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July 05, 2013

Evaluating The HSUS

I am pleased to report to you that Charity Navigator, one of the most recognized charity watchdog organizations, just posted its annual rating of The HSUS (specifically its finances and governance), and again gave us the highest rating of four stars. While we certainly do value and appreciate this affirmation, and believe that we’ve earned it, I think it’s unwise for any donor to rely exclusively on a single charity watchdog group’s review of The HSUS or any other non-profit organization. The business of charity evaluation is complex work.

Taking a broader gaze, The HSUS also receives the highest ratings from the other reputable charity watchdog groups. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance affirms that we meet all 20 of its standards for charitable accountability. We were named a couple of years back by Worth Magazine as one of the ten most fiscally-responsible charities in the country. Guidestar’s Philanthropedia experts have ranked us the No. 1 high-impact animal protection organization (peer organizations and funders in animal protection were asked which group in the field is most effective).

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Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Heather Sullivan with The HSUS holds an umbrella
cockatoo at an emergency shelter in Ohio.

These ratings are helpful not only in helping donors to assess our work and our impact, but because there are a raft of adversaries of animal protection – the cockfighters and dogfighters, the horse slaughter industry, the industrial sector of the pork industry, the sealing industry, and the puppy millers, just to name a few – that try to tear The HSUS down. They ignore our accomplishments and our broad focus on helping all animals and argue that we should stick to direct care of animals and give grants to other groups – which means, of course, that these major industries causing harm to animals would get a pass and their abuses would go uncontested by The HSUS. 

Although we do provide grants to other organizations – about $50 million in the last decade – that has never been our purpose. We conduct our own programs, and we are not and never have been a pass-through organization that simply redirects gifts to other animal welfare charities. And while we are the No. 1 provider of direct care to animals, our supporters expect us to tackle the root causes of cruelty and to defend all animals. That is what we do, and have done since 1954.

Really, more than anything, we are about driving transformational change. Many of the charity groups evaluate spending ratios and governance, but there’s much more to the work of non-profit organizations (as so many of these charity groups will tell you) than these ratios. A group can hit all of its marks on program spending ratios and good governance, but not get much done in the real world. What I’m most proud of is that The HSUS is driving change on the biggest animal issues of our time while adhering to the highest standards in the charity sector.

Here are just a few of the big things we do, and some of the transformational activity we’ve driven:


  • We’ve changed the legal framework for animal cruelty in this country over the last quarter century. With just a handful of states treating malicious cruelty as a felony two decades ago, now 49 states treat malicious cruelty as a felony, with all 50 states treating dogfighting as a specific felony and all 50 states outlawing cockfighting. Our investigations, rewards programs, direct interventions with our Animal Rescue Team, and law enforcement training programs are designed to give even more teeth to these laws. 
  • We’ve worked in cooperation with countless other organizations to drive down euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats by 80 percent (from 15 million to fewer than 3 million when we launched our campaigns to normalize spay/neuter and pet adoption from shelters and rescues in the mid-1970s). Our current pet adoption public service campaign, with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council, has generated more than $129 million in advertising during the last three years.
  • We are professionalizing the operations of shelters and aiding them and their communities when natural disasters and cruelty cases overwhelm their capacity to respond. Animal Sheltering Magazine, which we publish, is the bible of the field.
  • We provide sanctuary, rehabilitation and other direct care for more animals than any other group -- more than 100,000 animals cared for in 2012 alone – through the work of our Animal Rescue Team, our veterinary programs, our wildlife response unit, and our network of animal care centers. We also manage a coast-to-coast network of more than 100 nature preserves through our Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust.
  • We’ve worked within the last 5 years to compel 34 states to set up new rules regarding puppy mills. And we’ve gotten more than 2000 stores to take the “puppy-free pledge,” agreeing not to sell dogs, and many now promoting adoption.
  • We are working to end the suffering of street dogs in countries around the globe. For example, we’ve sterilized 50,000 dogs in Bhutan in the last four years.
  • We are on the verge of seeing the end of gestation crates in the United States and Canada, after The HSUS persuaded more than 60 major food retailers in these countries – including McDonald’s, Costco, Safeway, and Target – to pledge to phase out their purchase of pork from factory farms that confine sows in these inhumane stalls. With prompting from The HSUS, the veal industry is also on its way toward voluntarily eliminating extreme confinement of the calves by 2017.
  • We have persuaded the federal government to agree to release the vast majority of chimpanzees from laboratories and to transfer them to sanctuaries. Through Humane Society International, we are working globally to end animal testing and recently secured bans on animal testing for cosmetics in the European Union and India.
  • We’ve closed markets throughout the world for seal skins from Canada, and saved more than a million seals over the last four years by de-valuing the pelts in the global marketplace.

This is just a sampler of the programs and achievements that your own efforts and your support makes possible. We invite you to follow our work at humanesociety.org.

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