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The expanding field of animal protection

From Animal Sheltering magazine May/June 2014

Wayne Pacelle and his adopted dog, Lily

The HSUS’s visionary founders knew not to duplicate the work of the local animal shelters, but to complement and augment their work by professionalizing the field and taking on problems beyond their reach. In our early years, this included promoting and embedding in our culture the notions of sterilization and adoption, cracking down on animal dealers, and eliminating particularly inhumane methods of euthanasia.

Today, The HSUS works on many of the same challenges, but does so much more in the United States and now also abroad, confronting the problem of puppy mills, battling dogfighting and greyhound racing, and drawing attention to genetic and hereditary problems among purebreds in the show dog world.

Just as it’s critical for every community in the country to have an animal shelter providing care to dogs and cats in need, facilitating adoptions and spay and neuter, and infusing the community with humane values and ideas, it’s also critical to have a powerful national and global group working through other channels and operating on a larger scale: training law enforcement and providing tips and rewards on cruelty cases, bringing veterinary services to underserved areas like inner cities (through our Pets for Life program) and Indian reservations, sterilizing and vaccinating tens of thousands of street dogs in developing nations, investigating the dog meat trade in Southeast Asia, generating national advertising to promote adoption and local shelters, lobbying Congress and state legislatures to crack down on dogfighting and puppy mills, and providing resources to lift and professionalize the animal care and welfare field.

We’re doing that work. And we are also working to help other animals, too—taking on inhumane factory farming practices, the illegal wildlife trade, Canada’s seal hunt, painful and unnecessary animal testing of cosmetics, and more.

As our movement grows—with more than 20,000 animal protection groups—we see increased differentiation and focus. There are 3,500 brick-and-mortar shelters, more than 10,000 dog and cat rescue groups, and organizations of every stripe. Collectively, we are driving down euthanasia rates for healthy and treatable dogs and cats, eliminating gas chambers and other inhumane killing methods, and working to enact prohibitions on many forms of malicious cruelty to animals.

And we are seeing so much progress on other fronts, with corporations introducing reforms to the treatment of farm animals in their food supply chains; the expansion of more humane methods of wildlife management, such as fertility control; and the development of 21st-century science that allows us to move away from the use of animal testing.

With this kind of progress, it is inevitable that there will be pushback. Factory farmers, puppy millers, wildlife traffickers, and others are putting up a fight. They hire public relations and political operatives to offer their own narratives and to try to tear down The HSUS and others who threaten the status quo. Increasingly, their attempted strategy is to “divide and conquer,” and to pressure local humane societies to distance themselves from “controversial” issues.

Yet, as our shared history of opposition to all forms of cruelty shows, we’ve always been united in our broader goals. Together, we’ve worked to secure landmark reforms in every sector in which animals are used, and we all have a duty to keep focused on the broader goal of promoting compassion for all animals.

As Dr. Gary Weitzman, CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, has said: “There is just too much work to do; we can’t be successful if we’re divided. Let’s drop the factional language that separates us. We need to increase cohesion between animal groups who share the honor and the grave responsibility to care for the most helpless among us.”

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If you respond to donors or to the public in your community, be sure to let them know about the critical work of your organization, but also that The HSUS also serves a vital role. If either component or organization within our movement were to be weakened or marginalized, the loss would be felt in our movement in profound ways. By standing together we can strengthen our movement and remind our supporters that a rising tide of compassion lifts all boats.

About the Author

Wayne Pacelle is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. Under Pacelle's leadership, The HSUS has been approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and is ranked in the top 10 for nonprofit brands.