Dog Charities

When the blog featured a post on the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), we ignited a firestorm of comments echoing the general theme that the HSUS is responsible for the deaths of more companion animals than any other pet-related charity. Although I don't (yet) have any statistics to prove or disprove that claim, I thought it might be valuable to look at various types of non-profit organizations devoted to dogs and other animals, to see what they try to accomplish and how they do it.

Advocacy Organizations

Arguably the three biggest animal advocacy organizations in the United States are the HSUS, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The HSUS is a non-profit agency headquartered in Washington, DC, founded in 1954. Through legislation, litigation, investigation, education, science, advocacy, and field work, the HSUS protects a wide variety of animals through its programs for companion animals, wildlife, animals used in research, and farm animals.

Although your local humane society's facility is not an affiliate of the HSUS, it may receive support from the national organization in the form of training, guidelines, recommendations, bulk buying discounts, disaster assistance, and financial assistance for spay/neuter programs.


The ASPCA was the first humane society in North America (founded in 1866) and has grown to be one of the largest in animal advocacy groups in the world. The non-profit group is headquartered in New York City, but extends its anti-cruelty mission throughout the country by maintaining a strong local presence. Their three goals are to provide caring for pet parents and pets, to provide positive outcomes for at-risk animals, and to serve victims of animal cruelty.

To accomplish the first goal, they operate a 24/7 Animal Poison Control Center, an Animal Behavior Center, the Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, several mobile spay/neuter clinics, and pet loss support services.

To provide positive outcomes for at-risk animals, the ASPCA works with state agencies to encourage disaster readiness and works with cities to end the unnecessary euthanasia of adoptable pets. They also operate a large adoption facility in New York City and help shelters throughout the country match animals to their forever families.

To serve victims, the ASPCA has created a Humane Law Enforcement Department in New York City charged with upholding animal cruelty laws and using forensics experts to investigate and prosecute crimes against animals. They also train and educate those in the legal system on how to respond to animal cruelty. Finally, their advocates lobby for stronger anti-cruelty laws at all levels of government.


When you think of PETA, your thoughts may fly to demonstrators dumping pig's blood on celebrities clothed in fur as they arrive at events. However, they have a much larger purpose. They claim to be the largest animal rights organization in the world with more than two million supporters. They provide public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislative lobbying, and protest campaigns to fight the cruelty animals may experience on factory farms, in laboratories, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry.


Although HSUS, the ASPCA, and PETA operate and/or support numerous shelters throughout the United States, they're not the only ones in the game. In many jurisdictions, the dog warden or animal control commissioner shelters the animals his or her officers pick up, at least temporarily. In addition, a wide variety of local grass-roots organizations provide a home for animals who would otherwise be homeless.

dog in a shelter
Shelters are one type of animal charity.

For example, The Brittany Foundation cares for homeless dogs in the Southern California area at its Agua Dulce sanctuary. The dogs under their care are spayed/neutered, vaccinated and given any necessary medical check-ups and treatments. They, like most other shelters, rely on the benevolence of their community for survival.

Concerned citizens are asked to contribute everything from time and money to pet care supplies, office supplies, and even used vehicles. People are encouraged to remember their local shelters when doing estate planning where they can bequeath part of their large or small fortune to a favorite shelter.

The key difference between the hundreds of shelters in the country lies in whether or not they euthanize healthy animals to prevent over-crowding of the facility. Although nearly any shelter will euthanize an animal who is overly aggressive or too injured or too ill to have much quality of life, many shelters have a "no-kill" status. This moniker indicates that even in the face of an overwhelming number of animals under their care, they will find a way to care for all of them, rather than putting animals down for no other reason than that the facility is out of space.

Many shelters must continually hold fundraisers and adoption fairs simply to keep their heads above water. Creative shelter directors and staff find ways to help educate the public as to the animals' plight by partnering with local news media and other groups to encourage adoption, particularly of those animals who aren't still young, tiny, and exceedingly cute.

Large black dogs, and dogs over the age of three are always harder to find homes for than puppies and dogs of colors other than black. Many people look at a large black dog and see only evil, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The color of a dog is not nearly as important as his or her genetic make-up and the way in which the dog is raised and socialized.

Rescue Organizations

Rescue organizations, as opposed to shelters, typically place dogs in foster homes until they can be adopted. They take pride in very rarely euthanizing dogs, relying instead on their network of foster homes to provide places for an unlimited number of dogs to be housed until they can be adopted.

Most rescues are smaller organizations than shelters, often run by just one or two people who have an unwavering commitment to abandoned pets. They may restrict their organization to the care of only one kind of pet such as a particular breed of dog, or cats only or wildlife only. Or they may be willing to take in any animal who darkens their doorsteps. Some rescues even pull animals from shelters to prevent imminent euthanasia.

For example, Georgia Poodle Rescue of Milton, Georgia is a part of the Georgia Poodle Club. The subsidiary was created to rescue, rehabilitate, and provide sanctuary for unwanted poodles and poodle mixes.

Rescue organizations are often under the same financial pressures as shelters, even though a rescue has foster homes who pay for most of the direct animal care that is required. Rescues may or may not have paid staff, but they still need the funds to pay for the advertising that hopefully results in adoption, veterinary care including spay/neuter, and other incidentals such as travel expenses to pick up animals who need to be placed in foster homes.

Training Facilities

The last of the big four animal-related charities are those organizations who train guide dogs and assistance dogs. To obtain and train a dog on whom a differently-abled person will depend for his or her daily needs is a very expensive proposition.

Not just any dog can be an assistance dog. They must be of sufficient size to reach drawer pulls and cabinet handles in the case of assistance dogs, and they must be matched to the human's size in the case of guide dogs, to make walking with the dog as comfortable as possible. Can you imagine Lebron James trying to hold onto the harness of a Yorkie? It would be nearly impossible for the 6'8" basketball superstar to walk with such a small guide dog.

After the dog is chosen, he or she is usually placed with a foster home for at least a year to be obedience-trained and socialized. The dog is continually evaluated for his or her abilities and temperament to make sure the dog is appropriate for the training program of the specific organization. When the dog outgrows puppyhood, he or she begins an intense training program to learn the skills required to assist the person with whom the dog has been matched. Depending on the person's abilities, each dog will undertake a different training program. Once the dog is fully prepared to provide the needed assistance, the human gets to take the dog home.

One example of a training facility is Canine Assistants in Atlanta, Georgia. Canine Assistants has trained and placed about 1,000 dogs since its founding in 1991. However, they currently have over 1,600 applicants on their needs-based waiting list.

Another example is Guide Dogs for the Blind with campuses in San Rafael, California and Boring, Oregon. As of the end of June, 2009, the Guide Dogs program included over 2200 active guide dog / human teams. They take a hands-on approach to training both the person and the dog to work with each other to provide greater mobility to those who are sight-impaired. With nearly 260 employees, 1400 puppy-raising volunteers, and 137 puppy-raising clubs, Guide Dogs for the Blind whelped 822 puppies in 2009 and graduated 343 new teams from the two campuses.

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