How do you describe your concern for animals to others?
If you read ANIMALS 24-7, you obviously care a lot about animals––probably every day, every hour, every minute.
But how do you describe your concern for animals to others? Do you describe yourself as an animal advocate, animal rights activist, animal welfarist, humane voter, donor to animal causes, animal lover, all of these depending on context, or in some other manner?
Do you ever describe yourself as a “humane consumer,” or “humane constituent”?
Does the term you use to describe your concern really matter?
Perhaps not, if you are simply using the term that you feel the people with whom you are conversing will best understand. But if you are using the term you most identify with, there can be a world of difference in what you mean, not only in your views about animals, but also in how you think about your relationship to the organizations you hire with your donations to represent your concerns.
Let me put this another way: do you think of yourself as setting the agendas for the animal charities to which you donate, or as only responding to whatever they have already chosen to do?
Do you believe that animal charities should listen to you, at least as much as your elected public officials do? Or do you trust them to lead, without your input and advice?
I have been thinking about these questions for several weeks now, in light of the recent payouts to animal use groups, totaling nearly $28 million, by the Humane Society of the U.S., the American SPCA, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
In each case, as ANIMALS 24-7 detailed, the payout resulted from a lawsuit over the use of particular advocacy tactics, not over the substance of the animal issue at hand.
In each case the animal advocacy charity involved can legitimately claim to represent tens of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of constituents who care about animals.
In each case the animal advocacy charity involved can also claim credit for a wealth of positive achievements on behalf of animals.
The issue at hand in thinking about what the payouts really mean is not whether HSUS, the ASPCA, or the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a “good” group or a “bad” group. From almost every reasonable perspective, they are all “good” groups doing good things for animals.
The more problematic question is whether HSUS, the ASPCA, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society appropriately represented their donors when they used tactics that cost them each more money than the annual operating budgets of more than 99% of all animal charities.
On the one hand, all three organizations won significant donor support for the campaigns that backfired.
HSUS and the ASPCA accurately represented the hopes and frustrations of millions of people who wish to see an end to chained elephants being hauled about to perform in circuses as elephants never perform in the wild––but HSUS and the ASPCA also waged costly lawsuits for a decade based on an untested legal premise with only a slim chance of success, resting heavily on the testimony of an individual who had significantly misrepresented himself.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, meanwhile, has grown from a single rusty old converted trawler into an eight-ship “whale’s navy” largely by doing things that attract an ever-growing audience to the internationally broadcast TV series Whale Wars.
Probably everyone who cares about whales has felt the impulse at one time or another to strike back at whalers in some direct manner. The tactics that a U.S. federal judge called “piracy,” leading to the Sea Shepherd payout, were mild compared to what many animal advocates would like to do, and did not actually hurt anyone.
But none of those considerations made those tactics wise, either, or necessary, even to make great TV footage.
The question ahead, for donors, is whether to continue to support animal charities which in these examples may not have made well-considered use of millions of dollars.
HSUS, the ASPCA, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society hope, probably accurately, that most donors will forgive and forget.
The question ahead, for constituents, is how to continue to support animal charities and causes they believe in, while letting leadership know that they expect more thoughtful use of their donated dollars.
One important way is for constituents to donate to ANIMALS 24-7, as a sympathetic yet critical independent watchdog helping to ensure that animal charities live up to donors’ trust and expectations.
As it happens, and as a matter of record, I long ago personally advised the senior leadership of all of the national animal charities involved in the nearly $28 million worth of payouts to animal use industries that they were making the specific mistakes that eventually cost them.
In each case they chose to ignore the information and perspectives that I brought to their attention––because what they were doing was bringing lavish, enthusiastic, and too often uncritical donor support, nearly $28 million of it now further enriching animal exploiters.
Neither ANIMALS 24-7 nor any other voice can ensure that costly mistakes will never be made, by leadership acting with the best of intentions, with what those leaders believe to be the overwhelming support of their constituencies.
Yet far fewer mistakes will be made, with far less expensive consequences, if sympathetic independent media are constantly and consistently reviewing major strategic and tactical decisions, presenting alternative outside perspectives on what can and should be done.
This is perhaps the most important role of ANIMALS 24-7. Other media report the news of animal advocacy from around the world, including the partisan media of the big animal advocacy organizations, but no other media offer a comparably well-informed overview of what actions and campaigns really mean and are likely to accomplish.
Please help to keep us on the job. Your donation of $28, $280, or $2,800 –– or any other amount –– is a donation toward helping the cause you most care about to avoid making further $28 million mistakes.
Merritt Clifton, editor, ANIMALS 24-7
P.S. – The nearly $28 million in HSUS, ASPCA, and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society payouts to animal use industries will not be entirely without value if animal advocacy leadership learns from the mistakes that were made. Please help us facilitate the learning process!