Humane Society bears fangs in dogfight over its brand

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Animals

Who let the dogs out?

A heated face-off between the Humane Society of the United States and a foe funded by the food and restaurant industries has turned into a fur-flying dogfight, prompting the nation's top animal welfare group to mount a stout defense, something rare for major charities.

The Center for Consumer Freedom's HumaneWatch.org kicked off the public fight when it recently expanded its attack on the Humane Society in a new wave of ads accusing the charity of raking in millions, but spending very little on animal shelters. An underlying message is that the Humane Society is secretly pushing a vegan, anti-meat agenda.

"They are similar to PETA," said the Center's Will Coggin. "We just want people to know just where their money is going," he said, adding, "We are here to defend consumers choice."

Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle sees it differently. He charges that Center and its leader Richard Berman are profiteering "mercenaries" for the industries the Humane Society is trying to shut down such as industrial pig farms, puppy mills and fur producers. "He's only in the fray because he's an opportunist, and it's more a case of him defending traditional forms of animal cruelty, like seal clubbing, extreme confinement of breeding sows, and abuse of dogs in puppy mills," said Pacelle.

The Center's advertising assault on the Humane Society and personally against Pacelle, president since 2004, plays on the misperception that the top job of the charity is running shelters. No one group runs the nation's animal shelters and HSUS works to professionalize the field of animal sheltering by providing a range of services. It spends much of its $180 million annual budget on animal welfare campaigns that have, for example, succeeded in getting major firms like Costco and McDonalds to stop using pork from farms that cage pigs.

But accolades aren't what Pacelle sees when he walks through Washington's Union Station where the Humane Society is being accused of misusing donations in several ad panels. The key panel reads "WTF? Where's the funding? The Humane Society of the United States only gives 1% of its budget to local pet shelters."

While other charities typically accept attacks as the price of doing business, Pacelle is striking back. "You really should answer when people attack you in a sustained way," he told Secrets. "Somebody has to stand up to a bully like that," said Pacelle.

He also sees the critical attention as something he can take advantage of with advertising promoting the successes of the Humane Society, and heralding its top charity rating. "We've got an incredible case to make. When people realize that not only do we help shelters, but we help horses, we help farm animals, we help animals in testing labs, we help wildlife, they think, 'Oh my God, I had no idea that the group was so wide ranging in its concerns and so effective in its action.' So I actually think that we can flip it and turn a negative into a positive."

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.