By Janice Brown
In early December, I received an email introducing the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, a new non-profit animal welfare organization. The press release stated: “In these difficult economic times, pet shelters are feeling the shortfall in charitable giving. Many shelters already operate on tight budgets to provide needed hands-on care and don’t have the time or money to spread a ‘give local’ message. So we’ve established a national advocate to do just that.” As TAILS was founded with a goal to support local rescue and adoption, I initially agreed with their sentiment wholeheartedly.
However, as I read on, I quickly realized this “feel good” message was covering up another, much larger agenda—to attack the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
But I was confused. Why attack the HSUS? There are many national organizations working on behalf of the animals to address issues regarding legal policies, humane treatment, emergency rescue, and much more. Most of them do not duplicate the important efforts of local shelters by design.
We Need National Animal Welfare Groups
These non-profits’ large footprints and healthy budgets make them ideal groups to focus on the bigger issues—which often means taking on industries that spend enormous amounts of money lobbying to force their agribusiness agendas through. While these non-profits may not be facilitating adoptions on a daily basis, their hard work greatly impacts the state of animal welfare.
Later in the month, I received another press release from the HSSP, touting full-page ads they took out in USA Today, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times. The goal of the ads was to let the public know that according to them, in 2010, the HSUS gave only 1 percent of their donation revenue to local shelters.
In the past I had received similarly negative attacks on the HSUS from a group called the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). In a release from August of 2010, for example, the CCF disputed the HSUS claim that, “expensive ‘cage-free’ egg production lowers the public-health risk from Salmonella.”
After a little digging, I discovered the CCF was initially created by Richard Berman, owner of the Berman and Company PR firm, with $600,000 from Philip Morris. The company pledged the funds to fight restrictions on cigarette smoking. So it didn’t shock me to see the address on the Humane Society for Shelter Pets press release—1090 Vermont Ave NW, Washington, DC—was the same address as Berman and Company, also home of the CCF. One of the HSSP’s biggest complaints is the “humane confusion” that exists. Their website states: “Despite the words ‘humane society’ in its name, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is not formally affiliated with any humane societies that operate at a city, county or regional level.” This from a group that also has “humane society” in its name, but does not run a shelter, either?
I do understand it can be easy to infer that local humane societies are somehow connected to the HSUS, or that a local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals is connected to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. However, these organizations proudly share the depth of their reach in the animal welfare arena beyond shelter pets. And if the HSUS and other national animal welfare groups funneled all of their money to local shelters, who would be in Washington, DC lobbying for stronger animal abuse laws? Who would show up in places like Joplin and New Orleans after natural disasters strike? Who would be looking out for the rights of horses, seals, chimps, and other animals?
Don’t be Fooled
To me, the HSSP is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I could not agree more that we need to “help shelter pets by donating locally …” as the ads state. But their message does not end there. The full plea says, “Please help shelter pets by donating locally, not to the HSUS.” Why?
People routinely donate money to many different charities, because each one takes on a unique role in being part of the solution. If you are passionate about fighting breast cancer, for example, you may give to one organization focusing on research, another that pays for wigs during chemo, and one that organizes local charity walks. They all fall under the breast cancer umbrella, and all are critical. If people are fooled, buy into what the HSSP is saying, and decide to stop donating to a national animal welfare organization based on a few ads containing limited and confusing information—the state of animal welfare will be negatively impacted.
Searching for a Motive
A quick Google search of Richard Berman pulls up a plethora of articles that may make your stomach churn. SourceWatch.org cites a 1999 interview with Chain Leader, a trade publication for restaurant chains (no longer published), where Berman himself admits his tactics are harsh: “‘In effect, our work is restricted to and focused on issues that affect shareholder value. We always have a knife in our teeth,’ he said. Since activists ‘drive consumer behavior on meat, alcohol, fat, sugar, tobacco and caffeine,’ his strategy is ‘to shoot the messenger … We’ve got to attack their credibility as spokespersons.’”
Berman’s industry ties have been raising red flags for years. As far back as 2002, VegSource.com reported: “According to publicly available tax returns, in 1998 alone Berman paid himself $1.011 million in salary and for ‘consulting services’ out of the approximately $1.272 million total of tax-free donations raised for Employment Policies Institute (which fights against raising the minimum wage) that year. Another way to look at it: Berman paid to himself about 79 percent of all the charitable donations raised that year by EPI. And that million-plus bucks was from just one of the non-profits Berman operates.” (See side bar below for list of some others.)
While there is no concrete evidence of who is truly behind the HSSP, it would seem that attacking the HSUS—who is working tirelessly to create laws that might cost big business more money in the name of humane treatment of animals—would not make sense unless you are being funded by those big businesses.
While researching and writing this editorial, no one from the HSSP or Berman and Company responded to our inquiries by press time. We will report new facts and information as we receive them. Please check TailsInc.com for updates, and sign up for our e-newsletter to stay informed.
Some of Berman’s other websites:
ActivistCash.com (Attacks public interest groups. Sock puppet used to give unsubstantiated claims authority)
HumaneWatch.org (Attacks HSUS)
AnimalScam.com (Attacks animal protection charities)
PetaKillsAnimals.com/PetaSavesAnimals.com (Attacks People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)
PetaPetition.com (Inactive. Attacked PETA)
CSPIScam.com (Attacks Center for Science in the Public Interest)
PhysicianScam.com (Attacks Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)
PCRMScam.com (Attacks PCRM)
CrewExposed.com (Attacks Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington)
MadCowScare.com (Inactive. Downplayed dangers of Mad Cow disease)
HolyVeal.com (Inactive. Attacked animal protection groups and downplayed cruelty of veal)
FishScam.com (Downplays dangers of mercury in seafood)
TunaScam.com (Alias of FishScam.com)
MercuryFacts.com (Alias of FishScam.com)
HowMuchFish.com (Skewed mercury “calculator” aimed at persuading pregnant women
to consume more mercury-laden fish)
ObesityMyths.com (Downplays dangers of obesity and unhealthy foods)
SweetScam.com (Downplays dangers of high fructose corn syrup)
LawsuitAddiction.com (Attacks trial lawyers, especially those against trans-fats)
Trans-FatFacts.com (Inactive. Downplayed dangers of trans-fats)