone. It is common for non-profit groups to seek the financial benefits of such investments. Any attempt to cast this investment strategy as nefarious is deliberately misleading, and emanates from opponents who have the most to lose from our campaigns against puppy mills, animal fighting, fur ranching, factory farming, trophy hunting and other interests. All of the funds that the HSUS receives, and all that it invests, are marshaled and spent with the single purpose of combatting cruelty to animals wherever and whenever it occurs.

How much does the President/CEO make, and why does the HSUS spend money on salaries and benefits?

Like any responsible employer, the HSUS is committed to treating its staff fairly. We employ hundreds of hard-working and talented employees and we believe in providing them a living wage. The health care and retirement options offered to employees are in line with other non-profit organizations. There’s nothing particularly distinct or special about any of these plans. Our opponents simply don’t believe that there should be professional staff working to combat factory farming, the fur industry, puppy mills, trophy hunting and other industries and practices that cause animals to suffer. That’s really their gripe.

We also have a breakdown of finances, including salaries of individuals, on our 990 forms which are available here. Compensation for the President/CEO is set by the organization’s independent board of directors. Each director serves as a volunteer and receives no compensation. In setting the CEO’s salary, the board evaluates performance and takes into account the salaries of CEOs at non-profit organizations of comparable size and influence. In fact, the salary of our president and CEO is much lower than that of most nonprofit groups of similar size, and lower than the CEOs of the National Rifle Association, American Farm Bureau Federation and many other national groups. Our compensation philosophy is a reasonable one and we are determined to harness the best talent available, to be the most effective in fighting the big fights to to end suffering for all animals, across America and around the world.

What is is a website referenced in ads by the Center for Consumer Freedom and its project HumaneWatch. People who care about animals are becoming more and more aware of the nefarious work of Rick Berman, the Center for Consumer Freedom and its HumaneWatch project, and as with HumaneWatch, presents itself as trying to help shelters, when it is nothing more than another vehicle for Berman to attack the HSUS.

The entity is reminsicent of another project—the Humane Society for Shelter Pets—a nonprofit that Berman denied involvement with until a memo came to light showing otherwise. When it dissolved, $983,204 of the donations to the supposed nonprofit were paid directly to Berman’s PR firm. According to tax returns, no animal shelters received funds. Whether it’s the Center for Consumer Freedom, HumaneWatch or, they all have the same agenda stemming from Berman: To stop the progress the humane movement is making to help animals.

What is the HSUS’s role in a lawsuit against former employees of Project Chimps?

The HSUS was not a participant in litigation filed against former employees of Project Chimps, which is an independently run and operated chimpanzee sanctuary that HSUS has funded and supports. The lawsuit was dropped in August of 2020. Independent experts have evaluated the care of the chimpanzees and have concluded that the chimps are well cared for. For more information, please visit this page on the HSUS website.