Many people refer to the “SPCA” without knowing exactly what they mean. They have heard of many different regional SPCA’s and believe they are all related – part of the same network. In fact, most people don’t understand how shelters work and are confused by the use of common names that often include “SPCA” or “Humane Society.” Three common misperceptions have emerged:
1) All “SPCA’s” or “Humane Societies” Are Related
Many people have heard of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“ASPCA”) and the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and believe they are parent organizations and related to local shelters with similar names. In fact, not only are they wholly unrelated to each other but they are also unrelated to any local animal shelters. Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA in New York, the first such organization in the United States. Bergh spoke out against animal cruelty taking place on the streets of New York and, in 1866, received a charter from the State for the ASPCA to shelter unwanted animals and also to enforce the state animal cruelty law. The ASPCA is now a $200 million organization engaging in advocacy, lobbying and public education. It also aids in emergency response in disasters like floods and hurricanes. As of September 2013, it no longer enforces the animal cruelty laws; it transferred those responsibilities to the local police. Other than the occasional grant, it does not provide direct funding to any local SPCA’s. Each local organization with “SPCA” in its name is a separate nonprofit operating completely independently of the ASPCA.
The other major national animal advocacy group in the United States is the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) based in Washington, DC. Like the ASPCA, the HSUS engages in advocacy, public education and lobbying and also assists in emergency responses where large numbers of animals need assistance. HSUS also employs a large number of lawyers on its staff in order to bring strategic lawsuits to protect the interests of animals. Although the HSUS provides occasional grants to fund, for example, local spay/neuter efforts, it has no corporate relationship with any local organization using the name “Humane Society” nor does it provide any direct funding for local shelters.
2) SPCA’s bearing the name of a state or county are affiliated with the government.
When founding local shelters throughout the twentieth century, many people named their organization after the area they wanted to serve: as in the “Montgomery County SPCA.” That is merely the name they selected for their private organization to help communicate to the public who they could call about an unwanted animal or where they should look to adopt an animal; it did not mean that they were established by County government. They could have just easily been called “Bob’s Animal Rescue.”
3) SPCA’s receive public funding.
In Pennsylvania, neither the Pennsylvania SPCA nor any local SPCA bearing the name of the County where it is located receives any funding from the government. Although some shelters receive some funding if they contract with a municipality to take in their stray animals, that funding is a minimal part of their overall budget. SPCA’s are individual nonprofits that must raise funds to support their operations.
So, if you want to support animals through your charitable giving, it’s important to know the specific role that each organization plays before making your selection. Speaking of that, how do you decide where to direct your donations? Do you check organizations out online? Do you give to the larger organizations as a result of their mailings (electronic or otherwise)? Give us your thoughts below.