Breaking News: HSSP Leadership Vanishes

Have you ever been struck by the sense that you’ve seen this all before?

In May of 2011, we reported on the frantic purge of David Martosko’s name from Berman and Company websites, followed by his abrupt and unceremonious departure.

So when two-thirds of the Humane Society for Shelter Pets’ leadership suddenly vanished from its website, the feeling of déjà vu was inescapable.

All traces of Jeff Douglas and Deborah Price have been purged from the HSSP website. As in Martosko’s departure, no announcement was made, no farewell message was given; just a wave of revisionist editing that wiped away all traces of their participation in the failing project.

If Price and Douglas have indeed fled HSSP, the group is left with Didi Culp as their sole leadership. Culp’s history of animal advocacy is less than sterling:

  • Culp is currently the subject of an ethics investigation for her misuse of the Frederick County Animal Control facilities, where she is — for the moment — employed.
  • She has publicly opposed vital puppy mill legislation like the PUPS act.
  • She has published a nearly incoherent rant dismissing concerns about animal cruelty.
  • On her website, Culp explains how “comforted” she was by the handling of an animal’s gruesome, fatal injury at a rodeo, concluding that “there was no sign of disrespect for their lives or actions that could in any way be considered cruel or even insensitive.”
  • According to a source at Frederick County Animal Control, restrictions on the inhumane declawing of cats were explicitly removed from adoption contracts under Didi Culp’s supervision.
  • On the HumaneWatch Facebook page, Didi declared that it’s taking away an animal’s rights if you support spay/neuter, a perspective diametrically opposed to the beliefs of most shelter and rescue managers, but squarely in line with that of many commercial breeders and puppy mills.

If two-thirds of HSSP’s leadership are gone and Culp is the last to flee this sinking ship, HSSP is an organization in profound trouble.

And that’s good news for animals.

We’ll bring you more information as it becomes available. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this quote from Richard Berman:

So no matter how nasty Wayne and HSUS get, they won’t stop me from being proud of my contribution to this excellent new organization and he won’t be able to stop its leadership from excelling.

Berman’s contribution to this fiasco is clear… but HSSP’s leadership? They appear to be escaping, not excelling.

The Devil is In the Details

Yesterday we examined a new organization, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets. If you’re not familiar with their high-priced campaign of deception against the Humane Society of the United States, read our previous article for the background.

The Humane Society for Shelter Pets (“HSSP”) says they have no connection to the anti-animal welfare organization, the Center for Consumer Freedom. We find this assertion a little… shall we say, less than credible?

Here’s why.

HSSP has hired Berman & Company to run their organization’s public relations and marketing campaign.

Berman & Company is a major (and very expensive) lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.. The company is the brainchild of Richard Berman, a well-known lobbyist sympathetic to the concerns of anti-social corporate interests and anti-animal causes. The Center for Consumer Freedom (“CCF”) is a major client of Berman & Company, paying them a tidy sum of $1,461,597.00 for “management services” last year — not including Berman’s salary as “Executive Director” of CCF.

The services of Berman & Company do not come cheap. And they don’t work for free. Yet it would appear that HSSP has no problem affording this very expensive corporate PR firm.

If HSSP had been around for a while, and had time to build up a substantial donor base, this little fact would be less interesting. However, in its very first week of existence, HSSP was able to afford the services of one of Washington, D.C.’s most expensive, most infamous PR firms.

Ironically, HSSP claims to exist for the purpose of helping get donations to local shelters. The presumably hefty fees they are paying Berman & Company could help a lot of shelters, but instead this supposed non-partisan non-profit has chosen to use that money to attack a major animal advocacy and welfare group.

So, inquiring minds wanted to know, where is HSSP getting their operating money from?

Veterinary Practice News covered the debut of HSSP, and dropped a clue to one possible source of HSSP’s funds:

The organization is funded by individuals, corporations and foundations that are supporters of the pet industry, according to HSSP co-director Jeff Douglas.

Which “supporters of the pet industry” would have both money to burn, and a burning grudge against the Humane Society of the US? Could it be the puppy mills and irresponsible breeders who account for more than a quarter of the pets in shelters?

Exotic pet breeders and their trade groups aren’t happy about the HSUS pointing out the dangers of having a tiger in your backyard.

Shamed pet store chains who purchase from pet mills and perpetuate the puppy mill trade have an axe to grind too.

HSSP, as is usual in Berman’s long line of nonprofit puppet websites, have not disclosed exact sources of their funding, as is common among most legitimate nonprofits. Nor do they seem to be in any hurry to do so. Which leads one to wonder: Why so secretive?

What, exactly, does the Humane Society for Shelter Pets have to hide?

Update: HSSP’s Form 990 tax returns have been released, and to no one’s surprise, Richard Berman’s name appears on the form — along with $765,000 in payments to Berman and his for-profit PR firm.

Shelter Advocates, or Corporate Puppets?

It appears there’s a new non-profit in town…

In a flurry of expensive ads in several major newspapers, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets has announced its arrival. However, seasoned animal advocates are justifiably wary of this seemingly warm and fuzzy charity.

It turns out that the Humane Society for Shelter Pets (“HSSP”) has no connection with any animal shelters. It doesn’t run a shelter, nor does it fund any shelters. Instead, its Mission Statement claims it is “dedicated to creating a sustainable base of local support for the nation’s network of local pet shelters through grassroots advocacy and outreach”.

While this may seem like a praise-worthy mission, a little poking around on the site shows that:

  • The HSSP website is full of anti-HSUS rhetoric.
  • It cites the Center for Consumer Freedom almost exclusively.
  • It relies on three polls to support its claims: two were commissioned by HumaneWatch, and the third was actually written and conducted by HumaneWatch. (HumaneWatch refuses to reveal the wording and results of the polls.)
  • It focuses almost entirely on the HSUS, ignoring other national groups.
  • It provides no services to shelters whatsoever. Its sole purpose is to attack the HSUS.

If you’re familiar with the deceptive marketing and “educational” non-profit websites that are the hallmark of the Center for Consumer Freedom (parent and puppetmaster of HumaneWatch), you’re probably thinking you’ve seen this all before. You’d be right.

HSSP’s initial press release lists its address as “1090 Vermont Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 United States”.

That address happens to be the street location for Richard Berman’s PR firm, Berman & Company. It’s also the street location for the Center for Consumer Freedom, the Center for Union Facts, the Employment Policies Institute Foundation, and the American Beverage Institute, among others – all Berman-run front groups.

To be fair, HSSP denies that Berman has anything to do with the daily operations of the organization. However, they do admit to “hiring” Berman & Company as their PR firm. Which leads us to another question…

Why would a supposed animal advocacy organization hire a PR firm with documented record of working vigorously on ANTI-animal causes?

It doesn’t make sense. And that’s not the only question that needs answering.

For example, where does a brand new “grassroots” non-profit get the money to launch a major advertising campaign, in its very first week of existence?

HSSP isn’t saying. Their supporters or partners aren’t listed on their web site. Nor is there a way to look at any of their documentation. Presumably one would have to file a FOIA request – just like with all of Berman’s shell operations.

Furthermore, we already know that Berman & Company does not work pro bono. They are strictly “pay-for-play”. Nor do their services come cheap.

So where does a brand new “grassroots” non-profit get the money to hire one of the most expensive PR firms in Washington, D.C., in its very first week of existence?

HSSP isn’t disclosing that, either.

On HSSP’s Facebook page, several people inquired about the confusing name of the group. Since they clearly do not support the Humane Society of the United States, and since they are not associated with any local humane societies, it seems strange that they would choose to name their organization after an entity they clearly despise.

Additionally, several posters noted the similarity of the rhetoric used on the web site and in the ads to that used by HumaneWatch, and inquired whether the organization was part of, or associated with, HumaneWatch.

None of these seem like unreasonable questions. Yet all of these posters were immediately banned and blocked from the FaceBook page. Again, this is a classic HumaneWatch response to questions, and the similarities are inescapable.

The refusal of HSSP to answer the most basic questions about their agenda and associations has already drawn the attention and suspicion of influential voices of the animal welfare community.

Diana “Didi” Culp: HSUS ex-employee, puppy mill legislation opponent, and co-director of HSSP.

HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle didn’t mince words:
But now Rick Berman has outdone himself. Now, this Beltway con artist -– who has probably spent as much time as anyone in recent years fighting against animal welfare -– has formed a new supposed animal welfare charity. He’s calling it the “Humane Society for Shelter Pets.”

Neither did Karel Minor of the Humane Society of Berks County:

[The CCF] knows that by making big scary claims and using big numbers they can make people think, even animal people, that HSUS is the problem and keep HSUS on their heels. That is the real reason behind it. When they create sweet little pro-shelter animal websites, using testimonials by HSUS ex-employees (beware testimonials by ex-employees- what did you think of your last boss?), they aren’t doing it to help the animals, they are doing it to muddy the waters.

Pack Mentality author Tom Grady asked HSSP spokesman Jeff Douglas about the allegations. He dodged the question:

HSSP and the Center for Consumer Freedom are separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

Berman and Company is the communications firm that was brought on by HSSP during its inception to manage its campaign due to their extensive work in this issue area. HSSP has an independent board and is managed by me — a long-time veterinary advocate — and former director of education for the Humane Society of the United States Diana Culp.

Obviously HSUS will try to paint HSSP as a group run by Rick Berman to avoid answering the real questions about their misleading fundraising practices. And while Rick Berman’s PR firm has helped bring HSSP to fruition, this group is a product of the efforts of a group of individuals with deep ties to the animal welfare community dedicated to improving the well-being of shelter animals across the country. Who we hired as our PR firm should be immaterial to the project.

Douglas’ last sentence is particularly interesting. No competent executive would ever think that the reputation and history of the PR firm you choose to represent your organization is “immaterial”.

You are known by the company you keep. When you claim to be on the side of animals, but hire the foremost defender of animal cruelty on the planet, your credibility vanishes like nonprofit donations into Richard Berman’s bank account.

On the other hand, stating that HSSP and CCF are separate organizations is immaterial. The dubious nonprofits run out of Berman and Company’s office are all separate organizations on paper, yet they employ the same staff, operate out of the same office, and funnel money into the pockets of the one seedy individual.

They may be separate organizations, but there’s little doubt about who’s really pulling the strings.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine who’s backing this deceptive group, and explore a comment by HSSP’s co-founder that reveals more than he intended.