Editorial: Keeping P.T. Barnum at bay
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2000:
Starting on page 13 is our 11th annual “Who gets the money?” feature, outlining in
statistical summary form where the lion’s share, the dog’s share, and much of the rest of the
money donated to animal protection goes, how it gets used, and who gets paid what amount
for making the major spending decisions.
The numbers help in comparing charities, but are not the whole story.
Consider a seemingly simple matter: trying to compare the needs of nine of the bestknown
care-for-life sanctuaries in the U.S. by measuring their budgets against the numbers of
animals they keep.
Best Friends has the most animals, at about 1,800, and may have the most dogs and
cats. But Best Friends does adoptions. DELTA Rescue, with about 1,400 animals, almost
certainly has more hard-case dogs and cats in lifetime care.
Both Best Friends and DELTA Rescue also have farm animals, but far fewer than
Farm Sanctuary, which in recent years has usually had about 1,000, divided among facilities
in New York and California.
Receipt of large numbers of hens from the Buckeye Egg disaster in Ohio may have
significantly boosted the Farm Sanctuary population in recent weeks. The Humane Farming
Association, however, may have almost as many animals at just one location, the Suwanna
Ranch in northern California. HFA is the only sanctuary we know of which has accepted large
numbers of hard-to-handle emus: about 600 altogether.
Among sanctuaries for exotic species, Wildlife Waystation has the most, at 1,200,
distantly followed by Primarily Primates and Wild Animal Orphanage, at about 500 each.
The Performing Animal Welfare Society has prominence and a budget comparable
to all of the above, yet had just 43 animals at the most recent published count. But three of the
PAWS animals were elephants, who probably outweigh all the birds smaller than emus at all
U.S. sanctuaries combined.
Yet the Elephant Sanctuary at Hohenwald may have greater animal care needs,
pound for pound, with seven elephants.
No matter how hard we strive to present an informative statistical portrait of each
organization, readers must ultimately decide for themselves which charities are worth supporting,
and which appeals warrant generous response.
We recommend skepticism. The frequency and urgency with which charities solicit
funding is often in inverse proportion to the significance of their mission and the dedication of
their personnel. Be aware that P.T. Barnum, who said “There’s a sucker born every minute,”
cofounded both the circus which bears his name and the Connecticut Humane Society, which
has long had about 10 times more money in the bank than it spends to help animals.
The Barnum legacy is alive and pervasive.
How they fool you
Spotting a misleading appeal isn’t always easy, but one tipoff is misleading packaging––for
example, a February 2000 mailing by the International Fund for Animal Welfare,
designed to resemble a U.S. Postal Service Express Mail “flat rate envelope.”
The mailer was labeled “Priority Express,” with the words “Extremely urgent:
Please Hand Deliver to Addressee,” and a “package tracking number.”
But no signature was required for receipt, and the printed indicia where stamps
would normally go revealed that it was actually sent at nonprofit bulk rate.
Recipients found inside the package a second common misleading device: an
“International Opinion Poll on Animal Cruelty.”
No serious poll would be sent in bulk, bundled with advocacy material and a donation
envelope. The poll was just a standard “reply device,” used to entice recipients to
IFAW does, however, do the work it claimed to, in response to the cruelties that
the literature described. The misleading aspects of the appeal were confined to the use of
The Animal Legal Defense Fund stretched credibility farther with a September 2000
mailing that asked recipients to sign “A petition to the 106th United States Congress.” The
106th Congress was already in its final weeks, with little likelihood of taking up major new
bills. The petition form was attached to a donation envelope, pre-addressed not to Congress
but to the ALDF.
Reinforcing this reply device was a “teaser” packet labeled “Warning: graphic photos
enclosed.” ANIMAL PEOPLE quickly established that some of the 11 photos had
already appeared in animal rights literature as far back as 1980. One photo, another source
informed us, originally appeared in a 1947 textbook. Further, some of the photos were credited
to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, suggesting that the animals shown
were never under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress.
At that, the ALDF misrepresentation may have been less flagrant than in 1998-1999,
when ALDF claimed in three different mailings that a Special Prosecutor Program it formed in
Portland, Oregon, “led to far more convictions” for cruelty. The ALDF had yet to prosecute
even one case in Portland––and still has not.
ALDF founder Joyce Tischler told ANIMAL PEOPLE in late 1999 that the erroneous
claim about the alleged efficacy of the inactive Special Prosecutor Program was made
because she had not read the appeals that were sent above her signature. Tischler apologized
for the error in an early 2000 edition of the ALDF newsletter.
The apology was unique. The misleading claim was not. In April and May 2000,
for instance, the Phoenix-based Arizona Humane Society asserted in newspaper ads that it
“now finds more homes for dogs and cats than any other organization in the U.S., and has for
three years running.”
The Arizona Humane Society adopted out 18,000 animals in 1999, according to
executive director Ken White, and over the preceding three years probably did place more animals
(circa 40,000) than any shelter except the North Shore Animal League America, of Port
Washington, New York. But North Shore placed 25,768 animals in 1999, achieving a threeyear
total of 79,797.
White promised to amend future appeals to make a more accurate claim.
Other organizations appear to have responded positively to ANIMAL PEOPLE
notice of inaccuracy. For instance, the American Humane Association, whose appeals tend to
be low-key and factual, in February 2000 mailed an appeal which described the July 1995 torture-killing
of Duke the Dalmatian in a Philadelphia suburb as if it had just occurred. The
mailing further claimed that the three convicted perpetrators “were sentenced to up to three
years in jail––and all ended up behind bars!”
In truth, the longest sentence given to any of them was 23 months. All three were
back on the street more than two years before the appeal was sent.
The AHA did not respond directly to an ANIMAL PEOPLE inquiry about the mailing,
but apparently discontinued using it.
The Ark Trust in August 1998 promoted their “Red Alert” program, which donates
cage-cards to animal shelters in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Austin, by asserting in a mailer
that “hundreds” of animals per day are killed in U.S. shelters by mistake. That would amount
to a minimum of 73,000 such mistakes per year. ANIMAL PEOPLE could find record,
however, of only 26 animals being killed by mistake in the preceding 42 months.
The “Red Alert” campaign continues with much less flamboyant rhetoric––and may
be increasing recognition of the fatal mistakes that shelter staff do make, as a record 16 cases
came to our attention during the past 12 months.
In Defense of Animals, by contrast, has never corrected appeals which have
wrongly asserted since 1989 that Procter & Gamble is “spearheading a $17.5 million program
to convince our legislators, school children, and the public that tests designed to poison,
blind, burn, mutilate and kill thousands of defenseless animals are absolutely necessary and
humane,” as stated in an IDA pamphlet called 50,000 Reasons To Boycott Procter & Gamble.
ANIMAL PEOPLE most recently received that pamphlet from IDA in May 2000,
almost 11 years after first advising IDA that the purported P&G program had never existed.
What actually happened was that in 1984, P&G reached an agreement with the late
Henry Spira, founder of Animal Rights International, to fund the development of alternatives
to animal testing, and to phase out animal testing as rapidly as the alternatives could win regulatory
approval. P&G kept the bargain, spending more than $100 million to date in the effort.
But when other activist groups called boycotts just as P&G and Spira made their deal, P&G
refused to concede anything to the others. By mid-1989, PETA and IDA had so irritated
then-P&G chairman John Smale that he dashed off a three-page memo proposing a campaign
to discredit the animal rights movement. Someone leaked it almost immediately to Spira and
to news media. Smale’s idea got no farther than his own office. Smale was removed from that
office soon afterward, and at last report was organizing golf tournaments for General Motors.
How they fool the world
The most misleading appeals that ANIMAL PEOPLE sees on a regular basis are
those which misrepresent the sender. Over time, such appeals can create an image for an
organization which is sharply at odds with what it actually does.
The Humane Society of the U.S., for instance, is not and never has been a collective
voice for all, most, or any other humane societies. Neither does it shelter animals, adopt out
animals, neuter animals, or share funding with local humane societies. In fact, HSUS is an
advocacy organization representing just itself.
The American SPCA runs a medium-sized adoption shelter and neutering clinic in
Manhattan. But it is not, and never has been, a collective voice for all societies for the prevention
of cruelty to animals––and it doesn’t share funding with other SPCAs.
“Get a can and cover it with pictures of hurt dogs. People give you money if they
think it’s for hurt dogs,” a veteran panhandler advised Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe a
few years ago. “The ‘feed the family’ sign don’t get you anywhere near as much as a picture
of a hurt dog,” the panhandler said.
The recently released National Anti-Vivisection Society 1999 Financial Report &
Program Summary confirmed the economic pull of shelter work by noting that “the educational
component” of a direct mail campaign about vivisection brought returns amounting to 180%
of investment––but the “educational component” of direct mailings sent to benefit the NAVS
Sanctuary Fund brought returns of 420%.
Likely for that reason, many organizations which do no sheltering have mailed
appeals lately implying that they do run shelters or sanctuaries. For instance, a recent
Defenders of Wildlife appeal envelope claimed, “Adoption papers enclosed.”
An appeal envelope from The Nature Conservancy suggested, “You don’t have to be
human to know the pain of a broken home.” Ironically, the TNC policy of purging all feral
species from its property leaves animals orphaned and homeless almost every day.
Concealing pro-hunting policies is another common ploy. A current National
Wildlife Federation mailing touts “The perfect gift ideas for the children you love,” inside an
envelope showing 11 cute baby animals enjoying a snowy Christmas. Nine of the 11 animals
are of commonly hunted and trapped species, but nowhere in the mailing does NWF acknowledge
that it is in fact the national umbrella for 48 state hunting clubs, and has been ever since
it was founded in 1936 as the intended unified voice of American sport hunters.
World Wildlife Fund mailings omit mention that WWF was founded in 1961 to promote
the interests of trophy hunters, through the doctrine of “sustainable consumptive use,”
and still does. Responding to donor inquiries, WWF even denies that it favors hunting. But
WWF policies consistently favor putting the lives of any but the most imperiled species on the
auction block, so long as at least some of the proceeds nominally go toward conservation.
To further help readers sort out their charity choices, ANIMAL PEOPLE issues a
separate publication, The Watchdog Report, each spring.
Covering about 60 of the groups that send the most appeals, The Watchdog Report
includes less economic data, but succinctly describes program, policy, and administrative
aspects of each organization which might significantly concern animal protection donors.
The Watchdog Report is produced and sold separately from ANIMAL PEOPLE
subscriptions, at $20 per copy, and is kept available all year long.