If you were watching the Oscars last night, you would have seen an ad that said only one percent of the money the Humane Society of the United States raises from the public goes to local, hands-on pet shelters. The ad was financed by a Web site called HumaneWatch.org.
That ad comes on the heels of another controversial report for animal lovers last week, stating that PETA kills more than 95 percent of the pets in its charge at its Norfolk, Va., headquarters. The report came from a Web site called PetaKillsAnimals.com.
But are the reports genuine?
Both Web sites that released the reports are part of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an NGO founded by Richard Berman, a Washington D.C., lawyer, public relations executive, and lobbyist. Berman runs at least 20 others pro-business non-profit Web sites, including TeachersUnionExposed.com, FishScam.com and ActivistCash.com. Berman has long come under fire by activists who say his NGOs are “front groups” used to lobby for corporate interests. A site called Bermanexposed.org is entirely devoted to investigating Berman and the studies his groups has released.
PETA told the Post that it does euthanize animals, but only because of “injury, illness, age, aggression, and other problems, because their guardians requested it, or because no good homes exist for them.” PETA has posted a number of blogs about this issue over the years.
According to a 2010 report by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, of the 4,569 pets received by PETA that year, 3,630 were euthanized. In 2011, out of 2,050 pets PETA received that year, 1,965 were euthanized.
PETA spokeswoman Jane Dollinger called CCF a “front group” for “animal exploiters who kill millions of animals every year.”
“CCF’s goal is to damage PETA by misrepresenting the situation and the number of unwanted and suffering animals PETA euthanizes,” she said.
The Humane Society has a whole page on its Web site devoted to the Center for Consumer Freedom.
Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS, said he also believes that CCF “is funded by animal abuses industries.”
Responding to the center’s allegation that only one percent of Humane Society donations go to pet shelters, Pacelle said: “We have never represented ourselves as giving all of our money to pet shelters, not on any ad. In fact, our TV ads say specifically that we do not fund shelters, and that those local groups are independent.”
Paccelle said donations go toward the society’s work in public policy enforcement, animal rescue and investigations of cases of animal abuse, among other efforts.
A senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, J. Justin Wilson, told The Post that the recent studies “came from facts.” You can see the center’s research for the PETA study here, and the research for the Humane Society study here.
Wilson acknowledged that funding for CCF came from the food industries, but said the center was not funded by “animal abuse industries.” From Wilson:
“The facts are the facts. The notion that our funding changes the facts is just wrong. I think that these animal rights groups don’t like a dose of their own medicine, to some extent. They are more than willing to shoot the messenger. We want people to make informed choices for ourselves. I don’t think we are eroding anything [for these groups], we are helping.”
A number of media reports over the years have also characterized CCF as a front group.
“Berman and Company is quite objectively in the business of manufacturing misinformation,” Salon, a progressive Web site, wrote in 2011.
“Why do you expect anyone to believe you on matters of science and research if we don’t know if you are being paid to say this by people who have a vested interest?” liberal TV show host Rachel Maddow asked Berman on her show in 2010.
And in 2009, a segment on the show “60 Minutes” also questioned Berman, calling him “the booze and food industries’ weapon of mass destruction,” and pointing out that many of his studies were contradictory.
“You're a hired gun,” said CBS correspondent Morley Safer.
Berman told Safer he saw his role as policing “do-gooders run amok.”
“Well, I go out to people and I say, ‘Look, if you believe in what I believe, will you help fund it?’ Now, I don’t know if that’s a hired gun or not. But, the point is, yes, I do get paid for educating people. If that’s my biggest crime, I stand accused.”