Keep your charitable donations for homeless cats and dogs local

Originally appeared in the Arizona Capitol Times.

In April, state residents raised millions of dollars for philanthropic causes ranging from helping troubled youth to cleaning up the environment for Arizona Gives Day. It’s an annual event that helps drive support for organizations that invest in local communities—a wise move considering that some large, national groups engage in questionable fundraising or marketing tactics.

A new report details how the country’s two most well-known animal advocacy groups—the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States—don’t operate or spend money as many assume. Arizona donors should beware.

Despite similar sounding names, the Humane Society of the United States is not affiliated with local humane societies and doesn’t operate a single pet shelter. The ASPCA, meanwhile, runs an adoption center in New York City but is not linked to other SPCAs across the country. It’s a case of mistaken identity that many Arizonans fall victim to. In fact, recent polling uncovers that roughly 8 in 10 Americans wrongly believe the national organizations are umbrella groups for local pet shelters.

The New York-and-Washington, D.C.-based organizations also dedicate scant financial resources to financially support local operations.

An analysis of tax documents from my organization, the Center for the Environment and Welfare, finds these two national organizations are leaving Arizona’s homeless cats and dogs behind. According to their latest financial records, the ASPCA reported zero financial grants to Arizona pet shelters in 2022 while the Humane Society of the United States gave an underwhelming $500.

Considering the ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States have combined yearly budgets of more than $500 million, this accounts for less than a drop in the bucket. It’s an unfortunate pattern that plays out across the country. Nationwide, the Humane Society of the United States gives just 1% of its total budget to local pet shelters via financial grants. Meanwhile, the ASPCA isn’t much better, giving less than 2%.

If Arizona animal lovers are generously supporting the two animal advocacy juggernauts but the money isn’t making it back to help pet shelters in the state, it begs the question: where are the donations going? Executive compensation, bloated investment accounts, and an expensive advertising regimen take priority over the local pet shelter grant programs.

The leader of the ASPCA, for example, makes more than one million dollars a year, with millions more paid out to the organization’s other executives. The ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States have eight-figure advertising budgets and have a combined $650 million parked in investments. Shouldn’t more of this money be given to local pet shelters?

This isn’t to say that either organization does nothing to help animals. However, many Arizonans likely donate to the groups wrongly believing the money will end up supporting homeless cats and dogs in their community. And the confusion boxes out local pet shelters that might otherwise receive the financial support.

In fact, according to a national survey of local pet shelters and rescues, nearly two-thirds of the shelters surveyed report the mix-up results in fewer donations.

Arizona is home to countless local, regional, and state groups that effectively help homeless cats and dogs. These are the organizations animal lovers should be donating to rather than the ASPCA or Humane Society of the United States if they want to truly make a difference for pet shelters in their community.

Jack Hubbard is the executive director of the Center for the Environment and Welfare.