Humane Society

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Animal Welfare
Social Action
The Humane Society of the United States was founded in 1954 to prevent cruelty to animals in laboratories, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills. The HSUS studies animal legislation, lobbies, and attempts to change laws that allow for cruel treatment of animals in laboratory testing, fashion design, or other industries. The HSUS' international arm, Humane Society International (HSI), founded in 1991, addresses issues like inhumane practices and conditions affecting companion and farm animals, threats to endangered species, slaughter of marine mammals, and the use of animals in research and testing.


Since its inception in 1954, The Humane Society's mission has been to "create a humane and sustainable world for all animals, including people, through education, advocacy, and the promotion of respect and compassion" (HSUS "Annual Report 2001"). The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) "is committed to protecting all animals through a variety of means" (HSUS "Major Initiatives"). HSUS supports many aspects of animal welfare, including animal research issues, issues facing companion animals, farm animals and agriculture, marine mammals and biology, as well as government affairs, education, and advocacy for animal rights.

The Humane Society also has an international arm, Humane Society International (HSI), founded in 1991. HSI "oversees and coordinates the work of The HSUS abroad, addressing issues such as inhumane practices and conditions affecting companion and farm animals, illegal trade in wildlife, threats to endangered species, slaughter of marine mammals, and the use of animals in research and testing" (HSUS "Humane Society International").

Historic Roots

Humane treatment of animals is evidenced in writings and drawings as far back as the time of the Egyptians, who showed an appreciation of the psychological qualities of animals. At the time, cats represented activity, whereas cattle represented patience and usefulness (Niven 1967). The Jewish code of laws also call for the humane treatment of animals, indicating that working cattle should receive a day of rest once weekly and oxen should be allowed to work un-muzzled so that they may chew straw and be content (Ibid.). There are also references to the humane treatment of animals in the Bible, various religious tomes, historical writings (including authors such as St. Thomas Aquinas), and the legislation of many countries (such as, England, Germany, and Scandinavia (Ibid.).

The humane movement in America got its start in the mid- to late-1800s. Prior to this time, kindness to animals was not a common consideration, as animals were believed to be put on earth to be useful to humans, most often in the form of hard physical work and transportation (Sateren 1997). The first animal control duties involved clearing cities of stray dogs and the most common ways to do so were by drowning or shooting the animals. As many as 300 dogs per day were killed in New York City during the 1850s and '60s (Ibid.).

Concerned with overworked and underfed draft horses, Henry Bergh founded the first protection agency for animals in 1866, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Ibid.). The inception of the ASPCA sparked the formation of many other organizations across the United States whose purpose was to protect animals. Surprisingly, many animal cruelty organizations also included child cruelty issues in their missions, as there were few child welfare organizations in existence during the late nineteenth century (Ibid.).

The Humane Society of the United States was founded in 1954 to prevent cruelty to animals in laboratories, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills. It is the largest humane society in America. The HSUS spends a great deal of time studying animal legislation, lobbying, and attempting to change laws that allow for cruel treatment of animals in laboratory testing, fashion design, or other industries (Ibid.).


Through a number of diverse programs, The Humane Society supports responsible pet ownership and encourages eliminating cruelty in trapping and hunting. It advocates animal protection legislation. It monitors enforcement of existing laws regarding animal protection. It exposes cruel treatment of research animals and abuse of animals used in racing, films, and circuses (Hurley 1999). The HSUS works to educate, advocate, and protect animals in a variety of ways. Humane education, abuse/neglect investigations, animal information services, foster care, pet therapy, adoption services, and shelter for animals are only a few of the ways Today, The Humane Society makes a difference in the lives of animals worldwide (Sateren 1997).

The widespread problem of irresponsible pet ownership is slowly being remedied by local humane societies through animal control law enforcement and humane education programs in schools, as well as published resources for pet owners (Fox 1990). People give away or abandon animals for many reasons including lack of money, changing work schedules, rental properties not allowing pets, and pet discipline problems. One of the key roles The HSUS plays in animal welfare is the adoption of companion animals to loving homes. Adoption counseling sessions help ensure that animals are placed in a caring, supportive home environment (Ibid.).

The Humane Society of the United States is also actively involved in advocacy for animal rights and lobbying at the federal, state, and local levels of government. General anticruelty laws must be passed state by state, and by 1950 every state in America had anticruelty legislation on the books. Since that time, many other important anticruelty laws have been passed at the state level, many initiated by local humane societies. This legislation includes thirty states making cruelty to animals a felony offense, sixteen states mandating psychological counseling as part of anticruelty provisions, and thirteen states with vanity license plate funds that help support spay/neuter efforts.

In addition to these state laws, several important pieces of federal legislation have been passed due to the efforts of The HSUS and other animal rights groups. The Bald Eagle Protection Act passed in 1940, the Humane Slaughter Act (1958), the Endangered Species Act (1966), the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (1966), and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1982) all passed due to the expansion of animal welfare organizations over the last half of the twentieth century (Irwin 2001).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

As is true of most nonprofit organizations, The Humane Society of the United States relies heavily on financial and time contributions from supporters of the organization. National and local humane societies solicit donations of food, blankets, and other supplies, as well as volunteer time such as grooming, walking, and playing with animals housed in shelters. Helping spread the word about the shelter's services and adoption possibilities is also called for by local humane societies. Voting for animal rights laws (and the candidates who support them), choosing a "humane diet," teaching children about proper animal care, and reporting animal abuse and neglect are other ways individuals support their local humane societies (HSUS "How You Can").

In addition to these ways people contribute to the organization and its causes, individuals can also donate money to The Humane Society. As outlined on the Web site, by donating to the organization individuals help fund "educational, legislative, and outreach projects in the U.S. and across the globe" (Ibid.). Memorial donations can be made in honor of a pet, friend, or family member, as well as planned gifts such as stocks, annuities, or other estate donations. Financial contributions to The Humane Society of the United States in 2001, including contributions, grants, and bequests, equaled $55,472,687 (HSUS "Annual Report 2001"). While this was less than the reported total for contributions in 2000, it is obvious that support for The Humane Society remains strong.

Key Related Ideas

Animal fighting: Due to lobbying by The HSUS, dog- and cock-fighting is now illegal in forty-seven states; dog-fighting is a felony offense in these states. The HSUS's Final Round Campaign educates local officials on how to make arrests in animal-fighting rings (HSUS "Major Initiatives").

Cosmetics testing: Every year, thousands of animals are subjected to painful and unreliable experiments to test cosmetics products and their ingredients. Perfumes, shampoos, toothpastes, hair dyes, skin creams, make-up, deodorants - all of these and more are tested on animals.

  • Many different types of animal experiments are used to test cosmetics, including eye irritation studies, where substances are dripped into the eyes of conscious, immobilized rabbits; oral toxicity tests, where animals are force-fed a substance once or repeatedly to see the toxic effects; or skin irritancy, where a substance is smeared over the shaved back of a group of animals (ECEAE "Campaigning").
  • The Humane Society of the United State's Pain and Distress Campaign has been successful in getting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to strengthen its regulation of pain and distress in animals used for research (HSUS "Major Initiatives").

Ethics: There are many important ethical issues found in discussions of the humane treatment of animals, including: care and housing of animals, justification of research, acquisition of animals, experimental procedures, and the educational use of animals (APA Online).

Fashion industry: The fashion industry, and its use of fur in fashion design, is a hot topic for many animal rights groups, including The HSUS. Fur producers "tend to employ the most cost-effective methods and products, often at the expense of animal welfare," even though the "advent of synthetic fabrics that are warmer and lighter than fur has eliminated the need for fur garments" (inFURmation).

As part of their Fur-Free Century Campaign, The HSUS has "successfully exposed the cruelty not only of the traditional fur business, but also of the little known karakul lamb (broadtail) fur and dog and cat fur industries" (HSUS "Major Initiatives"). The U.S. Dog and Cat Protection Act resulted from the work done by The HSUS in animal fur trade.

Genetic engineering of farm animals: Genetic engineering is the "manipulating of genetic material in the laboratory. It includes isolating, copying and multiplying genes, recombining genes or DNA from different species, and transferring genes from one species to another, bypassing the reproductive process" ( If gene "Glossary").

Vegetarianism: Choosing a diet that is "good for your health, for the planet, and for the billions of animals who are raised for food" is another way to support The HSUS (HSUS "How You Can"). The Humane Society recommends its members choose a meat-free diet, and offers recipe-sharing through its Web site.

Vivisection is defined by Webster's as "any form of animal experimentation esp. if considered to cause distress to the subject."

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Henry Bergh: Leader of the anticruelty cause in America and founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Coleman 1924, 33).
  • Paul G. Irwin: The current president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States.
  • Dr. William O. Stillman: Led the first national anticruelty cause in America and was the president of The American Humane Association; implemented a humane education magazine for national advocacy and a training school for humane workers (Ibid., 126-27).

Related Nonprofit Organizations

The American Humane Association (AHA) was founded in 1877 to advocate for a number of programs including banning steel-jaw leg-hold traps, outlawing puppy mills, making wildlife safe from hunters, training and educating local agencies, providing emergency animal relief in natural disasters, and monitoring the treatment of film animals (Sateren 1997).

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded in 1866 to "provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States" by offering "national programs in humane education, public awareness, government advocacy, shelter support, and animal medical services and placement" (ASPCA "About Us").

The Animals' Agenda is a bimonthly magazine printed to provide readers with information on problems and ideas pertaining to animals and encourage people to act on behalf of all animals and nature. The Animals' Agenda works to provide information about animal rights and lifestyles that prevent cruelty to animals (Brestrup 1997).

EarthVoice is the "global environmental arm of The Humane Society of the United States;" its mission is to "preserve biodiversity, protect endangered ecosystems, and promote environmentally sustainable development" (HSUS "About Us: Our Global").

The Humane Society University offers "professional development, educational enrichment, and on-the-job skills enhancement for animal protection specialists," and is the main educational organization for animal advocates (HSUS "Humane Society University").

The National Association for Humane and Environmental Education (NAHEE) is the Humane Society's youth education division.

The Wildlife Land Trust protects wild animals across the world by preserving habitats and providing sanctuary.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals , founded in 1957, has a membership of over 300 humane societies in 72 countries. These organizations work together to advocate for various animal protection issues with international influence (Sateren 1997).


Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). "About Us." ASPCA. .
  • APA Online. "Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Animals." American Psychological Association . .
  • Bender, David and Bruno Leone (eds.). Animal Rights: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. ISBN: 1565103998.
  • Brestrup, Craig. Disposable Animals: Ending the Tragedy of Throwaway Pets. Leander, Texas: Camino Bay Books, 1997. ISBN: 0965728595.
  • Coleman, Sydney H. Humane Society Leaders in America . Albany, New York: The American Humane Association, 1924.
  • Dunayer, Joan. Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. Derwood, Maryland: Ryce Publishing, 2001. ISBN: 0970647557.
  • European Coalition to End Animal Experiments. "Campaigning: Cosmetics Testing." European Coalition to End Animal Experiments. .
  • Farm Sanctuary. "About Us." Farm Sanctuary. .
  • Fox, Michael W. Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. ISBN: 0312042744.
  • Gold, Mark. Animal Century: A Celebration of Changing Attitudes to Animals. Charlbury, England: Jon Carpenter Publishing, 1998. ISBN: 1897766432.
  • Hollandsworth, Skip and David McCormick. "All the Dead Horses," Texas Monthly 23 (April 1995): 4, 104.
  • Hurley, Jennifer A. Animal Rights . San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. ISBN: 156510868X.
  • If gene (International Forum for Genetic Engineering) "Glossary of Genetics and Genetic Engineering with Key to Abbreviations." If gene.
  • inFURmation. "Facts about the Fur Trade." Fur Free Alliance. .
  • Irwin, Paul G. "Overview: The State of Animals in 2001." In The State of Animals 2001 edited by Deborah J. Salem and Andrew N. Rowan . Washington, D.C.: Humane Society Press, 2001. ISBN: 965894231.
  • The Latham Foundation. "Focus Area." The Latham Foundation. .
  • Niven, Charles D. History of the Humane Movement . New York: Transatlantic Arts, 1967.
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. About PETA. PETA. .
  • Pringle, Laurence. The Animal Rights Controversy. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1989. ASIN: 0152035591.
  • Salem, Deborah J. and Andrew N. Rowan (eds.). The State of the Animals 2001 . Washington, D.C.: Humane Society Press, 2001. ISBN: 965894231.
  • Sateren, Shelley Swanson. The Humane Societies: A Voice for the Animals . Parsippany, New Jersey: Dillon Press, 1997. ISBN: 087518622X.
  • Williams, Jeanne (ed.). The Reference Shelf: Animal Rights and Welfare. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1991. ISBN: 0824208153.


This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.