For months, sexual harassment allegations followed the spotlight. From Hollywood celebrities to media moguls and retired athletes, the #MeToo movement discredited countless public figures who abused their power at the expense of young women.
And then it hit the nonprofit world. In December, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—the country’s largest animal rights group—hired a Washington, D.C. law firm to investigate complaints of sexual harassment against its President and CEO Wayne Pacelle. The investigation’s findings soon leaked: Three women had levied credible charges of sexual harassment against Pacelle, and three more had been given settlements for retaliatory actions after they reported sexual misconduct.
Paul Shapiro—a high-ranking HSUS official—faced similar charges in 2016, but was only given a slap on the wrist. In Pacelle’s case, the HSUS board of directors voted to retain him, with one board member remarking: “Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody?”
The uproar was immediate. Several high-dollar donors withdrew their support and negative headlines circulated online. Within 24 hours, Pacelle resigned in disgrace.
Another likeminded group—Mercy for Animals—has had its own problems with alleged executive misconduct. In recent days, current and former staffers at Mercy for Animals (MFA) accused Executive Vice President Nick Cooney of “gender-based bullying on a near-daily basis.” One former MFA employee announced her resignation “exclusively because of Nick’s sexism, emotional abuse, and bullying.” Cooney was forced out, while MFA’s co-founder resigned shortly thereafter.
Scandals like these not only reveal a disturbing culture of sexual impropriety, but also raise an uncomfortable question: Why do self-proclaimed “animal protection” organizations fail to protect the female employees in their midst?
In part, it’s because the animal rights industry is largely led by men, whereas the vast majority of donors and staffers are female. But there’s an even better explanation: The “humane” movement has made exploitation part of its business model.
Too often, HSUS and other groups betray their donors and the public trust in search of more donations. Why would workplace interactions be any less exploitative?
While HSUS advertising routinely features cats and dogs, only one percent of the money it raises is given to local pet shelters. The $120 million national organization is neither affiliated with local humane societies — despite the similar names — nor does it run a single pet shelter. The overwhelming majority of donors are unaware of the one percent rip-off. Yet HSUS continues to prey on their best intentions by soliciting donations for “humane” causes, only to advance radical ones.
HSUS is hardly alone. Several other animal rights groups seize the moral high ground to court donations, only to discredit themselves in practice. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) collects $60 million in annual revenue by convincing donors it prevents “animal suffering” and conducts “cruelty investigations.”
In 2017, the “animal rights” group slaughtered more than 1,800 adoptable cats and dogs at its Virginia headquarters — a 74 percent kill rate. PETA has killed roughly 38,000 animals in the last two decades. And much of PETA’s advertising infamy has come on the backs of women who stripped down for billboards or street theater, setting an example for women to be treated as objects.
So what’s wrong with America’s animal charities? Here’s a better question: What isn’t?