If the Humane Society of the United States were a religious institution, which it very nearly is, preaching the doctrine of compassion and the horror of cruelty, it would not be a mainstream denomination because it has no actual churches (shelters). Not even a Crystal Cathedral. However, the minister --er, President Emeritus -- John Hoyt IS or was a Presbyterian minister who found the perks and income much nicer with HSUS. (Just as Bill Schulz, once head of the UUA and constant protester that he only wanted to minister to small worthy churches, found that the only job that wasn’t a step down was as head of Amnesty International.)
Also, since Hoyt’s ministry amounted to circuit-riding among HSUS-sponsored events, he could give the same sermon repeatedly. I must have heard it half-a-dozen times when I was working with Multnomah County Animal Control in the Seventies. The money-story was about a pair of Canada geese, which are believed to pair for life, except that one of them is shot. Guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye. Don’t get me wrong: Reverend Hoyt is one of those likeable, handsome, well-coiffed men that Americans have always loved because of their Anglophilic confusion of clergy with gentry. “A Man Called Peter,” the kind of man Huckabee hopes will be elected President of the US.
I don’t recall meeting Wayne Pacelle, the present president. He got his start with the Fund for Animals and has said he wants HSUS to be the NRA of animal issues: a political powerhouse and a cash cow. He is not above violence (though not personally), which rather suggests the extreme Christian Fundamentalists who feel any measures are legitimate to stop abortion.
I did meet Cleveland Amory before he died. Besides being a co-founder of HSUS, he (ahem) “embodied” the Fund for Animals which the initiated called “the fund for Cleveland Amory” since it mostly just supported Amory while he traveled around speaking. It may be that HSUS was meant to be a replacement, more of a screen for fund-raising, but it has far eclipsed Amory’s small personal “fund” and has inflated in much the same way as the pharmaceutical and energy lobbying corporations for about the same reasons. This is far beyond what HSUS doing when I first helped organize conferences with them. At that time they were busy trying to stamp out their rival, the American Humane Association, which works to protect children as well as animals. Now HSUS has attracted critiques like that at ActivistCash.com which analyzes their enormous and complex staff, budget, endeavors and lawsuits. HSUS recommends a rebuttal site.
Perhaps it was PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which first grew out of the post-modern Marxist reification of the small, the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the nonhuman and demanded special studies of such categories as the Black, the Female, the Queer, the Native American and so on. Many scholars, especially the minority scholars who were members of the groups they studied, rose to prominence through these innovative university departments. Among them was Peter Singer, who emphasized the suffering and exploitation of animals. So long as prosperity supported expansion, these departments thrived, though there were sometimes intra-departmental kafuffles over what was “true” feminism and how black one had to be and a few people who turned out not to be at all Native American. Today these programs are being closed down as money-losers, while the minorities and rights-based scholars are finding that people think their books are unintelligible.
Since I was “initiated” as an animal control education coordinator, I had occasion to be “backstage” with the Seventies HSUS people, meeting their planes, buying them dinner, and so on, in the same way that later when I was an ordained UU minister I was backstage with denominational officials -- not just the local congregation leaders, but the big-time national officers. I found them remarkably the same. Their focus was always on maintaining the institution that paid their salaries. How do we increase our income? How do we get more members? What issues will attract publicity? Who are the effective fund-raisers out there and what will they charge us? These are hard-headed business people -- not celebrities or hand-wringers. They make money by being irreproachable. Rather like the Pope. Or Mother Theresa.
Among the issues HSUS takes on are: disasters (they show up, get on television, then disappear), dog fights (esp. the celebrity cases like Vick), high-profile humane stories like the truck-load of collies stopped at the US/Canada border, zoos, rodeos, hunting, wild horses, dog races, puppy mills, etc. Easy to demonize. Their budget for the people who travel to “hot spots” to make media appearances is about $2 million. If you look at their website, journalist’s inquiries are guided to a full panel of specialists. They have an adaptable policy towards agricultural animal abuse and oppose the eating of meat and the wearing of fur. (Pacelle is vegan.) Money changes hands.
Lately academics have begun to question some of the policies and practices of the HSUS. Michael Fox remains with them (there are lots of insider jokes about “Michael’s little foxes,” the diligent female researchers he uses to produce his work) but I don’t see Peter Singer’s name at the moment, which makes me curious. They still list Jane Goodall. So a flag went up in my mind when the HSUS announced the awarding of a panel of prizes to professors who teach animal studies courses. I know two of those recipients and they are certainly worthy, but they have hardly been big anti-cruelty forces, except to the extent that any conscientious person would be. But spreading a little money around ought to dampen crusades.
In the last few years I’ve become more and more sensitive to the proliferation of nonprofit corporations based on do-good principles, partly because there are many of them in Montana working for conservation, ag reform, peace, grizzly protection, and a host of other issues. I notice that their CEO’s dress well, drive nice cars, and eat in nice places. Many of them have law degrees but have never been working lawyers -- rather they tend to have ties to legislators or media. I don’t think I’ve ever met one who wasn’t a college graduate. I have no doubt that some of these foundations are legitimate, hard-working, and effective in the use of their resources. But I’m also beginning to have suspicions that they are unregulated storefront preachers, passing the hat for their own good. How could anyone blame them when it works so well for HSUS?