Humane confusion is widespread in America. Despite the words “humane society” in its name, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is not formally affiliated with any humane societies that operate at a city, county or regional level. HSUS does not run a single pet shelter. And the vast majority of its funds are kept for its own agenda. One percent of its budget consists of grants to pet shelters. Most Americans aren’t aware of these facts.

Similarly, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is not affiliated with other local SPCAs (but does run one shelter in New York City). Generally, pet shelters are independent organizations.

Polling demonstrating Americans’ perception of the Humane Society of the United States

How pervasive is this humane confusion? According to a national poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation (CNN’s pollster) on November 23rd to the 25th, 2011, 71 percent of Americans think the Humane Society of the United States is a pet shelter “umbrella group” and 68 percent believe HSUS contributes most of its money to local hands-on pet-shelter groups. A previous (Feb. 2010) poll by Opinion Research Corporation determined that 63 percent of Americans believe their local humane society is affiliated with HSUS and 48 percent believe their local shelter receives financial support from HSUS.

All of these statements are false.

HSUS’s perpetuation of the misperception

Even animal shelters believe that HSUS has helped perpetuate Americans’ misperception of what they do. In fact, 71 percent of animal shelters think HSUS “misleads people into thinking it is associated with local animal shelters.” The animals featured in HSUS’s TV ads are almost always cats and dogs. Additionally, their fundraising letters often give the misleading impression about what HSUS does.

One recent letter claimed that “the only way we can make these critical life-saving programs work and help save the lives of puppies and kittens in peril is with the continued support of our very best members such as you.” Another letter asked, “How can we save these innocent puppies and kittens and find them good, loving homes?”

The most likely explanation for this is that donors respond with open checkbooks to dogs and cats more than, say, pigs and chickens. But while HSUS’s advertising plays on people’s love for pets, it uses much of the money in completely different ways.