Rick Berman thinks smoking isn’t bad for you. He thinks there’s no obesity epidemic in America. He thinks Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups that try to stop drunk drivers from killing people are too extreme. He thinks the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention engages in pseudo-science.
That just scratches the surface of his belief system—or, more accurately, the public relations work he does for corporations that pay him.
One thing you can say about Berman is that he doesn’t come cheap. After all, he’s got a lot of landscaping to pay for at his mansion in McLean, Va., and it’s not cheap to service his Bentley at the local luxury service center. As such, he demands good pay when he works for tobacco companies, junk-food sellers, the alcohol industry, and other corporations that hire him to attack some of the most respected charities and science-based organizations and agencies in America.
Berman also attacks The HSUS—which, of course, puts us in good company. After all, if someone is going to attack you, better that it be a real scoundrel. CBS’s 60 Minutes called him "Dr. Evil," and we thought the network was being polite for prime time.
Berman has been campaigning for years now to eliminate The HSUS. But he typically doesn’t say it outright, just like he doesn’t hand out cigarettes or shots of Wild Turkey to kids in schoolyards. He’s more clever than that, camouflaging his efforts behind innocuous-sounding names (e.g., the Center for Consumer Freedom, HumaneWatch, and the American Beverage Institute) and making arguments that convince some people who are inclined to believe the worst or don’t know any better.
Berman, a multi-millionaire thanks to the big pay-outs he gets for his attacks on the nonprofit sector, leads with the argument that The HSUS should take donor money and give it to animal shelters.
Animal shelters can sure use the money. We know that because The HSUS is an unflinching advocate for animal shelters, just as we are for other hands-on protectors of animals, such as accredited chimp sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitation centers, big-cat sanctuaries, and all kinds of other organizations that do life-saving work for animals. We want to see them all swimming in support.
When it comes to shelters, we do a lot: We host the nation’s biggest educational and training conference for shelters, publish Animal Sheltering magazine, provide grants to shelters, promote and operate spay-neuter activities, celebrate National Animal Sheltering Appreciation Week, and conduct a national advertising campaign in partnership with Maddie’s Fund and The Ad Council that promotes the adoption of shelter pets ($32 million in advertising and counting in the last 18 months). Of course, we also challenge the puppy mills and the dogfighting rings that create inflow to shelters and complicate their work. We work closely with the shelters who accept these cruelty cases to ensure that the animals’ needs are met.
But there’s more to be done in the field of animal protection. And that’s the part that Berman really doesn’t like. Why? Because Berman appears to be on the take from agribusiness, the fur trade, the sealing industry, the puppy millers and the pet trade, circus industry, and other groups that don’t like The HSUS’s efforts to stop animal abuse or exploitation within their industries.
Sorry, Rick, we won’t stop fighting cruelty to all animals, and we won’t restrict our efforts to one arena of activity conveniently removed from the business enterprises that pay you millions.
You see, there are 8 million dogs and cats in animal shelters. Every one of them deserves to have a home. And that’s why we work so hard to see that happen.
But there are so many other animals that need our attention, too. There are 10 billion animals used in the food production system. Tens of millions used in research and testing. Tens of millions used by the fur trade. Millions denied love and veterinary care in puppy mills. Hundreds of thousands of horses globally killed for the meat trade. And perhaps billions of wild animals killed for bush meat, trinkets, trophies, other forms of commerce, or just for convenience.
Animals who enter shelters deserve everything we can give them. But they represent less than 1 percent of the animals at risk. It would be a dereliction of duty to focus just on them. Just like it would be derelict for us to focus on any one problem, to the exclusion of the others.
The HSUS is about protecting all of these animals.
So if you are an animal advocate, don’t be suckered by the con game of Rick Berman, a major-league phony now masquerading as an expert on animal issues.
The nation needs groups to do hands-on work for animals.
And it also needs a group with the strength and sophistication to take on the biggest abuses of animals in our society—and to prevent cruelty on the front end.
When The HSUS succeeds in elevating the status of animals in society through our campaigns—whether it’s on factory farming, puppy mills, disaster response, seal killing, or the exotic animal trade—it lifts all boats. With greater societal awareness about animals which can be achieved only at the scale on which HSUS operates—more people do and will support animal charities throughout the nation.
It’s not a zero-sum game. Awareness and success builds a stronger movement, through and through.
While The HSUS provides more hands-on care through our own animal-care and veterinary staff than any other organization in the nation—spending more than $20 million every year on direct care for animals—we are also working to prevent cruelty by passing laws and seeing that they are enforced, demanding that corporations exhibit social responsibility to animals, and educating the public about making the right choices.
Most reporters do their homework after they see a Berman press release or report land in their inbox. A few gullible or sloppy ones choose not to look into his background. They fail to ask him where he gets his money, or what he does for animals. And some of them naively think that animal protection is just about animal sheltering.
I wish it were. Our job would be so much easier if it were.