Put fundraising opportunity ahead of humane values
OTTUMWA, Iowa––Raffling off a Colt M4 carbine hunting rifle as a fundraiser for the allegedly “no kill” Heartland Humane Society, of Ottumwa, Iowa, Belinda and Anthony Smith Cicarella in mid-October 2015 demonstrated considerably less appreciation of the history, goals, ethics, and philosophy of the humane movement than KCCI-8 News weekend anchor Marcus McIntosh.
McIntosh was a humane society volunteer as an adolescent in Minnesota, and as he told ANIMALS 24-7, “All of our family dogs, growing up and as an adult, have always come from humane societies.”
Calling the rifle raffle “an ironic effort to raise funds to enclose outdoor dog shelters” on October 7, 2015, McIntosh was promptly ripped by 129 of the 130 listeners who posted responses before KCCI cut off comments.
Said Belinda Smith Cicarella, a Heartland Humane Society volunteer since society president Jean Sporer founded the organization in 1994, “It is a means to an end.”
“They can shut up”
Of those voicing ethical objections, she added, “”We will take their $1,000 check, and they can shut up.”
Added Andrew Smith Cicarella, “The item was donated by a generous individual,” identified in raffle promotional literature as local resident Clark Orman.
“The people who have a problem with the gun are more than welcomed to donate any items to the raffle. The winner of the gun raffle must pass the background check with law enforcement,” Andrew Smith Cicarella added, mentioning a detail of no relevance to the certainty that the hunting rifle would be used to recreationally punch holes in animals, causing them painful and disabling injuries which might or might not lead to the animals’ premature deaths.
Ottumwa may be known to most Americans who have previously heard of it as the hometown of the M.A.S.H. television series character Radar O’Reilly, a small-time scam artist who tried to steal a jeep from the U.S. Army by mailing it home, piece by piece.
The fictional Radar O’Reilly was, however, fond enough of animals to abhor actually hurting any, even as his seemingly endless capacity for meat consumption was among the M.A.S.H. running gags.
M.A.S.H. was set during the Korean War, 1950-1953. From the vituperation directed at McIntosh, one might surmise that if Radar O’Reilly was modeled on a real-life Ottumwa resident, the capacity for moral reasoning prevailing in Ottumwa has, if anything, gone backward since then.
Posted comments attacking McIntosh and supporting the Heartland Humane Society fell into three basic categories:
- Defense of the Heartland Humane Society on grounds that the raffled rifle would not be used to kill dogs and cats;
- Defense of the Heartland Humane Society because it does not kill dogs and cats by any means, regardless what species will be killed by the rifle.
- Defense of the Heartland Humane Society on grounds that recreationally killing wildlife is a popular pastime around Ottumwa.
The discussion also brought to light that the Heartland Humane Society has raffled off firearms before.
Exposed dog runs
Oddly, no one questioned why the Heartland Humane Society has been operating in the first place––for nearly 20 years, apparently, while raising an average of more than $200,000 per year since 2010––with dog runs that appear to be exposed to the elements in a manner which, if done by a so-called “puppy mill,” might have flunked the weak housing requirements of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
If animals are exposed to winter winds, the shelter fails humane standards, regardless of whether it claims to be no-kill.
What “humane” means
Most of the commenters ripping into McIntosh seemed oblivious to the suffering of hunted animals. All, without exception, seemed unaware that for at least 138 years, since the 1877 formation of the American Humane Association, the definition of “humane society” has been, as Wikipedia explains, “A group that aims to stop human or animal suffering due to cruelty or other reasons.”
The definition is not only not limited to preventing the suffering of dogs and cats, but implicitly and historically includes all animals capable of suffering, including wildlife.
Operating a dog-and-cat shelter, while done by many humane societies, has never been the activity focal to humane work. Rather, the focal job of a humane society has always been to challenge the attitudes and habits that allow human and animal suffering to occur.
Regardless of how entrenched and popular recreational killing is in the culture of Ottumwa, Iowa, an organization claiming to be “the Heartland Humane Society” has a fundamental moral and ethical obligation to oppose it, along with much else that appears to be done to animals in and around Ottumwa, a hub of factory pig and poultry farming, without question or challenge from the very institution which is presumably the voice of the voiceless.
Among the founding business of the American Humane Association was proposing legislation to protect wildlife, horses, and farmed animals, along with legislation to protect dogs, cats, child laborers, orphans, and destitute widows.
Opposed sport hunting
For nearly 75 years––for as long as the American Humane Association actively consulted membership about policy matters––the AHA, backed by the majority of humane societies in the U.S. and worldwide––opposed sport hunting and urged that children not be given guns and encouraged to kill animals for sport.
Even throughout World Wars I and II the American Humane Association magazine, The National Humane Review, simultaneously supported the war effort and warned against allowing children to “play war” by shooting animals.
John James Audubon
A signal achievement of the early humane movement was overcoming the attitude, still occasionally heard from so-called “hunter/conservationists,” that nature can only be studied, understood, and appreciated through a gunsight––a view which had been significantly furthered by bird painter John James Audubon.
Explained Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014) in his 1959 opus Wildlife In America, “A consequence of a flourishing public interest in private bird collections and oology (the study of eggs), inspired in great measure by Audubon, was the quest of birds’ nests by schoolboys. Often as not, the oology of the latter was devoted to the simple destruction of eggs, and where circumstances permitted, the adult birds into the bargain.”
(See Wildlife in America author Peter Matthiessen, 86.)
Fifty-four years after Audubon died, and 18 years after cofounding the Boone & Crocket Club with Theodore Roosevelt to regulate trophy hunting, George Bird Grinnell in 1905 started the National Audubon Society to do the same for competitive birding, which was then done almost entirely with shotguns. Grinnell named his new organization after Audubon because Audubon was the most renowned shotgunner, with the longest and best-verified “life list” of birds annihilated.
Roger Tory Peterson
Roger Tory Peterson, 1908-1996, who became editor and chief illustrator of more than 50 field guides, was introduced to birding at age 11, by a Junior Audubon Club. As was then the custom, the members were taught to shoot birds and study their corpses.
Horrified, Peterson saved his earnings as a newspaper boy to buy a camera, at a time when shutter speeds were believed to be too slow to capture clear images of birds on the wing, and soon became the first distinguished bird photographer, hand-tinting his prints because color film had not yet been invented.
Producing his first Field Guide to the Birds in 1934, Peterson urged that birders and young people interested in nature in general be encouraged to take up the use of cameras instead of guns.
The American Humane Association showed the way by awarding a scholarship for animal photography to 15-year-old Paul Galliher of Brooklyn in 1936. Galliher remained active in animal advocacy, photography, and humane work at least until age 92.
Guns for cameras
Then-San Francisco SPCA president Matthew McCurrie took the idea further during Be Kind to Animals Week, in May 1936.
Many other humane societies around the U.S. emulated the San Francisco SPCA during the next several decades, until generations of Americans had forgotten that birders ever armed themselves for any purpose other than illegally shooting at cats.
Editorialized the June 1936 edition of the National Humane Review:
“Many things in reports of Kindness Week have impressed us deeply. We have tried to speak of them in our lengthy record of the celebrations. There is one which strikes us as worthy of emulation and which societies might keep in mind for next year.
“Winding up the festivities at San Francisco, Matthew McCurrie set up shop in front of City Hall where boys from all over the city could deposit their guns and receive cameras. Miss Genevieve Wilson of the Assessor’s office was Mr. McCurrie’s assistant and she demonstrated the cameras, explaining the pleasure to be derived from their use.
“It was a splendid idea. By noon some forty boys had made the swap and doubtless felt better. From the pictorial record of the event the SPCA must have acquired a substantial collection of weapons capable of killing or causing injury.
“The plan needs no further explaining. Give boy or girl a love of photographing the creatures of nature and they will not want a gun.
“But why does the nation permit the manufacture and easy purchase of guns, toy and otherwise? Why chance killing and maiming by accident in addition to the killing by criminals? And what is the matter with parents who give guns to their children as Christmas presents? Do they want to encourage gunning, or do they give guns because they have too little imagination to think of anything else?
“We pay a colossal price for stupidity.”
(See also Killing the white deer & the Marysville massacre.)
This is a difficult situation. My husband is a longtime vegetarian and animal lover who enjoys target shooting and gun collecting. While he doesn’t own the exact model used in the raffle, he does own a few military-style rifles. It is possible to enjoy shooting without ever firing upon a living creature.
Naturally, however, Heartland Humane can’t be sure the gun isn’t won by a hunter, and won’t be used to kill animals. I’ve seen cars with hunting bumper stickers parked at fundraisers for my local shelters, and I’ve seen people wearing shirts advertising the local hunting megastores.
However, far, far more common, and less ambiguous, are all of the regional shelters and rescues (including “no kills”) who continue to hold meat-centered fundraisers at their events. I know my local shelter isn’t the only one to hold a pig roast and a steak fry “for the animals”…it’s no doubt done in small communities across the US. Butchers and hunting stores unironically help sponsor humane society events and get their logos on giveaway t-shirts and glowing write-ups in society newsletters…once again, I know my small-town’s shelter situation is hardly a unique one.
It’s a common problem. Most people are too dumb to realize that “Humane” means ALL animals. Sad but true. They do not, and never will, get it.
Cheri Hagmeier says
Ditto what Henry said. I don’t understand how the cat trumps the cow or the dog trumps the deer.
Jeri Ryan, Ph.D. says
There’s something wrong with this picture!! That “humane?????” society is talking out of both sides of its mouth!!
Joyce Davis says
Thanks for your article on the “Heartless” Humane Society, Merritt. I think I’d rename them the “Clueless” Humane Society. : (
Jamaka Petzak says
Maybe they’re giving those guns out so people can use them to shoot at people! Ya think? (Abysmally bad joke).
The idea of giving out cameras is an excellent one. Once you appreciate someone, you probably won’t really want to shoot them. Hoping that has helped a LOT of cats and rabbits. Among others.
Jonathan Hussain says
Opening the hearts and minds of the sheltering community to wild animals and farmed animals is a tremendous challenge. While most shelters aren’t so tone deaf as to raffle off a hunting rifle, most are happy to serve up chickens, fish, cows, and pigs as entrees at their fundraisers and other sponsored events. These shelters are quite literally killing farmed animals in order to care for cats and dogs, but it doesn’t have to be that way. More than 180 animal nonprofits have already taken the lead in adopting animal-friendly menu policies that are meat-free or entirely plant-based. If you’d like your local shelter to do the same, please visit http://www.foodforthoughtcampaign.org/campaign-video.html. You can join the Food For Thought campaign in working with shelters and rescues to adopt policies that truly respect all animals.
The trouble is opening minds, even if you have top-notch material like that created for the Food for Thought Program. I’ve talked before about a local county shelter board for which I did a presentation using this very material. I got a lot of smiles, nods, and “I never thought of that”‘s, and in the very next newsletter, they announced the date for their annual steak dinner. In the years following my presentation, they have added even more meat-centered events to their repertoire.
So there’s quite a bit of emotion and resistance involved, and it’s not always as easy as handing out some brochures and recipes and asking nicely that they change.
You are harassing innocent volunteers who donate time/money & were given a very small caliber rifle to raffle off in an attempt to raise money for a winter enclosure for the dogs living outside. So are you going to pay for the winter enclosure?
You prefer the shelter dogs freeze through the harsh winter? These volunteers are trying to make a positive difference.
Merritt Clifton says
“Innocent” people working in the name of a humane society do not raffle off a firearm, the use of which recommended by the manufacturer is recreationally killing other animals. In this instance, the firearm is of a type used primarily for killing harmless small mammals as target practice, most often with gut and body shots. Rarely are the suffering wounded even dispatched, let alone collected for consumption.
An organization worthy of the name “humane society,” meanwhile, acquires appropriate winter housing before housing animals through the winter, not many years later.
In short, the recent conduct of the Heartland Humane Society in Ottumwa, Iowa, is a travesty of humane work all the way around.
I know that the treatment of homeless dogs and cats is often low on people’s agenda but in a place called a humane society, it is urgent to provide a good strong climate controlled place for them to be as good care is really urgent for these creatures. However, kindness extends to all animals and their lives are important to those of us who love and care for animals. Therefore, to encourage someone to win a gun and go out and shoot a deer, a rabbit, a squirrel, is totally morally wrong. Our job as animal caretakers is to respect the lives of all species that share our world–it is an honor for us to take a stand to protect them from predators such as hunters. It is not up for discussion and the people that bought a chance to win the gun should have donated that amount of money to show kindness and care for their plight of being lost, strayed or unwanted. Very sad that the community depends on someone’s desire to have a gun rather than being concerned about dogs freezing in winter.