And it isn’t news you’ll get anywhere else
ANIMALS 24-7 a few weeks back exposed how a long-ago animal rights movement celebrity, now with a “group” consisting of little more than a post office box and himself, has raised more than a million dollars since 2009 in the name of developing a so-called “spay/neuter cookie” without having even so much as a veterinary researcher under contract or on the payroll––or having a crumb of a theory as to how it might be done, in a way that would not harm animals (or humans) and could be licensed to make and use.
For seven years this individual has sent out direct mail in high volume, telling unsubstantiated story after unsubstantiated story, making more than 200 bogus claims –– but thousands of donors have so desperately wished they could sterilize street dogs and feral cats as easily as tossing them kibble that they have showered him with money and have not asked questions.
Only a few days before that, ANIMALS 24-7 exposed the collapse of a wild horse sanctuary which raised funds for decades by pretending that it had developed the knack of controlling horse herd population by letting the herds control themselves. This claim even suckered several leading national charities, whose leaders made fools of themselves citing the sanctuary’s supposed success. Meanwhile the sanctuary horse population quadrupled, obliging law enforcement to step in to feed 810 hungry horses.
Such scams are unfortunately not unusual. Over the Thanksgiving holiday the Daily Mail, of London, England, exposed how three Hollywood celebrities helped another big talker to raise “hundreds of thousands of pounds” from gullible donors who urgently wanted to assist him in “rescuing” dogs from a dog meat festival in China.
The “rescuing” was done by purchasing the dogs from breeders and dealers who could of course breed or buy as many more dogs for slaughter as they wanted. “Lucky” dogs who were bought by the “rescuer” were sent to “sanctuaries” where hundreds of dogs died from neglect.
Now the legitimate animal rescue networks working in China, already stretching to rescue thousands of dogs and cats, and to end events like the dog meat festival with little or no outside help, are stretching again to help the dogs who survived this fiasco driven by well-meaning but ill-informed western donors.
Fake news, now drawing notice because of the effect it may have had on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is unfortunately nothing new in animal charity fundraising.
In truth, fake news in animal charity fundraising has all too often become business-as-usual for the charities pulling in the most money for doing the least, and/or pursuing the most counterproductive strategies for helping animals in the long run.
As bad, or worse, the techniques of using fake news to raise easy money in the name of helping animals have become familiar to small-time scam artists and animal hoarders who work social media in the name of no-kill rescue, while mostly making matters worse for the animals who fall into their care. So far in 2016, at least 42 such operations have come to light in the U.S., housing 3,690 animals who have had to be re-rescued. Most of those animals are being rehabilitated, but many have had to be euthanized because their condition had been allowed to deteriorate beyond recovery. Probably ten times as many animals––close to 40,000––are in failing shelters and rescues which have not yet attracted law enforcement notice.
Despite the heart-rending appeals posted by such places, exploiting photos of the animals suffering in their custody to extract funds from the sympathetic and the gullible, their biggest problem is usually not “too many animals, too few homes, and too little money to bring the animals and homes together.”
Rather, the common denominator among failed shelters and rescues is the deadly combination of irresponsible behavior by the operators––whether as result of mental illness, deteriorating judgement, or overt criminality––with the readiness of donors to believe that somehow, somewhere, there is a magically wonderful home for every animal, no matter how dangerous, unstable, or ill.
Fake news is the culprit
Fake news is the culprit, including false claims that every problem that puts animals into shelters has an easy remedy, if only donors send more money.
The way to launch a fake news story, a leading purveyor of fake news explained recently on National Public Radio, is simply to tell people with passionate beliefs what they are already predisposed to accept, by appealing to fears, prejudices, and wishful thinking –– and encourage them to react without critical thought.
In fake news dissemination, the trick is to get readers to breathlessly share the fake news with all their friends via social media. In animal charity fundraising, the trick is to get readers to make a big donation first, and ask questions later, if at all.
ANIMALS 24-7 is your ally in self-defense against fake news and manipulation by unscrupulous fundraisers operating in the name of animals. In a charitable universe including close to 30,000 nonprofit organizations incorporated to help animals in the U.S. alone, we unfortunately cannot review and rate each one. But we can and do expose many of the worst of the worst. More important, we report about which sorts of claims are plausible, and which are not.
Reporting the truth
We discover and report the truth of fake news––even, in one memorable case, where a fake news report of a dolphin being manhandled to death by Argentine beachgoers taking “selfies” had been unquestioningly amplified by mainstream media worldwide.
While the outraged world hyperventilated, my wife and ANIMALS 24-7 social media editor Beth Clifton applied her fluent knowledge of Spanish and her skills as vet tech and former police officer to review the videotaped evidence and ensure that we were one of only two web sites to accurately report the story.
Fake news is NOT harmless
Fake news is not really news at all. Nor is fake news just harmless entertainment. Fake news diverts real resources away from where help is desperately needed. Fake news makes bad situations worse, and makes good situations bad by amplifying misunderstandings, including misinterpretations rooted in racism, sexism, and speciesism.
ANIMALS 24-7 researches and publishes the real news for people who really care about animals, 24 hours a day, day in and day out, not just people who browse web sites to get a voyeuristic rush from the latest atrocity stories and then an “upper” from a grumpy cat video.
I recently completed my 30th year of full-time reporting on animal rights and animal welfare news beats, after 18 years of incorporating coverage of animal issues into my work for other news media as often as I could find a way. Reporting the news of how concerned, caring, and dedicated people are making the world better for animals has been my passion, 24-7, since I first learned to pound a typewriter.
The ANIMALS 24-7 team have worked over the years for as little as we need to get by. Beth & I are driving a car with more than 216,000 miles on it, we don’t have a savings account, and when we pay our bills each month, we wonder if it’s time for Beth to return to vet tech work & for me to look for work driving a delivery truck––but not to quit ANIMALS 24-7, which is not just our jobs but our mission.
We need your help to keep on trucking, helping you to help animals and avoid getting scammed. ANIMALS 24-7 is the real deal, and will keep on being the real deal for as long as life is in us––because there is a great deal more news on the animal beat in urgent need of real reporting.
Merritt Clifton, editor, ANIMALS 24-7
P.S.––ANIMALS 24-7 recently profiled five of the great journalists who preceded us on the animal news beat: Fred Myers, Eppie Lederer, Cleveland Amory, Ann Cottrell Free, and Henry Spira. I had the privilege of knowing and working with three of the five. Each, including Henry, who called me just hours before he died, urged me to continue their legacy of reporting that made a difference on behalf of animals.
With your generous help, this is exactly what we are doing. Your generous donation of $50, $100, $500, or whatever else you can give to help feed the ANIMALS 24-7 kitty, this is exactly what we are doing.