There’s a battle brewing and it is not terrorism or presidential politics. This conflict centers on our domesticated pets and is generating heated debates, controversial laws and impassioned pleas for help. On the surface, the welfare of America’s pets seems to be at the center of the battle, but are there deeper, more sinister motives?

The images are designed to enflame our anger and tug at our hearts. Severely matted dogs, wounded cats, and emaciated horses linger on the television screen and in our minds. Throughout the ninety second infomercial, celebrity voices plead with us to open our hearts, and our wallets, to save these poor creatures.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has spent more than fifty years standing on the front lines in the battle against animal cruelty. From raids on “puppy mills” and animal hoarders to helping enact legislation for more humane conditions at farms and feedlots, HSUS considers itself the largest and most effective animal protection organization in the world. So, with such a positive agenda, why would anyone criticize their efforts?

Critics of HSUS claim that the tear-jerking commercials mislead animal lovers into donating $19.95 per month that is then used to fuel questionable lobbying efforts, pay six figure salaries and fund yet more infomercials., an organization dedicated to “watching the Humane Society”, issued a press release detailing a survey in which more than 70% of respondents believed that HSUS is an “umbrella organization for local humane societies”. Not true.

Beyond that, more than 60% of surveyed adults believe that their local animal shelter is actively associated with HSUS. 59% believed that HSUS used donations to provide care and support at their local humane organizations. Again not true.

The FAQ section on the HSUS website says “local humane societies and SPCAs are independent entities and are not run by the HSUS.” Furthermore, HumaneWatch has evaluated IRS forms from HSUS and found that less than ½ of 1% of donated monies went to the care of dogs and cats in local shelters. The total returned to local shelters was less than $500,000 for 2008 out of $100 Million dollars raised!

More than $2 million went to the Californians for Humane Farms, a political committee that was the driving force behind controversial Proposition 2. Production animal experts say the bill is fraught with unintentional consequences. They claim it is a law based on emotion and not science, and one that has the potential to cause a dramatic rise in the cost of food and put many farmers out of business.

Some agricultural groups believe that this type of law is merely a stepping stone towards removing meat from our diet.

The Humane Society counters HumaneWatch claims by stating that they “provide direct care for thousands of animals at our sanctuaries and rescue facilities”. What is left unsaid is that these five facilities are focused on the care of wildlife and animals “rescued” from circuses, zoos, farms and laboratories. While HSUS does not run an actual shelter, it does provide funding for many spay/neuter organizations.

Even local animal shelters and humane groups are often left wondering about the motives of HSUS. Some small shelters have been overwhelmed with animals after well-publicized “raids” by the HSUS and feel that the Humane Society should offer more financial support.

After an amazing bust of an eight state dog fighting ring, the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO), along with many other local groups, ended up caring for the 450 dogs rescued that day. But, in spite of receiving extensive media attention and using images of one of the dogs as a fund-raising initiative, the HSUS did not initially contribute any monies to the dogs’ care. Finally, after an outcry on many pet blogs, $5,000 was given to one of the rescue groups.

Still, as an animal protection organization, HSUS has done much to help criminalize abuse of animals. Their legislative efforts have helped pass animal protection bills in almost every state. Their lobbying and legislative experience enables them to take on larger animal welfare concerns beyond the reach of local groups.

But, critics are increasingly concerned that HSUS is transparent with how donations from millions of animal lovers are being spent. Many who donate to HSUS see their local shelter struggle financially to care for the homeless and stray pets in their community. They believe their donation to HSUS is going to help those animals. Instead, it appears that the bulk of American’s donations fund efforts to make laws based on emotion rather than fact and, of course, for more fundraising.

If you wish to help your local shelter give to them directly where you know your money and your time will be used to help pets in your community. Talk with your veterinarian or local shelter manager about what groups have the biggest needs and how you can help. It’s the best way to insure that your donation will have the biggest impact!

Be sure to visit our Pet Health Library.