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Humane Society in the doghouse over budget

Oct. 24, 2011
by Sergio Bichao 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Humane Society.

No, not the Plainfield Area Humane Society. Or the Associated Humane Societies, which operates at Popcorn Park Zoo in Lacey.

This is the Humane Society of the United States, the national animal-advocacy organization that counts 11 million people as members and rakes in nearly $100 million a year in grants and donations. While it may share part of the name with several local animal shelters, just a fraction of the Humane Society’s coffers trickles down.

In New Jersey, the organization donated $21,178 to 10 shelters and animal groups in 2009 and 2010, according a report released last week slamming the Humane Society for not giving more money to local groups.

The report was published by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a business lobbying group that has dogged the Humane Society for several years.

The report claims less than one-half of 1 percent of the organization’s funds went to local shelters, even though a poll found that most people believed the Humane Society is an "umbrella group" representing local shelters.

Responding to the criticism, the Humane Society says on its website and blog that it never claimed to operate local shelters.

Instead, Internal Revenue Service tax documents show, the organization ran a $20 million deficit in 2009 using Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in a campaign against dog fighting, passing legislation against killing prairie dogs in 14 states, boycotting Canadian seafood as a part of save-the-seals campaign and sterilizing dogs in the South Asian kingdom of Bhutan.

The Humane Society in 2009 also paid its president and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, nearly $270,000 and paid about $20.9 million in other salaries, the same IRS documents show.

Nearly $20 million was spent on mailings and marketing.

Meanwhile, "very rarely" has the Human Society donated to the Plainfield Area Humane Society, Executive Director Susan MacWhinney-Ciufo said.

"The Humane Society does serve a purpose," she said. "They address legislative issues, and they do help with disaster relief, but we request that if you want to give to animals in your community, give to local shelters."

Nora Breen, director of Second Chance for Animals, whose volunteers support the Franklin Township Animal Shelter in Somerset County, said it was "disappointing" that more money isn’t going to local groups.

"In a small organization (people who donate) can be guaranteed that the money we raise from them goes directly to help the animals," she said. "We don’t pay salaries to any volunteers. When you get into these larger organizations, you don’t know where the money is going."

Second Chance received $2,000 in 2009 from the Humane Society.

But the Associated Humane Societies, which runs shelters in Newark, the Forked River section of Lacey and Tinton Falls, was not as fortunate.

"They don’t give very much of their donations," Executive Director Roseann Trezza said.

"The thing is they have a huge mailing list and put out a lot of press releases," she said. "A lot of people are confused because (the name is) ‘˜Humane.’ It’s not only us; it’s other humane societies, too, that people think the money is being filtered down to the local groups."

In 2009, Second Chance collected $85,000 in grants and contributions, nearly 90 percent of its budget, according to most recent IRS tax documents.

Breen said her budget also covers the wages for two part-time employees at the shelter, which costs township taxpayers $150,000 a year, according to the municipal budget.

Associated Humane Societies collected $4.5 million in grants and contributions, nearly half of its 2009 budget.

Plainfield Area Humane Society collected $256,000 in contributions and grants in 2009 ’ a year that ended in a $43,000 deficit despite $360,000 total revenues.

The bulk of the funds collected by the local groups were spent on veterinary fees and food for animals.