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Identifying High-Impact Animal Welfare, Rights & Protection Nonprofits in the U.S.

June 6th, 2011 by dawn Leave a reply »

Animal welfare, rights, and protection is one of the most popular issue areas to which individual donors give and is an area in which colleagues working in the field are extremely passionate.
So, we are excited to help donors identify high-impact nonprofits in this issue area!

I interviewed fourteen influential experts in the field to better understand the scope of this issue area (thank you to those of you who shared your expertise with me to shape the scope of this research)! Many experts spoke of the importance of protecting animals similar to protecting the marginalized in society. Without human support, many animals face abuse, neglect, and suffering. Although the majority of nonprofits in this field work with companion animals (dogs, cats, horses), many experts I spoke with talked about the importance of including farm animals, animals used for research, and wildlife animals in the scope of this research. As a result, we are asking experts to identify high-impact nonprofits that work in one or more of the following categories, protecting:

  1. Companion animals
  2. Farm animals
  3. Animals used for research
  4. Wildlife animals

Types of nonprofits might include advocacy, legislative, education, regulatory, or direct services (shelters, animal rescue, and sanctuaries).

Nonprofits excluded from this research include for-profit organizations and funders.

In the survey, we ask experts to recommend up to three national nonprofits and three local nonprofits working in the area of animal welfare, rights and protection. For local nonprofits, we will primarily focus on the California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania, because these states have the largest concentration of nonprofits working in animal protection.

If you are an expert in animal welfare, rights and protection, you should have received an email from us with a link to our survey and we hope you will share your perspective and insights with us! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact me, Dawn at, and we would love to include your insights.

Additionally, I’m sure I haven’t been able to capture every nuance in this sector, so I invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might think about this work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, I hope you will learn something new and tune in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!

The findings below were a result of interviewing fourteen influential experts in the field.



Companion Animals

Most nonprofits that work with animals work with companion animals, which mainly refer to dogs, cats, and horses. Out of the 12,500 agencies that work with animals in the U.S., 12,000 work with companion animals. Furthermore, approximately 70 percent of funding to animals goes to supporting companion animals.


Most of these nonprofit’s efforts focus on shelters because approximately five percent of pet animals pass through shelters in the U.S (6-8 million animals). However, many animals die or suffer in shelters (even good shelters with high adoption rates) because they don’t have good services to protect the animals. Poor sheltering includes starvation, lack of care, being attacked or killed by another animal, or being subjected to infectious diseases. Poor shelter care is a difficult issue to talk to the public about because the media doesn’t want to slander shelters. The key is to help shelters help themselves.


Efforts to protect companion animals in shelters include:


  • Providing general assistance to shelters- General assistance includes equipment, capital projects and adoption programs.
  • Decreasing euthanasia of animals- Many animals that have no diseases or very minor diseases are euthanized. This problem is sometimes coined the “disease of euthanasia”.
  • Improving spay/neuter initiatives- Spay/neuter initiatives help decrease the number of animals that end up in shelters and also protects the health of animals because it lowers disease rates such as prostate cancer. Making spay/neuter initiatives low or no cost for low-income pet owners is seen as an important plan to reducing the number of animals. It is also extremely important to spay and neuter cats because cats are “reproductive machines” and can give birth as early as four months old!
  • Transporting adoptable animals- Animals are transported from areas with low adoption rates (e.g. the South) to areas of high adoption demand (for example California and metropolitan areas) to help balance out supply and demand for pets.
  • Encouraging people to put identification on their pets- so they are able to locate them when they lose their pets. An example of this is micro-chipping.
  • Improving shelter medicine- Most veterinary students are trained to look after individual animals but not hundreds of animals in one space because of the private profession. Students have been trained to care for farm animals and horses in herds, but not dogs and cats in herds.


Other efforts surrounding protecting companion animals include:


  • Illegalizing organized acts of cruelty- This includes dog and cock fighting.
  • Stopping individual acts of cruelty that people have against pets- This includes puppy mills and mass killings in shelters. Animal forensics helps organizations respond to cruelty cases and prosecute those who have conducted the cruelty.
  • Improving animal control- Most animals that end up in private shelters pass through animal control. However, a lot of times, the animals are exposed to diseases and severe stress at animal control, so this increases the cost for shelters. Animal control centers affect 20,000-75,000 animals per year. If one can make a change in the conditions of animal control, it would  make a huge impact.
  • Rescuing animals during times of disaster- an example is the large scale animal rescue operation that happened after hurricane Katrina.
  • Conducting research- to understand why people give up their animals and how to prevent this from happening to decrease numbers at shelters.
  • Providing general assistance to horse owners- Horses are very expensive to maintain and keep. Assistance comes in the form of emergency hay, capital improvements, and humane education grants for equine groups.


Farm Animals

We decided to include farm animals in our research because factory farming affects the largest number of animals in the sector. Ten billion animals are raised for food production in the U.S. every year, and 60 billion animals are raised for this purpose worldwide. There are no federal policies or laws to protect animals that are made for food because they are exempt from the federal wildlife animal act and anti-cruelty act. Some of the issues farm animals face include:

  • Confinement- One of the worst problems is the extreme confinement of animals where animals can’t even move one inch in during their entire life during the production and transportation process.
  • Killing of unwanted animals- Unwanted chicken are sometimes ground up alive or left in a dumpster to die. There was a recent exposé of a Texas farm where unwanted calves were being hit in the head with hammers.
  • Antibiotics- Antibiotics are used to make animals grow faster, sometimes at a very unnatural rate where the animal’s internal organs can’t keep up with their external growth.
  • Slaughter process


Animal Experimentation

We decided to include animal experimentation because it plays an important role in animal welfare, rights, and protection. In particular the use of animals for the purposes of biomedical research, product testing, and educational demonstrations. We are interested in nonprofits that work on preventing the use of primates, and especially, chimpanzees; cosmetic and household product testing; dissection and other harmful use of animals in educational settings (K through professional training); and sale of former pets by shelters (“pound seizure”) and “Class B” dealers to research.  Types of animals that are used for research purposes include mice, rats, guinea pigs, fish, frogs, birds, dogs, cats, monkeys, and other animals.




Although wildlife is usually bundled under the category of the environment, we felt that our research wouldn’t be comprehensive if we didn’t include the conservation and protection of wildlife. One area of concern is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service’s predator control program. In 2009 alone, Wildlife Services killed more than 4 million animals in the U.S., including 115,000 mammalian carnivores; close to 90,000 were coyotes. Each year, roughly $120 million is spent on this program. Another issue in this category is coyote and fox penning. This involves sending packs of domestic dogs into a fenced-off enclosure to chase to exhaustion and often tear apart a captive coyote or fox. Other issues related to wildlife protection include:


  • · Conservation and habitat
  • · Fur farming
  • · Exotic pets
  • · Trafficking and smuggling of wildlife
  • · Treatment of captive animals
  • · Preservation of endangered species
  • · Preservation of wildlife in national parks
  • · Land protection


These are just a summary of my notes after having talked to fourteen experts in the field. What do you think? What have I missed? What might you add? Please feel free to leave a comment and help build on these notes.


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