The commercial is difficult to watch.
“Sometimes I cry,” said Brooke Allmony, an animal lover who volunteers at the pet rescue where she adopted her dog.
Just a few short chords of Sarah Mclachlan’s “In the Arms of An Angel” was enough to jog Allmony’s memory of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ fundraising commercial.
The now iconic ad shows animals in shelters and cages, and ASPCA workers carrying more animals to safety.
The spot, which is seen all over the United States, does little to explain where the dollars you donate to the charity are actually going.
There is a chance that those dollars will never end up at a local SPCA or humane society in communities across the United States. In fact, the ASPCA only operates one shelter of its own in New York City.
“People need to be aware that the money doesn't just trickle down or that the resources don't just trickle down,” said Fraily Rodriguez, the senior director for community outreach development at the Central Florida SPCA.
Despite the similarity in the names of the organizations, the ASPCA actually has no affiliation with the Central Florida SPCA or other SPCA shelters across the United States.
Unlike a national charity like the Red Cross or American Cancer society, national animal charity organizations are not neccessarily parent organizations of local level shelters.
The Humane Society of The United States, or HSUS, is another example. At the Halifax Humane Society in Daytona Beach, executive director Miguel Abi-hassan said they have received very little funding from the HSUS.
“Nationally I would tell you that Humane Society of the United States in one of the largest advocacy groups, and I have a lot of respect for what they do. Certainly there could be a little more transparency in their advocacy fundraising and letting consumers know how important advocacy actually is,” said Abi-hassan.
On the other hand, Halifax Humane Society has received funds from the ASPCA.
The ASPCA’s tax filings showed that it generated over $148 million in revenues in 2011. Some of this money was generated by adoption fees and veterinary services at the shelter in Manhattan, but the overwhelming majority came from donations and contributions.
While $15 million of its revenues was spent on grants to smaller organizations like Halifax, that only accounted for 10 percent of its budget.
Thirty-nine million was spent on salaries with the CEO earning around $614,000 in compensation and benefits that year.
The organization’s other big expenses were advertising and promotion, which accounted for a little over $20 million, and around $16 million on operating supplies.
Alison Jiminez, the ASPCA’s media relations manager, said that the organization encourages animal welfare groups throughout the United States to apply for their grants and provided a list of all grants given to organizations in Florida for 2011 through 2013.
According to the spreadsheet, Halifax Humane Society actually received one of the larger grants doled out by ASPCA during the timeframe.
“The ASPCA is one of the few national groups that gives back and gives back big,” said Abi-hassan.
Additionally, Jiminez described the difference between their organization and a local animal welfare charity by using the analogy of comparing FEMA to a local emergency management organization.
She pointed to examples of work the group did following the tornado that devastated Joplin, Missouri.
“The ASPCA was there setting up an emergency shelter, reuniting lost pets with their families, and later finding homes for more than 700 homeless animals during a two-day adoption event. That’s a burden Joplin Humane Society (or any other local shelter) should never have to shoulder on its own,” she said in an email.
However, Jiminez said if donors want their dollars to help local animals in need then they should donate those dollars locally.
The Humane Society of United States, on the other hand, said it encourages potential donors to give to local groups alongside their organization in order to support an all encompassing end to animal cruelty.
"If we just duplicated the work of shelters we would be leaving 99.9 percent of the animals to fend for themselves," said HSUS President Wayne Pacelle in a Skype interview. "We know from the data that most animal welfare donors give to four to seven animal welfare organizations."
Pacelle explained how the Humane Society of the United States spends a lot of time and money on bigger animal cruelty issues like ensuring that farm raised animals are treated ethically and stopping fur trade. He could not enumerate how much of the money his organization raises from donors actually goes to programs in Florida.
"The work that we do in the Congress, the work that we do internationally, in so many settings, is of great interest to our Florida supporters," he said. "So to confine it just to Florida is really just a small part of what we do."
His group provided a list of projects that were specific to Florida conducted from 1990 to 2012, a lot of which was lobbying work to change legislation.
Heather Sullivan, the HSUS public relations director, claimed the group helped update Florida’s animal fighting laws to make all involvement with dog fighting, cockfighting, hog/dog fighting or greyhound baiting a felony.
Other laws they claim they helped pass include a ban on freshwater turtle trading and a ban on the sale of Burmese pythons.
In addition, Sullivan pointed out the work the group did to save gopher tortoises and hands-on projects like breaking up a cock-fighting ring, a dog-fighting site and rescuing cats from an animal hoarder.
But local agencies said they can often be left holding the bag when the HSUS comes in and does these types of raids.
“HSUS has no physical shelter so when they do a puppy mill raid or break-up a dog-fighting ring they call humane societies like us and say hey can you take these dogs which of course we do,” said Diane Anderson, an animal behaviorist with the Central Florida SPCA.
Anderson said the Central Florida SPCA took on 30 puppies from a puppy mill raid that HSUS did in North Florida.
An exam of HSUS 990 tax forms from 2011 showed that it raised $133 million in revenues that year. The biggest portion of their money is spent on salaries with about $29 million being appropriated there.
It spends about $24 million on educational material and $11 on advertising and promotion.
$6.5 million is given out as grants to domestic animal welfare charities.
"We do a lot of local programs ourselves," Pacelle insisted. "Whether it's our Pets for Life Program or our animal care centers, so we're providing hands-on care in a lot of communities."
Abi-hassan and the other leaders at Halifax Humane society devised a formula to help potential donors look at animal welfare groups and decide whether or not they are appropriately using their funding.
The mission impact should equal the percentage of the animals served plus the number of programs in addition to the fundraising efficiency, said Abi-hassan.
Abi-hassan said fundraising efficiency should be around 75 percent which translates to 75 cents to every dollar.
Abi-hassan and other animal welfare charity leaders all recommend utilizing Charity Navigator and Guidestar to get a good idea of where the charity is spending it’s money and read its tax filings before donating.