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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.


  1. I will be responding to the survey, and the information provided here is supberb. But the construct of the assessment with respect to organizations in the companion animal subsector (three national, three local organizations) misses fundamental characteristics of the sector that donors should understand, one of which is somewhat referenced — the emphasis on sheltering — but not sufficiently explored.

    The locus of companion animal welfare is intensively local because almost every initiative bearing on the welfare of companion animals is and has to be local: licensing; regulations governing desease prevention and management, human interaction, and commercial activity; sheltering and adoption.

    That companion animal welfare — specifically that of dogs and cats — is so local explains why two-thirds to three-quarters of local animal welfare 501(c)(3)s are contracted with and substantially funded by their contacts with government for animal control services, a fact critically important to understanding their business models and financials. A proper assessment of local animal welfare organizations would divide them into two classes depending on wherther or not they have animal control comntracts.

    There is no national SPCA or Humane Society with which community SPCAs or humane societies are affiliated. The most active national fundraising organizations either exploit their names in nationwide fundraising — New York City’s American SPCA and the Washington, D.C.- based Humane Society of the US are the most egregious examples — or unabashedly raise money nationally for their local operations, such as North Shore Animal League (Long Island) and Animal Rescue Foundation (Walnut Creek, CA).

    While incidents — stories about — animal cruelty dominate humane organization fundraising, the principal cause of dog and cat homelessness and, therefore,need for sheltering and, ultimately, unnecessary euthanasia is over-population. It is only solved locally by a combination of regulation and licensing (of breeding and neuttering). Ironically, high incidence of translocating animals for adoption is incidence of animals being moved from under-regulated communities to well-reglated communities.

  2. Karel Minor says:

    I just responded and agree in large part with Christopher. A dispropotionate amount of stafffing, funding and effort in animal welfare goes to local animal sheltering, animal control, adoption, euthanasia, etc. While large organizations like HSUS and ASPCA get notice for their large budgets, they pale in comparison to the combined budgets on local shelters. Pennsylvania’s spending alone on these things dwarfs the seemingly large $100,000,000 budget of HSUS. Multiplied fifty-fold the half national/half local focus does seem a bit out of proportion.

    Since no opinion in animal welfare can ever go unchallenged, I will question the over emphasis on “over population” as the problem facing animals in shelters. Since increasingly numbers of communities face rising populations of young adult and older animals being surrendered or straying and ultimately dying in shelters, it would seem that quantity alone is no longer the case. Behavior, health, lifestyle, lack of resource and a wide variety of other issues seem to be competing causes for animals ending up in shelters now, not merely too many puppies and kitties in the world.

    Bravo to Guidestar for taking note of our little billion dollar charitable industry and thanks for asking us to share our opinions!

  3. Karel Minor says:

    I just responded and agree in large part with Christopher. A dispropotionate amount of stafffing, funding and effort in animal welfare goes to local animal sheltering, animal control, adoption, euthanasia, etc. While large organizations like HSUS and ASPCA get notice for their large budgets, they pale in comparison to the combined budgets on local shelters. Pennsylvania’s spending alone on these things matches or dwarfs the seemingly large $100,000,000 budget of HSUS. Multiplied fifty-fold the half national/half local focus does seem a bit out of proportion.

    Since no opinion in animal welfare can ever go unchallenged, I will question the over emphasis on “over population” as the problem facing animals in shelters. Since increasingly numbers of communities face rising populations of young adult and older animals being surrendered or straying and ultimately dying in shelters, it would seem that quantity alone is no longer the case. Behavior, health, lifestyle, lack of resource and a wide variety of other issues seem to be competing causes for animals ending up in shelters now, not merely too many puppies and kitties in the world.

    Bravo to Guidestar for taking note of our little billion dollar charitable industry and thanks for asking us to share our opinions!

  4. dawn says:

    Thank you for offering your great perspective Chris and Karel about the importance of local animal nonprofits, in particular animal shelters, in this field.

    For our other causes (with the exception of our 2010 Bay Area causes), we conduct research to identify nonprofits that work on a national level. However, after talking to experts, we realized how important local nonprofits play in the field of animal welfare, rights, and protection, hence we changed the format of our survey to reflect that. Instead of asking experts to recommend four national nonprofits and two start-up nonprofits, we ask experts in the animal protection space to recommend three national nonprofits and three local nonprofits.

    In response to Karel’s question, the reason why we divided it as a half national and half local focus primarily has to do with our research methodology. We cannot ask too many questions from our experts, because they are extremely busy, and we really appreciate them taking the time to share their expertise with us already. However we also need sufficient number of recommendations to come up with a list of top nonprofits.

    For this cause, the reason why we ask experts to recommend national nonprofits is because we believe they play an important role, in particular in the legislative, advocacy and other federal policy levels. However, as Chris mentions, local nonprofits, are usually the ones who provide the services, hence we felt it was necessary to highlight the great work that they do.

    I hope this clarifies our approach to our research for animal welfare, rights, and protection, and look forward to getting more comments and feedback about this field and how we can improve!

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