Not All Humane Societies Are Created Equally. Here’s What You Need to Know.

animal shelter

When you see those commercials on TV asking people to donate to the Humane Society of the United States, many people think they are giving to their local humane society shelter, but that just isn’t the case.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and local shelters that use “humane society” in their names — like the Humane Society of Tampa Bay for example — are not the same entity.

 “The Humane Society of the United States addresses large-scale animal protection problems beyond the reach or the resources of local organizations,” says Kirsten Peek, public information officer at the HSUS. “Local shelters are separately incorporated and operate independently of the HSUS and other national groups.”

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between HSUS and local humane society shelters.

The Humane Society of the United States

The Humane Society of the United States is a “big picture” organization that works to end animal cruelty in all forms on a national level. Their campaigns and lobbying efforts are aimed at ending puppy mills, trophy hunting, dog fighting, animal testing and improving conditions at factory farms, among other causes. So, when you donate to the HSUS, you are usually supporting the campaigns to end these issues.

Related: A Year After the USDA’s Animal-Welfare Site Hid Information on Puppy Mills, It May Get Worse for Dogs

Besides these larger initiatives, HSUS has an educational arm, providing the latest research, best practices and solutions for rescue organizations.

“We run programs and spearhead campaigns designed to ease the burden on local sheltering groups,” says Peek. As an example, she cites Animal Care EXPO and Animal Sheltering magazine that provide educational and training opportunities.

And they do have programs targeted towards local communities. For instance, Pets for Life keeps pets with their families during times of hardship, thus reducing the number of homeless animals, by offering free pet care services, guidance and community outreach.

“We and our affiliates also operate our own animal care programs, and we directly care for more than 100,000 animals per year,” says Peek. This includes animal care centers that care for thousands of animals each year — and cost millions to operate — and the active rescuing of thousands of animals from cruelty situations.

“Our mission is to help all animals on the national level, taking on large-scale cruelties that persist throughout the nation and the world in a way that local shelters and humane societies don’t have the time or resources to do,” Peek adds.

Local Humane Society Shelters

The local humane society shelters that are located in communities across the U.S. have a different mission that HSUS.

“Humane society in the community are all separate,” says Sherry Silk of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. “We all have our own board of directors and all have our own mission and vision statement, and they are all slightly different.”

She adds, “It is these local animals that are impacted by the donation dollars that come from community. The money you give locally to your shelter stays local to help animals in need.”

Community humane societies almost always have a physical location where they house homeless animals (HSUS does not have a facility for dogs and cats) and run various programs based on what the neighborhood needs. These programs too may include low-cost spay and neuter clinics and affordable veterinary care for those who qualify, but they also could address very specific local issues, like Humane Society of New York assisting with the city’s feral cat colonies.

Related: See Something, Say Something: How to Report Animal Cruelty

Or the Humane Society of Tampa Bay having a partnership with Dolly’s Dream, a foundation focused on saving the lives of pit bull breeds. The HSTB sponsors two adoptable pit bulls every month for six months since 2017 and have adopted out 58 dogs to date through this program.

And while HSUS does a remarkable job fighting big initiatives, Silk worries about people not donating enough to their local shelters.

“HSUS does a great job on legislation, but when they do commercials and advertisements, people think we all get money from the Humane Society of the United States, and we do not,” says Silk. “It is confusing.”

She urges people to consider donating to the local shelters, first, as this will help the animals in the community, but understands there is a need for both HSUS and local humane societies.

“If people to have the wherewithal to support both, that is great,” says Silk. “We need organizations, like HSUS, we need people to fight for animals across the country, but the local humane shelters have a huge need in caring for the local animals.”

And with so many animal welfare organizations popping up (which is great!), Silk urges people to do research an organization before donating. “Check out your local shelters and make sure they are doing good things with the money you donated,” she says.

Reputable non-profits should be submitting a tax form known as a 990, which lays out exactly how they are spending their money. Silk says for every dollar donated, about 80 cents should be going towards operations (i.e. taking care of the animals). If too much is being spent on executive salaries and other administrative costs, that is a big red flag.

You can look at Charity Navigator and GuideStar to review an organization’s ratings and forms.

Related: To Celebrate ‘Love Your Pet Day’ People Share What They Love About Their Dog

By Jillian Blume

Jillian Blume is a New York City–based writer whose feature articles have appeared in magazines, newspapers, and websites including the New York Observer, Marie Claire, Self, City Realty, the ASPCA,, Best Friends Animal Society, The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, The Pet Gazette, and many others.

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