Ex-ASPCA chief advocates for local donations, alleges major groups ignore shelters’ needs

Originally appeared in Fox News.

ASPCA’s former CEO and the godfather behind its iconic Sarah McLachlan ad is encouraging animal lovers to donate locally as he calls out what he views as large animal welfare organizations’ failures to support shelters hit hard in the post-pandemic age.

“For ASPCA, 2% [of proceeds go to local shelters]. So, if you have the visual dollar bill, you would have to tell donors who are donating to such organizations that one penny or two pennies will go to [local shelters],” Ed Sayres told Fox News Digital on Monday.

Sayres says his background compels him to advocate for these local establishments that are grappling with an influx of homeless animals while lacking resources to provide adequate care for them.

Now serving as a senior adviser to the Center for the Environment and Welfare (CEW) think tank based in Washington, D.C., Sayres says his focus remains on calling attention to America’s pet shelter crisis and dispelling some commonly-held yet false beliefs about large organizations he says have left local shelters behind.

“Most donors believe their donations are going locally because they think of those names [of animal welfare groups] as you would think of United Way, that you donate locally through this national umbrella, and it’s not the case,” he continued. “It’s actually brand confusion.”

Many mistakenly assume the ASPCA and other large animal welfare groups function as umbrella organizations – or organizations that control or provide resources to smaller affiliates, but even some note otherwise themselves.

The ASPCA’s Frequently Asked Questions page on its website even clarifies this by writing, “We are not an umbrella organization; we do not directly oversee or operate local shelters or rescues, except in New York where the ASPCA Adoption Center is located.”

Some might confuse local SPCA chapters as affiliates of the ASPCA, though they operate independently and rely on donations. Houston SPCA dispelled this myth on its website in 2021, writing, “While many people believe that the ASPCA funds local shelters like Houston SPCA, no SPCA across the country is part of the ASPCA organization.”

Gary Rogers, president of New York’s Nassau County SPCA, similarly told CBS News the same year that these independent groups are not funded by the ASPCA, stating, “We receive no money from them at all.”

Sayres, meanwhile, told Fox News Digital that his background compelled him to focus on distributing resources locally when he came to the ASPCA in 2003, and he focused on a grant program to aid local shelters. He says, however, that focus has shifted in the years since he stepped down in 2012.

“The concern is post-COVID, shelters are really struggling. Shelters need resources,” he said, adding shortly after, “You would think, knowing there’s a bit of a brand confusion, knowing shelters are needing resources and, bottom line, money saves lives, you would think maybe this was the time to get this program started again.”

He later explained that families’ financial struggles inhibit them from adopting pets, meaning bad economic situations only exacerbate animal shelters’ existing problems.

Jack Hubbard, executive director of CEW, similarly weighed in on the accusations the ASPCA faces.

“Many donors who have seen the sad Sarah McLachlan-style TV ads are shocked to learn that the ASPCA only gives 2% of its budget to local pet shelters. To make matters worse, they are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in investments while paying their CEO over $1 million. We continue to ask the CEO of the ASPCA to reduce his pay and immediately distribute their investment accounts to local shelters.

“Hoarding hundreds of millions of dollars while neglecting local pet shelters just isn’t right.”

Last year, CEW launched a paid media campaign to “expose the duplicity” of the ASPCA, alleging the nonprofit is more focused on lining its pockets as opposed to helping local pets in need.

CEW sources provided to Fox News Digital cite the ASPCA’s recent tax filings as the source of its numbers indicating that only 2% of the organization’s budget goes to local shelters.

According to copies of 2022 ASPCA tax documents CEW additionally provided, CEO Matt Berkshadker raked in over $1 million while many others made six figures.

The think tank’s assertions appear to correlate with findings from CBS News’ 2021 report indicating the organization had raised $2 billion for animal welfare since 2008, but had, in that time, spent approximately 7% in grants to local welfare groups.

The outlet’s investigation additionally uncovered that the group spent nearly three times as much on fundraising efforts.

A spokesperson for ASPCA, when reached for comment on CEW’s accusations from a report last year, told Fox News Digital, “For more than 155 years, the ASPCA has been actively pursuing our mission to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. All of our lifesaving work is dedicated to rescuing, protecting, and caring for animals in need.”