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August 01, 2007

Contract Shillers

Our critics simply can’t stand it when The Humane Society of the United States and the reforms we advocate are in the spotlight. So the current intense focus on dogfighting must be almost too much to take for the folks who have made a business of tearing down reform.

First, there's the National Animal Interest Alliance, a strangely misnamed group that rarely finds an animal welfare reform it doesn't loathe and whose national director last week made the fatuous claim that animal welfare organizations have “actually glamorized the underworld of dogfighting and inadvertently promoted it.” She probably would not get much agreement from the thousands of animal fighters now spending day and night in jails and prisons because of the anti-animal fighting laws The HSUS helped to pass at the state and federal levels and the investigations work that prompted law enforcement actions against them. The fact is, we've got the dogfighters, cockfighters and hog dog fighters on the run, and almost every animal-fighting enthusiast knows that The HSUS's laser-like focus on their cruel conduct is their worst nightmare.

Then there is the Center for Consumer Freedom, a corporate front group funded by the most reactionary segments of the alcohol, tobacco, restaurant and hospitality sectors. CCF has no social welfare purpose, but simply works to attack "do gooder" groups such as The HSUS, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and even the radicals of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The corporations that fund CCF do not dare attach their names to these fringe ideas, so instead they hire the contract shillers at CCF.

Yesterday, CCF took out a banner ad in The New York Times' daily email of headlines, seeking to lure readers to a stale and misleading portrait of The HSUS that its hack writers labored to produce some years ago. Happily, this tactic backfired, as the advertisement led dozens of people to The HSUS and we converted most of them to new members for the organization. Thanks, guys. And, by the way, we'd be happy to have our people talk with your people about future ad placement options. Call us.

One or both groups sent representatives to the Taking Action for Animals conference this past weekend, producing a typically sarcastic and disingenuous account of the proceedings there, which drew 1,000 animal advocates from across the country for training sessions on animal issues and a national lobby day on Capitol Hill. Last year, a third group, the Animal Agricultural Alliance, misrepresented my comments at this same event, and the press got a lesson in the unethical conduct and the credibility deficit of these groups.

Groups like these have been attacking the good work of animal protection for as long as I’ve been involved—truth-bending, story-telling, taking quotes out of context, and wasting the time and attention of the public. (In the past, CCF has been forced to retract its false and defamatory attacks on The HSUS.) These agents of conflict serve no legitimate purpose in helping society to think through its ethical obligations concerning animals; they operate only to obscure public understanding and to sidetrack intelligent public policy debate and corporate reforms.

Dealing with their bizarre allegations is a necessary evil, but the stakes are high, and we respond when and where we think we must. Our work is too important, and I would hate to think that we’d ever let such interest groups derail a good piece of legislation, or a marketing partnership that advances humane values, or a corporate decision that results in improved animal welfare.

In pessimistic moments, I think that such groups will always be around, spewing venom in press releases, sending out deceptive emails, trying to stir up controversy in the blogosphere. But then I’ve also been around long enough to see a few of them, like Putting People First, just fade away. But even if they persist, I have no doubt that as the public and corporate America continue to embrace humane values and as our society adopts a more caring attitude toward other creatures, the CCFs and their ilk will seem farther and farther out on the margins. We won't need to respond to them much because they will be so utterly irrelevant.

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