Questions are swirling around the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) membership figures, according to watchdog group Looking at HSUS’s own membership figures, the group uses varying numbers and also throws in many qualifying terms.

So how much support does HSUS really have? It seems even HSUS can’t make up its mind.

According to HumaneWatch, HSUS claims to have millions of backers—12,101,729 “members and constituents.” The HSUS Web site touts the fact that the group is “backed by 11 million Americans…” It is unclear if a constituent or a backer is considered a member.

HumaneWatch notes that HSUS’s actual membership appears to be far less than its self-claimed “constituency.” According to the watchdog group, HSUS states on its 2010 tax return that its All Animals magazine, included with a $25 membership, has a circulation of just 450,000. 

HSUS’s stated membership and membership goals have changed through the years:

July 2004: HSUS was hoping to reach 2 million members

June 2005: HSUS had “more than 1,000,000” members

April 2010: HSUS had 1.5 million members, was hoping to get to 2.5 million

July 2010: HSUS had 1.2 million members, was hoping to get to 2 million

HSUS’s campaign in 2004 sought to grow the organization to 2 million members. HSUS still had the same target six years later.

While HSUS uses many figures to indicate its membership, the group also makes statements on its Web site that seem to differ from the facts. For example, the group states “ We are the nation's most important advocate for local humane societies…” Yet, according to HumaneWatch, the group spends less that 1 percent of its budget on pet shelters.

How does HSUS's membership stand today? In an issue of All Animals magazine from last summer—certainly an authoritative source—HSUS stated it had more than 1.1 million members. So it appears HSUS’s membership has actually shrunk since July 2010, according to the watchdog group. It would also mean that HSUS’s claims of an 11- or 12-million-strong “constituency” overstate HSUS’s actual membership ten-fold.