An inside look at what it takes to go undercover for the animals

By on February 15, 2022 with 37 Comments

Imagine having to work in a roadside zoo, a pet store selling puppy mill puppies, a slaughter plant or a factory farm without ever being able to show your true feelings. Would you ever be able to walk alone among hundreds of dead animals at a wildlife killing contest, surrounded by people carrying high-powered rifles in their nearby trucks? Could you keep a camera steady while a horse trainer puts caustic chemicals on the legs of chained show horses? How would you cope with seeing dogs, primates, rats and mice, day after day, having toxic substances shoved down their throats, or chimpanzees in cages so small that they have lost their minds?   

These are the kinds of dilemmas that our investigators here at the Humane Society of the United States must confront in their pursuit of evidence that will, we hope, halt the suffering, neglect and abuse of animals. Understandably, this kind of animal protection work is not for everyone. It takes individuals of a certain mettle to accept the emotional burdens and the practical challenges of gathering the documentation and images we use in our campaigns.   

No matter what issue we’re taking on, we need facts and evidence to make our case. Our undercover investigators surface deeply disturbing truths about what happens to animals in places most of us will never see, lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding many of the wrongs we’re trying to right. In doing so, they lay the foundation for some of the most important public policy, industry and corporate reforms we are advancing.  

Maybe you’ve seen the results that such investigations produce. Our exposé of animal abuse at a slaughtering plant paved the way for pioneering state legislation and stronger federal standards to improve the treatment of animals used for food. An investigator’s nine-month stint in a laboratory turbocharged our campaign to ensure permanent retirement for chimpanzees from research and testing. Our hidden camera captured trainers using harsh chemicals on the legs of Tennessee walking horses, alerting millions of Americans to the cruelty of “soring,” and led directly to the introduction in Congress of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act. A series of pet store investigations have helped to expose the realities of the puppy mill pipeline that causes animals and consumers so much misery. 

The job can be as lonely as it is difficult. We do all that we can to support our investigators in the field, but they must also rely on their individual skills and temperament, and their mechanisms for coping with the situations they confront. They’ve got to guard their personal feelings in the interests of getting hard facts about animal suffering and abuse. They’ve got to act with confidence that countless others who see the documentation they produce will act to end the cruelty they’ve exposed.  

I know this world. My first job at the HSUS was in investigations, and I know firsthand what we ask of our investigators and what they deliver. For the most part they remain anonymous and do not usually get a chance to share their personal views. Today we wanted to give several of them an opportunity to do so (note that we’ve changed their names to protect their identities).  

“I was told from the beginning, in depth, what the job would entail, by my boss and other investigators. But being told, and seeing and experiencing it in person, are two different things. … I wasn’t prepared for the emotional and psychological toll it would take. The cruelty witnessed on a daily basis, being away from friends and family for long periods of time, physically and psychologically exhausted, are all things that can be explained, but are much harder to live with. What the public sees in a few minutes of video is only a tiny portion of what we as investigators, and the animals in these places, experience every day. I will do this job as long as I can, because I will never be able to make an impact like this in any other way.”-Molly   

“When I started, I was asked to watch factory farm videos, laboratory videos where dogs were used in toxicology studies and more. I’d like to say I knew what I was getting into but I was wrong. This job is much more than what I envisioned it to be—it is the most rewarding job I have ever had. I want people to know that behind every undercover investigation is a person who has poured his/her soul into it. The produced videos you see don’t show the endless amounts of tears and heartache that investigators face while on the job. Although this job is incredibly rewarding, there are some things that are hard to “unsee” and they stick with us forever. We’re told most investigators don’t last long due to the “burn out” factor but for me, if I could continue to help save the animals by exposing some of the worst cruelty, I would do it until my last days.” – Amy   

  We are lucky to have such individuals in our midst. The universe of animal suffering is large, and the perpetrators of cruelty are many. The sympathy of the public for our cause is strong, but awareness must be cultivated.  

  It is natural enough for those who explore our investigations channel to ask themselves: Could I do that? For most of us, the answer is no, and we find other ways to support the cause. Our investigators bridge the gap and brave the sorts of things that would break many of us. In the end, however, we all stand together in the fight to expose animal cruelty—wherever we find it—and stop it.  


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  1. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Tenemos que ayudar a los animalitos no es posible que los dejemos a su suerte ellas también sienten por favor no los abandonemos

  2. Guillermo Del Solar says:

    What an amazing job they do! My heartfelt thanks to all the unsung heroes

  3. Pamela Taylor says:

    Thank you for all you do for animals❤️

  4. Kathy Coughlin says:

    I was glad to see this recognition for those who do undercover investigations! I know the job involves unlimited patience and skill, not to mention the “stomach” for seeing animal abuse on a regular basis. I couldn’t do it! These people fill me with awe and tremendous gratitude!

    • Grace says:

      I agree with you, these animals do not disurve what is happening to them and I aswell would never in a millon years be able to sit and watch this(even if it was undercover) from he bottom of my heart thank you for what you do for these animals

  5. Emily Oikonomopoulou says:

    Thank you very much for everything you do for animals! We stand by you! Please carry on!

  6. Tanya Correa says:

    The undercover investigators at The HSUS are just as sensitive as anyone to the plight and suffering of animals. What they endure in hopes of alleviating the anguish of our fellow creatures is unfathomable, but thank you for sharing a glimpse of the sacrifices made by these unsung heroes.

  7. Diana Lewis says:

    You committed souls who brave the intense inhumanity toward animals so we are able to gain a stronger voice in bringing them justice are true heroes! You do what so many of us could not bear to do! Heartfelt appreciation!

  8. Pat says:

    Hats off to the investigators !!!!! To think of how many animals they save,…..
    they are to be congratulated ! The abusers MUST be prosecuted ! The
    investigators deserve praise.

  9. Diane Grinde says:

    Thank you for what you. It makes lives better for all animals

  10. Frans Derhaag (the Netherlands) says:

    My deep respect and many thanks. It is great what you are doing for these helpless animals.

  11. Donald Sparacino says:

    Dear God when will this ever end. Thank God for you wonderful people who dedicate their time, love & compassion for these beautiful, innocent animals. God Bless everyone involved. 🙏🙏👏👏👏

  12. Dianne Peterson says:

    May there be stars in the crowns of all these angels who are strong enough and dedicated enough to go undercover for these precious animals. God bless you all!

  13. Tamara says:

    Awesome job and thank you!
    We have a pet store here in Pennsylvania called Yuppy Puppy.
    They leave the animals on display all day with no water.
    I know someone who purchased a dog from them. They took it to the vets and is was so sick and dehydrated they spent $6000.00 in medical bills on it.
    These pet stores are a disgrace. ADOPT dont SHOP! I have all rescue animals 🙂

  14. Sasha Haettenschweiler says:

    Thanks so much what you do for help this animals in bad situation🙏🙏🙏♥️♥️

  15. Karen Wojtanek says:

    I can’t thank the HSUS angels enough
    for having the love, passion, and strength to do their jobs. They give animals hope for a more compassionate future.

  16. Michelle says:

    Gracias por todo.Les pido ayuda para los perros de Brasil! Aca estn murriendo,por favor ayuden los perros de Brasil! Muchas gracias

  17. Poiree says:

    Merci infiniment pour nos animaux d’amour ❤️

  18. Tamara Wilson says:

    God bless every single one of you! May he give you peace, strength, and comfort! Thank you for everything you do!

  19. Robyn Tatelman says:

    We are all earthlings. But you are the people that do the undercover work animal groups are angels on earth, thank you, how could you ever be thanked enough for enlightening people on what’s really happening. I watch documentaries, let me go back and say that again, I make myself watch the documentaries that are made possible by people like you and then I spend the rest of the day in mental agony, I cannot believe what you’ve seen and been through. All I can do is say thank you for the animals they don’t have a voice you are there voice you are the eyes for us at home and hopefully people are watching more and more. God bless you for what you do. Namaste 🙏 💗

  20. Jackie Pelegrin says:

    A huge thank you to each of the investigators and what they endure day in and day out. I have been an animal lover my entire life, which I attribute to my grandfather who loved animals and wanted to help them in any way he could. I can’t imagine having to witness the cruel actions of what people do to animals in various situations. However, the fact that there are investigators who are willing to risk so much to capture the evidence to stop the cruelty, gives me hope for the future.

  21. Olympia Pelletier says:

    What kinds of things are they testing on animals?

  22. Teresa Brown says:

    I struggle to watch many of the videos I see and I wonder how you can manage a job like this but I am so thankful you are able to manage. Take care of your mental health and thank you.

  23. Cheryl Lafferty says:

    Ím so glad there are people out there that would leave their family friends and homes for any animal. That takes a special love from above that those only knowing could possibly understand. Never be ashamed for being so much there as it is being done against these animals because you are so special and unique to this world to go through devasting circumstances to save precious animals that are alive in this world for a bigger purpose. Your not only rescuing the animals but your direct work will lead to countless living caring individuals who will take part in the life of each animal rescued afterwards that I’m sure by doing so will have a much greater impact on who they become giving the love from these animals in return can be life changing and maybe a life a human life would possibly have never known true love had they not encountered such a HERI that brought them the begining of a brand new world now being able to adopt these rescued animals who also need that life attachment from special individuals. God’s hands are in every thing from love one to all. Human or animal even creature or Ailen. May he bless your life and love greatly all through the years of your and your children’s children generations. You rock!! God bless you!! You are so loved and precious!! You have a heavy burden to bare and may each of your days be filled with encouragement and kindness from all you encounter. I pray you as well as your animal friends are protected and find the road home much sweeter and made possible by your works!!

  24. Kim Conklin says:

    My Love Of Animals Would Help Me To Do Undercover Work To Help Protect Them And To Save Them… Where Do I Apply…???

  25. Mary Sprinkle says:

    Thank you all for being brave and strong enough to go out and face these horrible situations. Thank you for your selfless work. God bless and keep you all safe.

  26. Christine Lofgren says:

    Undercover investigators and those who support them are the true heroes of the animal protection movement. They are the ones truly giving a voice to the voiceless. A million thank you’s to everyone who works on undercover investigations, and for all your hard work, and the sacrifices you make.

  27. Carla Earl says:

    Bless you for doing what you do. I cry when I read my email and I see these horrors come up on my computer screen. You are remarkable people to tackle this problem head on and in person. Thank you

  28. Corinne C. says:

    Undercover investigators = Heroes Thank you!

  29. Clerky says:

    I can’t wait to be old enough to do those kind of things! You guys are so brave and thanks for being the spark of hope in this world. We can do it!

  30. laurence m pitoiset says:

    My heart goes to the investigators and the animals. Thank you for your courage! When I lived in Puerto Rico I created a “route” near my home and fed, gave water and rescued as many cats and dogs as I could. The little bit I saw there will stay with me forever. I can imagine the horrors your investigators are seeing every day. You are true heroes! THANK YOU!!!

  31. Debbie Cunningham says:

    Your work is the true definition of bravery. Thank you for the incredible sacrifice you make for the voiceless.

  32. Nancy Joyner says:

    To the people who do investigation and rescue of animals in threatening circumstances; you are true heroes! Without question, this is a dirty, difficult undertaking, but so very important and critically needed. I know it’s hard to not lose heart; to feel hopeless, but please don’t stop; know you are appreciated!

  33. Gina Townsend says:

    Thank you so much to the undercover workers. Thank you for risking your mental and physical health for the animals. I feel there is a special place in Heaven for those who help the ones who can’t help themselves.

    I hope one day the world will be far less cruel.

  34. Kris Parker says:

    What credentials and experience are required to be an investigator? I believe that I have the right education, how do I inquire for more info?

  35. Jayanti Sekhar says:

    Thank you a zillion times for the unconditional and brave work you do for these helpless animals. Hats off and my big salute to all the investigators and also to those who are involved in animal rescue missions. Namaste 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼

  36. Joan Gogol says:

    Thank you for having the courage and drive to do this. Im an empath and would crack and try to scoop up everyone and run. I can only imagine the heartache you endure and am so very grateful for your commitment and ability to help expose the cruelty. There is definitely a special place for you for sacrificing and enduring emotional pain for the cause.

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