I went into this line of work because I love animals. Growing up a farm, I spent nearly every day in the barn. Crops didn’t interest me, but give me a chance and I’d head out to see the animals (even when it wasn’t chore-time) whether that involved the pigs, calves, dogs or cats.

Most people working in animal agriculture chose that career path because they understand and like animals. There are much easier ways to make a living than working with farm animals unless you have a passion for them. Walk onto any land-grant university campus, visit with some animal science students and you’ll find an enthusiastic group who get excited not just about spending time with animals, but finding ways to ensure they’re well-cared-for and healthy.   

Of course, that’s not the picture that’s been painted about folks in animal agriculture, and one of the driving forces in that misconception is the Humane Society of the United States.

HSUS excels at creating misconceptions. It has done a superior job of creating the impression that it’s associated with pet shelters and the work of local humane societies. Obviously it starts with the name, but who hasn’t seen the HSUS TV ads that show abandoned and abused dogs and cats? A poll from the Opinion Research Corp. conducted just last month found that 71 percent of Americans surveyed believe HSUS is an umbrella group representing local humane societies.  

The HSUS ads suggest that for a donation of $19 per month, you can help those unfortunate animals. In fact, a 2-year study by the Campaign Media Analysis Group found that more than 85 percent of the animals shown in HSUS commercials were dogs and cats.

The problem is, only 1 cent out of every $1 that HSUS collects goes to help those critters; and HSUS collects $131 million a year. The rest goes toward lobbying efforts, ballot initiatives, undercover videos, pension plans and salaries and such. HSUS’ president, Wayne Pacelle, himself has identified animal agriculture as a priority target.

Now, that’s about to change. There’s a new group on the scene and one that animal agriculture can and should get behind as animal lovers.

The group is the Humane Society for Shelter Pets. It announced its presence about 10 days ago with full-page ads in The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. There already are nearly 500 local shelters signed up, reports Jeff Douglas, the groups’ co-director. HSSP was organized “to relieve a dreadful situation facing shelters across the country,” he says. “We’ve heard from local shelters for some time that the (HSUS) misperception—some would call it deception—is very wide spread.

A lot of people have wanted to get clarity and some kind of organization that could create a more effective donation stream to local shelters.” No question, there is a need, especially in such tough economic times.

HSSP’s website allows people to easily find their local shelters and make direct donations. The group’s two-pronged approach to get things moving starts by working directly with local shelters across the United States. HSSP will help shelters develop ways to increase their stature and profile in the community and to improve fund-raising efforts. The other avenue is to work with the American Veterinary Medical Association, informing them about the funding realities and shelters’ needs.

Also this week, the Center for Consumer Freedom’s Humanewatch.org began airing national TV ads outlining HSUS fundraising tactics and encouraging Americans to donate directly to their local pet shelters. You can view the ad here.

You can bet that HSSP is sincere in clearing the air about HSUS funding. It is not an anti-animal agriculture group. “Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of the United States and our greatest hope for the future,” Douglas says. “If we can inform more people, we will begin to get this thing turned around.”

I’m guessing many of you reading this have a fuzzy friend curled up nearby; my 11-year-old German Shepherd is within reach. Farmers and ranchers need to embrace HSSP, support this effort and encourage others to do so as well. Not only will that ensure donations go to help abandoned shelter animals in need and as intended, but it will deplete the bulging coffers that HSUS uses for other efforts—including attacking animal agriculture.