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.

Whitewash weekend

When an industry front group pretending to be a charity bashes legitimate animal welfare charities, I get annoyed. When they try to use shelters as pawns in their smear campaign, I get furious. Supporting shelters is admirable, and absolutely necessary to facilities strained to the breaking point. I donate to my local shelters year-round. But HumaneWatch has managed to pervert that selfless act into a wholly selfish publicity stunt, which they’ve named “Shelter Supply Saturday”. We call it “Whitewash Weekend”. For the better part of a year, HumaneWatchers have been spitting on shelters and shelter personnel, while they fight spay/neuter laws, deny overpopulation, accuse shelters of profiting from their work, defend substandard breeders and animal brokers like Hunte Corp., and rail against any legislation that would ease the flood of abandoned and neglected animals into our nation’s shelters. Now HumaneWatch is attempting to whitewash that abuse by encouraging their members to send supplies to shelters — wrapped in HumaneWatch propaganda, of course. It will take a lot more than a dishonest greeting card to cover up HumaneWatch’s anti-animal agenda. Shall we take a look at the scoreboard?
Humane Society of the USHumaneWatch
  • A scheme to boost traffic for their website by offering a $100 donation for a winning comment. ($1700 total)
  • A scheme to convince supporters to donate shelter supplies, and give the credit to HumaneWatch.
Like HumaneWatch’s short-lived attempt to buy comments on its largely ignored website, this stunt will be forgotten in a month… but shelters will continue to struggle year-round. Meanwhile HumaneWatchers will resume their attacks on shelters and staff with comments like these:
You do realize that there is no real pet overpopulation, right? We have a mismanaged shelter system that imports animals from overseas to fill some shelters, rather than ship animals from one part of the country to another–among other problems. — Kim Egan, HumaneWatch Facebook group, July 17, 2010
There are scandals every day about how shelters HAVE room and kill animals because they are just too plain lazy to clean up after them. Or they kill them because they hired a sadist who enjoys it, or they kill them because it’s ‘easier’ than making good faith efforts to adopt them out. — Katie Dokken, convicted animal abuser, “Shelter Supply Saturday” Facebook event, Dec. 3, 2010
I have seen more deplorable conditions in shelters than I have EVER seen at a breeders! — Erica Eblin, HumaneWatch Facebook group, Nov. 10, 2010
Oh, but the shelter workers won’t blame the BS law; they’ll blame the big, bad breeders for having so many dogs and having to unload them or be shut down. They’ll make up stories of “rescuing” these poor dogs from near death in horrible conditions and slap excessive “adoption” fees on them, all the while looking for reasons NOT to “adopt” to the vast majority of wonderful potential owners. Then they’ll claim there aren’t enough homes out there for dogs. — Cathy Merchant, HumaneWatch Facebook group, Nov. 3, 2010
There is a large national rescue… here in CO looking for space…. They already go to the auctions down there and bring back dogs… Every dog that comes in will have some bad luck story about how they rescued it from a fate worse than death. People will be screened and rejected–it’s a Dog!!! — Cindy DeBerge, HumaneWatch Facebook group, Nov. 3, 2010
HumaneWatch, don’t lie to us and say that the HSUS does nothing for shelters. Don’t lie to us and say you support shelters when you encourage abuse like this. And don’t you dare claim to support shelters when you’ve never done a thing for shelters that didn’t benefit you directly.

HumaneWatch blames the whistleblowers

Crush videos are so abhorrent that even members of Congress agree they need to be stopped. Nancy Perry, HSUS VP of Governmental Affairs was called before a Senate Judiciary hearing this morning to testify about the problem. The recent HSUS undercover investigation helped spotlight a resurgence of crush video activity following the SCOTUS decision invalidating the Depictions of Animal Cruelty Act. HumaneWatch celebrated the SCOTUS ruling. In a veritable massacre of common sense, David Martosko complained that if HSUS is permitted to expose animal abusers through undercover video investigations, then crush video producers should be allowed to torture and kill pets for the sexual gratification of the viewers:
If a movie of a furry animal being crushed under some pervert’s high-heeled shoe is detrimental to society, then so is the sort of purposely lurid and scandalous footage that continues to make HSUS the richest animal rights group in history.
HumaneWatch has built a multi-million dollar enterprise around “shooting the messenger”, so it shouldn’t be surprising that in the echoing caverns of Martosko’s brain, exposing animal cruelty is somehow equivalent to committing it. And perhaps that’s why HumaneWatch continually finds fault with HSUS for exposing cruel and unhealthy practices in slaughterhouses: to a HumaneWatcher, it’s the whistleblower that’s guilty, not the criminal. You can read a transcript of the HSUS Senate testimony on Wayne Pacelle’s blog.