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ESSENTIAL DESTINATIONS

 

EDITORIAL September 2004

The Fund, HSUS, and merging packs

Rumors that the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the U.S. are holding merger talks reached ANIMAL PEOPLE on July 26. Confirmation came a few days later.


In the interim, on July 30, five closely spaced shotgun blasts followed by frantic yelping disturbed the woods about half a mile from our remote rural office. Someone apparently dumped two black Labrador retriever mixes, a mother and nearly grown son, and fired the shots to keep the dogs from following his truck.


Ignoring rabbits who boldly ran right in front of them, the dogs survived by scavenging for several days before stumbling upon the feeding station we set up for them.


For almost a month, we fed and watered them at the same spot––waiting more than a week for box traps to arrive, and then waiting for the dogs to get used to the traps enough to begin eating inside them. Finally the dogs were caught, first the mother and then the pup.


Now comes the even more difficult process of integrating the two new dogs into our pack of three older dogs.


Tasha, the eldest at 12 years, is a German shepherd adopted from the Bennington County Humane Society in southern Vermont, who rescued her and a Doberman after they were abandoned by a man who did not want to pay the shelter surrender fee. The Doberman was adopted before Tasha.


Francesca, now about 11, was dumped along the dirt road that led to our former headquarters in upstate New York. She had given birth to puppies not long before she was thrown out of the back of a pickup truck.


Simon, born on the streets of Taiwan, was hit by a Taipei taxi and luckily taken to Taiwan Abandoned Animal Rescue Foundation founder Mina Sharpe. We adopted Simon, while still a pup, in 1998. Simon greatly enjoys life, after extensive orthopedic surgery. Amid the canine politics, our 15 cats––some feral, all rescue cases––are mostly unafraid of the dogs, but are discreetly keeping out of the way of any risk of trouble.


In effect, we are merging two established packs, of similar history but differing recent experience. They knew each other slightly, from twilight barks, when both packs exchanged insults with the local coyotes, but proximity demonstrates how superficial their acquaintance was.


Cleveland Amory’s legacy

“The Fund and HSUS are discussing the possibility of combining the resources, staffs, boards, and programs of both organizations. While nothing has yet been finalized, both boards of directors voted unanimously to explore this concept,” Fund president Mike Markarian confirmed on August 9.


By then, mid-level and senior personnel at both the Fund and HSUS already seemed to be circling nervously, marking territory, staking out strategic hallways, barking past each other, and in some cases anxiously seeking somewhere else to go.


Fund for Animals president emeritus Marion Probst informally briefed ANIMAL PEOPLE three days before Markaria provided detailed answers. Probst acknowledged the tension, but expressed confidence that it soon would settle.


“This is what Cleveland Amory would have wanted,” Probst said. Both HSUS and the Fund are part of the Amory legacy.


Still working long hours from her New York City office, Probst remembered instantly that Amory hired her as his personal assistant on May 24, 1961. She has kept his affairs in order ever since—posthumously since October 1998.


As a U.S. Army intelligence officer and former Saturday Evening Post reporter, Amory in early 1945 witnessed a so-called “bunny bop,” or rabbit-killing contest, sponsored by the American Legion at Harmony, North Carolina. He exposed the event in a photo essay for the Post. For several weeks thereafter the Post reportedly received more letters about the rabbit killing than about World War II, then still raging.


Amory rose to fame as a best-selling humorist and broadcast commentator in the early days of television, but discovered in animal welfare a more compelling interest than his considerable career success.


In 1954 Amory joined former American Humane Association National Humane Review editor Fred Myers, former American SPCA secretary Helen Jones, and several others in forming the National Humane Society. Probst said Amory came aboard initially as a silent partner, whose popularity was expected to help attract support, but he did not remain silent for very long.


Founded to challenge the then-timidity of the AHA and ASPCA in fighting biomedical research use of animals, the new organization was renamed the Humane Society of the U.S. several years later.


By then it had already begun growth by division. While remaining on the HSUS board, Amory in 1959 helped Jones to incorporate the National Catholic Humane Society, a far more militant voice for animals, which in 1977 became the International Society for Animal Rights.


Disappointed that HSUS refused to vigorously oppose sport hunting, Amory in 1968 started the Fund for Animals, with Probst handling the administration. Amory from the beginning made plain his hope that the Fund, as a rump caucus, could demonstrate humane opposition to hunting so convincingly that HSUS, the AHA, and the ASPCA would all adopt similar positions. They soon did, so long ago that generations of activists no longer recall that they ever did not.


Initially, Probst recalled, Amory expected that the Fund would reunite with HSUS after winning the hunting issue—but the Fund almost immediately took on an additional mission of providing hands-on care to rescued animals, first at the Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, and later also at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in California and the Rabbit Sanctuary in South Carolina.


HSUS until recently avoided becoming involved in hands-on care for animals, for reasons Amory himself articulated in early position statements: to focus on advocacy, to avoid any dilution of mission, and to escape philosophical compromises that might be driven by the need to raise money to feed and house animals.


By 1974, when Amory finally left the HSUS board, he had changed his mind. Amory had come to believe, as he told ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1994, that taking on at least a limited mission of hands-on care helped to keep an organization honest; that if an organization rescues animals, it has an obligation to care for them; and that having sanctuaries helped him to avoid hiring anyone who felt above cleaning litter pans or shoveling out a stable.


While HSUS endured more than 30 years of administrative scandals and frequent conflicts with the emerging animal rights and no-kill sheltering movements, Amory and Probst ran the Fund as a model of fiscal accountability. They held far more money in reserve than the Wise Giving Alliance recommends, reflecting the fiscal conservatism of many people who lived through the Great Depression, but Probst’s hand-completed IRS Form 990 filings detailed the disposition of every penny. They welcomed and made common cause with animal rights organizations, and observed the no-kill philosophy at their sanctuaries.


Chances of reconciliation with HSUS receded after HSUS three times hired away senior Fund personnel—executive director Patricia Forkan, now the HSUS executive vice president; Lewis Regenstein, who is no longer with either organization; and national director Wayne Pacelle, who took several other members of the Fund staff with him to HSUS in 1994.


Annoyed, Amory expressed hope that the Fund might instead eventually merge with PETA. PETA cofounder Alex Pacheco, an Amory protegé, debuted in animal advocacy as a volunteer for the Fund at a Cincinnati branch office. In 1986-1988 Amory and Pacheco led a hostile takeover of the then grossly mismanaged New England Anti-Vivisection Society, whose former president, the late probate judge Robert Ford, was eventually stripped of his judgeship and convicted of related criminal offenses.


For almost a decade NEAVS operated under de facto Fund and PETA joint trusteeship. The arrangement was seen as a test of an eventual merger, but fell apart in disputed board elections and a lawsuit. Pacheco soon afterward left PETA.


“Talking points” memo & money

Pacelle, named HSUS president in May 2004, after 10 years as vice president for legislation, hypothetically proposed a three-way merger of HSUS, the Fund, and PETA as long ago as 1988. Pacelle appears to have been the primary author of an internal memo of “Talking points on the potential merger” recently circulated among Fund and HSUS senior staff and board members.


“The Fund and HSUS jointly publish the Humane Scorecard, which tracks the voting records of members of Congress,” the memo reminded. “The groups jointly publish Humanelines, a weekly electronic alert with subscribers drawn from both organizations. Together they operate the Humane Activist Network, which organizes thousands of volunteers and calls them to action on important issues. They have collaborated very meaningfully on ballot initiatives since 1992, and work cooperatively on state and federal legislation. They are co-plaintiffs on a long list of lawsuits. Both groups have strong urban wildlife programs…”


Pacelle put merger talks with The Fund on the fast track, encouraged by Probst and Markarian. Hand-picked by Amory to eventually head the Fund after Pacelle left, and groomed for the position for five years under Probst’s presidency, Markarian debuted in animal rights as an assistant to Pacelle in the Fund’s Washington D.C. office.


“A key component of the merger,” Markarian told ANIMAL PEOPLE, quoting directly from the memo on talking points, “would be the launch of a new 501(c)(4) organization which could spend unlimited resources on lobbying. It would raise money specifically for lobbying.” The new entity might be named either, “The Humane Fund for Animals” or “The Humane Society Fund for Animals,” the memo indicated.


“As you know,” Markarian and the memo continued, “The Fund and HSUS are both [IRS classification] 501(c)(3) organizations, and both currently face lobbying limits that severely encumber their effectiveness. HSUS must limit its [political] spending to $1 million per year—just 1.3 percent of total spending. The Fund must limit its expenditures to $450,000—about 6% of total spending. These hard caps cannot be consistently exceeded without risking the loss of our charitable status.


“In short, as our organizations grow, our lobbying programs cannot grow commensurately because of the rigid formulas established by the IRS. The HSUS spending cap is frozen at $1 million, no matter how much HSUS grows. The spending limit is the same whether an organization’s annual budget is $20 million, $80 million, or $200 million. As wages, benefits, printing, postage, and other expenditures rise from inflationary pressures, we face shrinking ability to spend in the lobbying domain.”


Markarian and the memo pointed out that the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund “distributes in excess of $5 million per year, and its lobbying arm spends nearly $20 million. Other political opponents, including the American Farm Bureau, National Pork Producers Council, Safari Club International, and Feld Entertainment, spend millions more on political activity. We are at a distinct and often insurmountable disadvantage,” Markarian and the memo contended, “when we attempt to push sweeping and meaningful reforms.


“Our hope,” Markarian and the memo said, “is that a single 501(c)(4), viewed as the political lobbying arm of both organizations, would appeal to donors from both The HSUS and The Fund. Within a few years, it is not unreasonable to think that the 501(c)(4) may be able to spend upward of $10 to $15 million on political activities—representing an increase in spending in this domain by a factor of 10.”


Mergers of animal advocacy organizations are not nearly as common as splits, but occur relatively often at the local or regional level, often as a matter of logical consolidation of programs and services.


An example may be the impending annexation of the Ozaukee Humane Society by the Wisconsin Humane Society, announced in late August. The Ozaukee Humane Society name will remain in use, and four board members will join the 13-member OHS board.


The Ozaukee Humane Society handles about 1,600 animals a year, with an annual budget of under $500,000 and a paid staff of just six, but claims 450 volunteers. Wisconsin Humane handles 17,000 animals per year, with a paid staff of 85 and 750 volunteers.


At the national level, mergers have been few. The most prominent examples have all involved HSUS:


* The World Society for the Protection of Animals was formed in 1981 by merging the International Society for the Protection of Animals with the World Federation for the Protection of Animals. ISPA was formed earlier by combining programs of the Massachusetts SPCA, Royal SPCA of Britain, and HSUS.


* The Free Willy/Keiko Foundation, initially funded by Earth Island Institute and HSUS, in 1999 merged with the Jean Michel Cousteau Institute to become Ocean Futures. HSUS assumed responsibility for looking after Keiko during the last two years of his life.


* HSUS in August 2002 absorbed the financially struggling Ark Trust, coordinators of the 17-year-old Genesis Awards program to honor animal advocacy in the mass media. Founded by actress Gretchen Wyler as a program of the Fund for Animals, the Ark Trust went independent in 1991. Pacelle is believed to have brokered the merger into HSUS.


Another recent example of merger at the national level was the formation of Oceana in 2000 by the Oak Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Surdna Foundation, and Turner Foundation. Oceana president Steve Roady previously headed the Ocean Law Project, begun by the Pew Charitable Trusts and incorporated into Oceana. In 2001 Oceana merged with the American Oceans Campaign, founded in 1997 by actor Ted Danson.


Although Oceana has enjoyed considerable success in litigation, it appears to be having difficulty capturing public support. In fairness, however, the post-9/11 economic climate has hurt the growth of most nonprofit organizations.


Job security

“Fund staff members obviously have questions about the merger and how it would affect their day-to-day work,” Markarian acknowledged to ANIMAL PEOPLE. “The structure is still being discussed.”


Outlined the memo on talking points, “Two of the Fund’s historically most important campaigns, the abolition of sport hunting and the fur trade, would be reflected in two of the four major campaigns of the new organization, along with [work for the benefit of] farmed animals and [opposition to] cruelty to animals and blood sports.


“The Fund’s flagship sanctuary, the Black Beauty Ranch, would continue as a permanent home for abused and abandoned animals, primarily hooved animals who can roam freely,” the memo said.


“The Fund’s three animal care facilities fit well with the three HSUS animal care programs, the Cape Wildlife Center in Massachusetts, Spay & Neuter Clinic in Dallas, and Rural Area Veterinary Services.”


All three of these programs were acquired within the past half dozen years through previous mergers and takeovers of existing organizations.


Other sources within both HSUS and the Fund indicated that the provisional operating plan would split the combined organization into five divisions: external affairs, operations, finance, the office of the general counsel, and a “special focus” team.


Current HSUS chief of staff Andrew Rowan would head the operations division, according to one draft leaked to ANIMAL PEOPLE. Markarian would become chief of external affairs. Current Fund national director Heidi Prescott would head the “special focus” team. The financial and legal teams would retain more-or-less the same composition that they now have within HSUS.


Rowan said it would be premature to comment on either the structural features or personnel assignments.


“My role would potentially be head of external affairs,” Markarian confirmed, “which would oversee communications, government affairs, litigation, fundraising, investigations, and campaigns.”


Markarian also anticipated that he would “head the new 501(c)(4) political arm. My guess,” Markarian said, “is that The Fund’s current staff and programs would be fairly evenly split between external affairs and operations such as sanctuaries, urban wildlife work, and international programs.”


Markarian described the Fund staff response as “incredibly enthusiastic,” but ANIMAL PEOPLE heard otherwise from both HSUS and Fund insiders.


“The staff at the Fund was caught totally by surprise when the merger was announced at a staff meeting,” one well-placed person said, noting an apparent discrepancy between what Fund and HSUS personnel were told by superiors.


“HSUS staffers claim nothing firm has been decided,” the source said, “yet Pacelle spoke to a Fund staff meeting on August 20 to quell their concerns about keeping their jobs.”


Reasons to worry

Fund personnel have three reasons to worry about their future employment. First, a merger creates redundancy. As Markarian told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “Melding our resources will allow for savings in management, accounting, publishing, auditing, and other functions.”
Such savings come through staff cutbacks. Second, there are ideological conflicts. “HSUS is not an animal rights organization,” summarized one source. “HSUS and the Fund have worked together on one level, but at a deeper level we don’t represent the same things. HSUS is unlikely to adopt Fund positions on everything, while for Fund people, retreating to the HSUS positions will involve unacceptable steps backward.” “The basic issue,” said another source, “is that the Fund, having established itself as the pre-eminent anti-hunting organization, will cease to exist. Hunters all over the country will be raising a glass in celebration.”


Several well-placed people at both the Fund and HSUS perceive a continuing need for The Fund, appealing to a heavily overlapping donor base, to demonstrate the viability of more progressive positions than the HSUS board might otherwise endorse.


Third, mergers are economically awkward. The Fund currently raises about $7.6 million per year. HSUS raises about $65 million. When nonprofit organizations merge, they typically raise only slightly more than the wealthier organization raised before the merger, because donors who formerly gave to both organizations usually do not give the combined organizations as much as they gave when contributing to two.


A more promising model, favored by both Markarian and senior HSUS staff, is based on the outcome of institutional splits. When successful organizations divide, for whatever reason, usually they raise less money in their first years of separation than the components did as a single entity—but then they gradually attract new supporters, as the Fund did after splitting from HSUS. While HSUS has grown far more rapidly in recent years, both the Fund and HSUS were bigger by 1985 than either one was before the split.


The memo on talking points anticipates that merging the Fund with HSUS while forming a new 501(c)(4) political organization will produce the same donor behavior as a split.


With combined fiscal reserves exceeding $100 million, the Fund and HSUS could ride out a short-term cash flow deficit without firing anyone—but only by actually drawing upon the reserve funds, which so far neither organization has often done (if ever).

“Movement unity”

“We believe that a merger of two of the nation’s highest profile animal protection organizations will give us new opportunities to attract and engage new members and donors,” Markarian asserted. “Throughout the country, rank-and-file animal advocates repeatedly ask, ‘Why don’t the groups get together?’, allowing us to spend a higher proportion of our dollars on programs, showing donors that we are serious about getting the most bang for our buck for animals.”


Indeed, animal advocates do often express a wish for “movement unity,” but as ANIMAL PEOPLE has often pointed out, that concept tends to be naïve.


In the short run, a unified ad hoc coalition can often win specific objectives. In addition, as opposition organizations such as the NRA and Farm Bureau Federation demonstrate, a unified front can successfully defend an entrenched status quo, or even advance an agenda, if the agenda is sufficiently narrow.


Successful political movements, seeking cultural transformation, by contrast must practice multi-party politics. Instead of presenting a narrowly unified front— easily isolated, diverted, distracted, disrupted, and ultimately defeated—they stretch across the socio-political and economic spectrum, giving the public multiple points of entry and making successful use of their divisions to appeal to people who otherwise may have little in common.


The infighting, internal debate, and economic competition that animal advocates often decry are inevitable byproducts of building a broad base that can be politically mobilized from multiple directions.


Attempts to establish “movement unity” by suppressing real conflicts of outlook, tactics, and goals actually intensify the conflict behind the scenes by elevating the stakes of infighting—because whoever sets the public agenda “wins,” and everyone else must then support that approach or be accused of breaking unity, even if they think it is 100% dead wrong and counterproductive.


Trying to keep conflicts hidden helps the corrupt and incompetent to evade exposure, helps agents provocateur to hide, and allows foes to tar the whole cause with one brush—for example, by equating animal advocates with terrorists.


Most important, in seeking homogeneity the cause loses by default much potential public support, because instead of seeing a variety of views to choose from, the public sees only one, and often feels uncomfortable with all the baggage attached to it.


Retailers learned long ago that more choice means more sales, but the animal cause has yet to notice, even though the most obvious feature of the rise of the humane movement in the 19th century, the animal welfare movement in the post-World War II era, the animal rights movement in the post-Vietnam War era, and the no-kill movement in the past decade? has been the proliferation of successful new organizations.


Fundamentally, merging the Fund with HSUS reduces public choice. A case can be made that the merger will serve both organizations’ institutional interests, including the interests of the majority of present donors. Certainly the merger appears to have been part of Cleveland Amory’s vision, from the debut of the Fund.


Whether the merger will equally serve the animals’ cause, especially over time, is a much more complex question. If the Fund and HSUS are so much alike as to present no substantive choice to donors, or are apt to evolve to be the same, there is no reason not to merge. If other organizations are positioned to fill any ideological or tactical void created by the merger, nothing will be lost. But is any other organization so positioned?

Donor expectations

Not to be overlooked is the question of what donors really want from organizations. Cleveland Amory helped to found HSUS and ISAR, and started the Fund for Animals, because he wanted to extend moral consideration to animals.


Animal protection donors typically state similar concerns, but hired-gun fundraisers long ago discerned that what donors most respond to is the promise of a short-term feel-good from the act of giving, not the prospect of contributing to attitudinal changes that will actually occur only over decades or generations.


Thus the typical fundraising approach consists of inducing pain with a gruesome description of an issue and perhaps an evocative photograph, and then offering immediate relief in exchange for a donation.


The success of organizations—and the leaders who succeed the founders—has come to be measured by their ability to manipulate donors, not by their ability to win big issues.


“Wow! That certainly is interesting news about the possible corporate merger,” wrote longtime New York City activist Irene Muschel a few days before ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press.


“They will certainly increase the power, money, and numbers of people behind their work,” Muschel opined. “I hope they will be an open and receptive entity, interested in ideas and input from others and not unreachable and closed and inflexible. One issue I hope you will address [in covering the proposed merger] is how the fact sheets and literature of animal rights groups can be most successfully made available to the public. I think it is crucial that the leaders of these groups understand that individual activists can do only so much, and that permanent change can only come about with major funding from these wealthy groups.


“It is true that many people’s lives have been changed by a pamphlet received from an animal activist,” Muschel wrote, “but achieving broad, systemic change takes money. PETA, to its credit, often gives out free literature for activists to distribute,” unlike many other groups that charge for literature. “Nevertheless, activist activity has limited effect, and activists come and go, and cannot always be there for the long fight,” Muschel continued. “No volunteer, even the most committed, can possibly reach the numbers of people who must be reached if the situation for animals is to get any better.


“It is irresponsible for wealthy organizations to ask volunteer activists to do the major work on issues such as fur,” Muschel argued. “People give money to these organizations so that they will do the major work. They should be spending money on advertising the facts everywhere.


“Make clear to the leaders,” Muschel asked, “that they must lead by spending the millions they have received from donors on campaigns to promote animal welfare, rather than asking volunteers to do their work. On broad issues such as fur, it is these groups who must take the lead in spending money on advertising,” and other forms of public education.


Markarian, Probst, and the “talking points” memo all suggest that merging the Fund for Animals with HSUS and creating a 501(c)(4) political arm will better position them to do what Muschel expects them to do. But Muschel had some further thoughts.


“This evening I called my my best friend, who is a psychoanalyst, to ask if there is some kind of fix for the problem that ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett described on the back cover of the 2004 ANIMAL PEOPLE Watchdog Report on Animal Protection Charities as organizations which ‘run on interest instead of having to justify their existence to supporters,’” Muschel wrote in a follow-up e-mail.
“We talked about how so many big groups basically attempt to sell themselves—’Look how much we are doing!’—as opposed to listening to committed activists and trying to work with them toward a shared goal.


“We also talked about how these groups often view people as objects who can be manipulated to give money and serve the needs of the organizations so that they will look great. We discussed how their style of relating to donors and activists is frequently similar in some ways to the narcissist who wears fur: such groups will listen and use their wealth for animals only if they see that it is in their own interest to do so.


“If you were to increase the distribution of the Watchdog Report,” Muschel concluded, “you would increase the pressure on these groups to genuinely respond to donor expectations.”


Whether the merger of the Fund with HSUS brings out the best or worst from either organization, or a new balance of both, the role of ANIMAL PEOPLE will be to provide an independent, observant, keenly interested external perspective.


Watchdogging is the role that all of our dogs recognize as theirs, regardless of their positions relative to each other. Whether working as one pack eventually, or continuing as two distinct packs, our newcomer dogs are already on the job for us, reminding us of the job we must do for you.