Fundraising turf war brings California groups’ complaint against the ASPCA

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2011:
EL CERRITO, California– Alleging “unfair and deceptive
fundraising practices which harm local humane societies and SPCAs,”
the State Humane Association of California on May 3, 2011 filed a
complaint against the American SPCA with the California Office of the
Attorney General.
Explained State Humane Association of California executive
director Erica Gaudet Hughes, “The complaint alleges that ASPCA
capitalizes on, and intentionally reinforces, the widely held
mistaken belief that it is a parent or umbrella organization to the
thousands of humane societies and SPCAs across the country.

In reality,” Hughes said, “the ASPCA operates only one animal
shelter, in New York City. While it does fund projects in
California, such expenditure is insignificant in comparison to the
amount of money the organization raises in this state,” Hughes
charged. “For example, according to the ASPCA, it received $116.5
million in revenue in 2009. However, [California organizations] in
2010 received a total of only $352,100 from the ASPCA. That is only
.03% of the ASPCA income, while California represents 13% of the
national economy and undoubtedly donates proportionately to the
ASPCA, especially [in response to] targeted ASPCA solicitations.”
Asserted Hughes, “Since such aggressive fundraising by the
ASPCA in California began several years ago, humane societies and
SPCAs throughout the country have suffered. The State Humane
Association of California does not take issue with the work done by
the ASPCA,” Hughes said, “and has been involved in cooperative
efforts with them. We simply want the ASPCA to stop capitalizing on
and reinforcing public confusion regarding its relationship to local
SPCAs and humane societies.”
A subsection of the State Humane Association of California
web site explains that neither the ASPCA nor the Humane Society of
the U.S. is an umbrella organization representing SPCAs or humane
“I’ve witnessed the problem firsthand,” wrote Whole Dog
Journal editor Nancy Kerns. “As a volunteer at the North West SPCA,”
in Oroville, California, “I’ve frequently had people tell me, ‘I
give money to you guys all the time. The ASPCA loves me!’ When I
inquire, gently, whether they gave money to the NW/SPCA or the
ASPCA, they are always confused as to the difference-and dismayed,
and sometimes angry, when I explain that none of any money they sent
to the ASPCA has ever made its way to the shelter they are standing
in. Here’s hoping that SHAC’s complaint results in, at a minimum,”
Kerns said, “a disclaimer at the bottom of the ASPCA’s
heart-wrenching ads and commercials, letting people know that
donations to the ASPCA don’t necessarily benefit animals in their
Responded the ASPCA in a May 4, 2011 prepared statement,
“While the ASPCA has not seen the actual complaint, based solely on
the press release we believe the State Humane Association of
California claims are incorrect and completely without merit. The
ASPCA is a national organization founded in 1866,” the ASPCA
statement explained. “Our activities include funding programs
connected to local shelters nationwide, but also encompass a wide
range of other activities that are vital to the care and safety of
animals. The ASPCA is among the top three providers of grant funds
to local animal welfare organizations in the U.S.
“In California alone,” the ASPCA said, “the ASPCA’s average
grant total per year for the past four years will be nearly $1
million by the end of 2011. The ASPCA has already pledged a total of
$4.2 million through 230 grants nationwide so far in 2011, including
$250,000 in grants to animal shelters and rescue groups in the Los
Angeles area.
“While we do not have a formal affiliation with local SPCAs
throughout the country,” the ASPCA acknowledged, “we assist SPCAs,
humane societies and local shelters around the country.”
Elaborated ASPCA president Ed Sayres to ANIMAL PEOPLE, “I
think the [State Humane Association of California] misconstrues our
national reach working with shelters all over the country.”
After meeting with State Humane Association of California
representatives in 2009, Sayres said, “we stepped up our
promotional messages on helping local shelters. Thank you letters
from me to direct mail donors advise donating to local shelters. Our
web pages encourage the same. Our national services program is more
robust than ever, with partner cities, field investigations, and
disaster response. Grants are also an important part of our national
strategy. We will be distributing more than $11 million in grants to
local organizations this year. That is almost equal to the Maddie’s
Fund annual distribution,” Sayres said, citing the wealthiest
grantmaking foundation in the animal welfare field.
“In my discussions with donors,” Sayres added, “they do
understand how national organizations help local organizations, and
how important it is to contribute to their local organization. We
all play a vital role in improving the welfare of animals,” Sayres
finished, “and it is disappointing to see this kind of fractious
Before becoming ASPCA president in 2003, Sayres headed St.
Hubert’s Giralda, a small shelter in New Jersey, within the greater
New York City metropolitan area; the American Humane Association
animal protection division; PetSmart Charities; and the San
Francisco SPCA. Each position involved fundraising in possible
competition with the prominence of the ASPCA, but Sayres is not
known to have complained about it.
Allegations about the ASPCA “meddling” or “poaching” beyond
the actual reach of ASPCA authority and activity are nearly as old as
the ASPCA itself. The original ASPCA activity was enforcing humane
legislation in New York state, some of which predated the existence
of any enforcement entity. Outreach to other states initially took
the form of providing organizational help to the founders of other
humane societies.
Recognizing a conflict of interest between doing law
enforcement in New York state and serving as a national umbrella for
the fast-growing U.S. humane movement, the ASPCA in 1877
participated in forming the American Humane Association to become a
national umbrella.
Though the ASPCA remained active in federal lobbying, it
focused on providing animal sheltering service for New York City from
1895 through 1994. Post-1994, however, the ASPCA has expanded
activity beyond New York in almost every year, adding legislative
offices and field representatives and becoming a leading responder to
The Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, among the oldest and
largest in California, is not a member of the State Humane
Association of California, but joined the lawsuit against the ASPCA
as a coplaintiff.
“Back in October of last year,” explained Peninsula Humane
Society & SPCA president Ken White in a column at, “I
posted a piece in response to a fundraising letter sent by ASPCA to
families here in the Bay Area. The letter described the abuse of a
particular dog named Brutus and asked for donations to help fight
animal cruelty. My point then and now,” White wrote, quoting the
ASPCA appeal, “is that it is not honest to say to people who live in
the San Francisco Bay Area that sending ‘the largest gift you can
manage to help the ASPCA’ in Manhattan is the best way for them to
help ‘protect an innocent and helpless animal,’ a ‘particular
animal,’ an animal ‘not far from’ where that donor lives. My point
then and now is that the work of protecting such animals falls to the
local SPCA, the local humane society, and/or the local government
animal care and control agency.”

Other agencies

Just a month before joining the State Humane Association of
California complaint against the ASPCA, White posted a similar
column to criticizing an appeal mailed by the North Shore
Animal League.
“My issue with this,” White reiterated, “is about asking
for financial support from communities with their own community
needs, with animals in communities being rescued by local
community-based animal welfare organizations which need local
community support to continue to save lives.”
North Shore Animal League senior vice president of operations
Joanne Yohannan “called me within a day or two after my posting,”
White told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “She acknowledged that they had not taken
any animals from this area, but seemed to feel that their scope,”
which includes sponsoring Spay USA and the national Pet Adoptathon
held each May, and accepting animals for adoption from Los Angeles
Animal Services, “did in fact justify their asking for donor support
locally. I disagreed,” White said.
“At least, unlike with Bide-A-Wee,” White added, citing a
shelter which also imports animals for adoption from other states but
is more closely focused on New York City and Long Island, “it is
real animals being helped. Bide-A-Wee’s [recent] direct mail letter
to the Bay Area included the very small print disclosure,” White
alleged, “that the stories reported in their request were composites
rather than real animals.
“I have no quibble with North Shore nor any doubts of the
value of their programs,” White continued. “My only point is that
direct mail sent into a community which does not benefit from direct
services from that organization should, in my opinion, be clear
about that. Donors should of course support the work they choose to
support. Whether it is local or not should be entirely their
decision. However, donors should have it clearly explained to them
when they are being asked to support work done for animals outside
their own community. I do not believe it is an accident that many
groups who fundraise nationally are a bit vague, if not evasive,”
White alleged, “about the relationship between the donors being
solicited and the location of the animals being served. A direct
mail solicitation ought to be very clear about the facts of the
program, including the geography. A direct mail piece sent into the
Bay Area ought to be clear that the donor is being invited to assist
animals in a different location.”


Agreed Massachusetts SPCA president Carter Luke, to David
Abel of the Boston Globe, “If they wish to do national ads, they
should say where they do their work.”
The ASPCA, founded in 1866, and the MSPCA, founded in
1868, have for most of their existence been two of the three most
affluent humane societies in the U.S., with few visible policy
conflicts and little evident fundraising rivalry.
But the recession that struck the U.S. in 2008 hit the ASPCA
and MSPCA to quite different effect. Both organizations suffered
serious investment losses. Neither was legally permitted to cover
the losses with funds drawn from permanently restricted bequests.
The ASPCA, however, actively soliciting funds nationwide
for decades, was able to survive the crisis without sacrificing
major programs and without laying off staff.
The MSPCA, whose financial assets had already declined by
about a third from peak value, kept four shelters and two animal
hospitals open by turning three other shelters over to other animal
charities. Thirty-eight staff were laid off.
“We have no problem with someone taking ads out,” Luke
continued. “We just think they should say where the money is being
used and that it doesn’t go to help animals in Massachusetts.”
Even as the MSPCA struggled, the ASPCA raised $10.6 million
in Massachusetts in the three years 2007-2009, MSPCA staff told
Abel. “What we’re trying to say,” Luke explained to Abel, “is that
the ASPCA does some nice things in Manhattan, but we want everyone
to know that they are not our parent organization.” Luke said. “We
just want to make sure they are not leading people to believe that
they are the place to go to prevent cruelty to animals in New
Countered ASPCA spokesperson Alison Jimenez, “How the
problem [of animal cruelty] is dealt with is not a
local-versus-national issue; it is about effectiveness.”


Founded in 1909, the State Humane Association of California
includes nearly 140 humane societies, animal control organizations,
and animal advocacy groups operating in California. It has sponsored
an annual Animal Law Enforcement Training Academy since 1980, and
co-hosts the annual California Animal Care Conference in partnership
with the California Animal Control Directors Association and the
California Veterinary Medical Association.
The State Humane Association of California complaint against
the ASPCA may be the first complaint in half a century by local
humane societies against the fundraising practices of national
organizations with similar names to take the form of a legal filing.
Filing on behalf of local and regional humane societies, the
American Humane Association in 1954 sued the then-newly incorporated
National Humane Society for alleged misleading solicitation.
Former AHA employees had founded the National Humane Society
after numerous rifts within the AHA over policies. Among the
disagreements, the AHA weakened previous opposition to the use of
shelter animals by laboratories and for sport hunting, but remained
adamantly opposed to sterilizing pets, a position originally taken
more than 30 years earlier in an attempt to be philosophically
consistent in opposition to forced sterilization of human female
In settlement of the 1954 case over names used in
solicitation, the original National Humane Society became HSUS in
1956. Two different unrelated organizations now use the name
“National Humane Society.”
A parallel case filed in California obliged HSUS to start the
long dormant HSUS California Branch Inc. in 1959.
Direct mailings done for the National Humane Education
Society drew grumblings from the humane community, beginning in
1986, but apparently did not attract a legal response. The typical
National Humane Education Society appeal format for many years
opened, “The National Humane Education Society is now conducting its
(year and name of city) Annual Fund Drive.”
When the mailings began, the National Humane Education
Society operated only one shelter in Virginia, and the mailings
themselves were the only visible NHES national education program.
The only National Humane Education Society shelter currently
operating is in West Virginia.
HSUS ran into litigation again over alleged misleading
fundraising soon after forming the Humane Society of Canada in 1993.
Founding president Michael O’Sullivan alleged in a 1996 lawsuit that
HSUS improperly and illegally claimed $1 million that was raised in
Canada. Ontario Court of Justice Judge Bruce C. Hawkins in January
1997 ordered HSUS to repay $740,000 to the Humane Society of
Canada–the only cash award in such a case known to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
The Edmonton SPCA & Humane Society, Moose Jaw Humane
Society, and Nova Scotia SPCA in December 2006 raised public
objections to national mailings by Humane Society of Canada and the
Montreal-based Canadian SPCA, which operates a shelter and
sterilization clinic in Montreal and is better known as the Montreal
SPCA. Though incorporated as the Canadian SPCA in 1869, the
Montreal SPCA has never operated national programs, and has not used
the Canadian SPCA name in fundraising since an April 2008 leadership

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