COMMENTARY: Nevada’s local pet shelters need your help

Op-ed originally appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Nevada’s animal shelters are at a breaking point as a surge in animal intake meets insufficient budgets. In Las Vegas, one local shelter recently resorted to begging residents on social media to foster pets after receiving more than 900 animals over a two-week period.

The crisis is not limited to Nevada, with the number of shelter animals euthanized nationwide in 2023 up 15 percent from the prior year.

Donors need to do their homework before contributing to organizations that claim to help homeless cats and dogs. That way, money can most effectively remedy the pet shelter emergency.

Animal lovers have tried to help by donating to national groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States, whose prolific commercials feature suffering cats and dogs. But there’s a glaring problem: The vast majority of that money doesn’t directly support local pet shelters via financial grants.

Despite similar sounding names, the well-known national organizations are not affiliated with local humane societies or SPCAs. Even so, the two national groups have been on a fundraising bonanza in recent years. Over the past decade, the budgets of the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States have ballooned by more than a combined $200 million.

According to an analysis of the groups’ own tax returns, less than 2 percent of the ASPCA’s budget was directed to local shelters as financial grants in 2022, with 23 states receiving no grant funding at all. Meanwhile, the Humane Society of the United States is not any better. The group, which doesn’t operate a single pet shelter, allocates merely 1 percent of its funds to local shelters.

For Nevada, neither national juggernaut reported any financial grants to pet shelters in the state.

A practice known as joint cost accounting further muddies the financial transparency of these organizations. The accounting loophole essentially allows charities to claim a significant portion of their fundraising expenses as “programmatic spending” by including an “educational” message in solicitations.

The ASPCA, for example, claims “76 cents of every dollar” it spends goes toward “programmatic” services. In reality, the true figure is closer to 50 cents, according to CharityWatch. In other words, a significant portion of your donation is going to “educational” fundraising direct mail letters — not to local pet shelters.

Beyond the opaque money-management scheme, name confusion among donors throws another wrench into the gears. According to public polling, 80 percent of Americans mistakenly believe the Humane Society of the United States is an umbrella group for humane societies across America, and 81 percent are under the impression that the ASPCA represents local SPCAs.

The misconception exacerbates the money crunch at local shelters. Seventy-four percent of surveyed shelters say their funding is inadequate.

For Nevadans who care about animal welfare, it’s time to redirect support to where it’s most needed. Instead of funneling donations to national groups headquartered in New York and Washington, D.C., consider giving directly to your local shelter or animal rescue. They need — and deserve — a bigger bone.

Edwin Sayres was the president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) from 2003 to 2013. He is currently a senior adviser to the Center for the Environment and Welfare.