Americans have a soft spot for animals and are not very discerning when it comes to which animal groups to support. In fact, according to a new study, they falsely equate having heard of a group with it being effective. In other words, because most Americans have heard of the ASPCA or the Humane Society of the United States, they wrongly also believe those groups are on the front lines leading and effecting positive change for animals. Specifically, “the average person does not know the actual impact these two organizations have on helping pet populations,” but (mistakenly) assumes that they have a positive impact simply because they are the most high profile voices, likely stemming from relentless direct mail efforts and highly lucrative commercials spanning decades.
That has made those groups some of the richest charities in the world, taking in well over $200 million per year in revenue each (and allowing the ASPCA, for example, to pay its CEO over $800,000 per year in total compensation). But does that wealth translate into effectiveness? For those of us who have been on the front lines of the effort to end the killing of shelter animals for the last 25 years, necessity has historically compelled us to focus much of our energies on overcoming the opposition to No Kill promoted by these very groups, both in terms of the calcified, deadly dogma they have championed that has enabled shelter killing since the middle of the 20th century, as well as their continued opposition to shelter reform legislation to this very day (the myriad reasons for which are explained in Friendly Fire, my book).
Indeed, despite nearly endless resources, the ASPCA has proven itself not only inadequate to the task of helping animals, but corrupt to the point of being harmful. Among other things, it killed 20 dogs in transport, it allowed dogs to starve, it killed abused dogs despite rescue groups willing to save them, it killed a young woman’s dog, it fights legislation to save lives, putting hundreds of thousands of animals into an early grave, it refuses to treat animals, dropping them off at a notorious pound knowing they will be killed, and it covers up abuse by its employees. The Humane Society of the United States is little better.
In other words, despite the public’s misconception on this point, the size of an organization’s public profile is not proportional to its effectiveness.
That said, the study did however find one exception — one instance — in which the public accurately perceived that “louder” was not necessarily “better”: PETA.
Although the study found that PETA had one of the highest levels of recognition and in general recognition was equated with effectiveness, the rule did not hold true for them. The study found that the public does not believe PETA helped animals: “PETA had the lowest average perceived impact on animal well-being and health care.”
A different study helps explains why. Support for a cause is “greatly reduced, even eliminated,” when the group engages in extreme behavior, including “inflammatory rhetoric,” which are signature PETA actions. This is true even among people “that are sympathetic to a movement’s cause.” Further, the study found that campaigns considered non-violent/reasonable “were twice as likely to be successful” as those of the type PETA champions. So, according to the study, not only do PETA’s actions fail to win converts, they actually turn off those who are inclined to ally with the cause.
As it relates to PETA, the public got it right. PETA rounds up to kill healthy cats, kittens, dogs, puppies, as well as chickens and other animals, defends even abusive pounds, has called for the killing of every dog identified as a “pit bull” in every “shelter” in America, fights legislation to reform pounds and thus save more lives, demonizes cats to encourage their killing, has a history of stealing and killing animals, as well as lying to people in order to acquire and kill their animals, and according to a former employee, lying about the amount of barbiturates it uses to kill animals so it can kill more animals “off book.” All told, it and kills or causes to be killed upwards of 99% of animals staff impound, while only adopting out 1%.
The Study, Perceptions of Prominent Animal Welfare and Veterinary Care Organizations in the United States, is here.
The second study, The Activist’s Dilemma: Extreme Protest Actions Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements, is here.
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