Background: The Humane Society of the United States repeatedly claims in the media and in its publications that it represents 11 million “members and constituents,” an impressive “1 in 28” Americans. The implications for this claim are enormous. It indicates that a large segment of the public actively supports HSUS—and, by extension, supports its animal rights agenda. It also gives HSUS clout with legislators when it lobbies them. (“11 million” implies more than 20,000 HSUS “constituents” per Congressional district.)
The Facts: Internal documents from the late 1980s show how the Humane Society of the United States defines the word “constituent.” At HSUS, the term includes foundations, community-based humane societies, and even prospective members (a fancy word for people on fundraising mailing lists). HSUS’s actual membership was a mere fraction of the “constituency” it claimed to have.
According to HSUS’s 2009 tax return, the HSUS membership magazine All Animals has a circulation of 450,000 subscribers. Given that the magazine is one component of an actual HSUS membership, HSUS’s true support level is likely in the neighborhood of 450,000 people. That’s a far cry from the “11 million” that HSUS claims.
The Bottom Line: Most Americans don’t believe in animal “rights” as the Humane Society of the United States does. But thanks to a deceptive numbers game, and media campaigns full of pictures of puppies and kittens, HSUS cultivates an image that’s far more mainstream than it actually is.