What’s Up With Humane Watch Attacking Big Cat Rescue?
By Howard Baskin, JD, MBA, Advisory Board Chairman of Big Cat Rescue
HumaneWatch is a project of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) and is entirely dedicated to spreading disparaging information about the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) with the goal of drying up the organization’s fundraising. CCF is the brain child of Richard “Rick” Berman, a longtime Washington, D.C. public relations specialist who is funded by special interests and powerful industries. Berman and Co. wages deceptive campaigns against industry foes including labor unions; public-health advocates; and consumer, safety, animal welfare, and environmental groups. In other words, this is a guy who is paid by the large companies who abuse animals, particularly the big “ag” companies who create misery for millions of farm animals used for food, to deceive the public about those who are trying to protect those animals.
Why does Berman have an entire organization, Humane Watch, devoted to doing nothing but trashing HSUS? Because HSUS is EFFECTIVE! If HSUS was not having such amazing success with ballot initiatives, lawsuits and legislation to protect animals from abuse, the abusers would not spend large amounts of money to pay Berman to concoct misleading information campaigns about HSUS.
What is Berman’s “technique?” He is a spin artist. A large part of what he does is take some fact that may be technically true and spin it and twist it into something that gives an impression that is blatantly untrue.
How did small nonprofit Big Cat Rescue (BCR) get on the radar of a man who normally spends his time attacking the big guys? Big Cat Rescue is a leader in urging Congress to pass the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act. This act would end the private ownership and breeding of big cats that results a miserable life for thousands of big cats.
As part of our effort to educate people about the bill and encourage voters to urge their Legislators to vote for the bill, BCR was the major sponsor of the Taking Action for Animals Conference run by HSUS in June, 2014. The more than 1000 attendees all left there knowing about our bill, and had an opportunity to mention it in their visits to legislators the Monday after the conference.
Humane Watch may think that attacking BCR is going to dissuade us from sponsoring the conference in the future, i.e. less funding for a conference held by HSUS. No way! The conference is a huge opportunity to spread the word about our bill.
As for what they have written about BCR on their website, it is utter nonsense, done with the technique mentioned above, i.e. spinning to create false negative inferences.
They appear to have based their attack on a news report done in 2011 by a reporter in Tampa who has a reputation for creating negative stories. The story was promoted to the reporter by Joe Schreibvogel, who we view as one of the most notorious abusers of tiger cubs in the world.
For more on him see www.TigerCubAbuse.com. At the time of the story, we had sued Schreibvogel in Federal Court. We ended up winning a judgment against Schreibvogel and his “park” for more than $1 million in early 2013 and have been pursuing him through bankruptcy court since then. Most recently we received from the bankruptcy court the rights to his future inheritance of a valuable tract of land in Kansas.
The reporter apparently did no checking on who Schreibvogel was, or did not care. He made up his mind how his story would go, and was totally disinterested in anything we had to say. So, we posted the rebuttal at the link below.
I will not take the time to address every sentence of the Humane Watch nonsense, but here are specific comments regarding the statements on the Humane Watch page and how Berman misleadingly spins things to create false impressions:
Berman says BCR “rakes in revenues” and implies that this contradicts our goal of putting ourselves out of business by ending the trade in big cats so no more need to be rescued from horrible conditions. The word “rakes” of course sounds evil. The truth is that as the largest sanctuary for big cats, that meets the high standards of the Global Federation of Sanctuaries, we have become increasingly known for our rescue of cats from horrible conditions, for our outstanding animal care, and importantly for the fact that we are the leaders in the fight to stop the abuse by ending private ownership.
As a result, passionate supporters have caused our donations to steadily rise. This is not in any way inconsistent with our goal of putting ourselves out of business. In fact, the exact opposite is true. It is ONLY because of this financial support that we are able to devote time and financial resources to promote the federal bill that will accomplish this goal. We could not possibly have sued Schreibvogel in Federal Court if it were not for the amazing support of our donors.
And we certainly are not “raking” it in personally. When I arrived here in 2003 the sanctuary had lost money for 11 years, with Carole funding the shortfall each year. Carole took no salary for twenty-one years, I took no salary for my first seven years while I worked to get the sanctuary financially stable. And today we take salaries of about $50,000 each for working seven days most weeks.
Berman dwells on early 90’s as if the history of the sanctuary is something we hide. Utter nonsense. We openly explain that when Carole started out in those early years she was one of the people we today want to put out of business. A limited number of cats were bred and some, particularly bobcats, were placed as pets. At first she bought into the lie the breeders spread that breeding in captivity somehow helps conservation. It was when those bobcats placed as pets started to be returned that she realized this made no sense and the philosophy changed and evolved into our being a leader in stopping the breeding. We openly discuss the history of those early years and the evolution of thought on our tours, on our website https://bigcatrescue.org/about/our-evolution/ and even on a large sign in our tour waiting area so that visitors who may not have been to our website become aware of it.
Berman says that WildLife on Easy Street, as Big Cat Rescue was called back then, had 26 Animal Welfare Act violations in 1998. Aside from the fact that this was 16 years ago, he conveniently leaves out the fact that the court threw out ALL 26 counts as unfounded! What actually happened is that in 1996 Carole spoke out against USDA taking the position that beating a lion in a circus wagon was, “industry standard training” and thus acceptable. USDA retaliated by having an inspector make those 26 citations. They were absurd.
When Carole & USDA went to court every citation was thrown out. It is a great example of Berman and that reporter lying. Berman actually could have made the technically true statement that there were 26 “citations.” But he did not even make that much of an effort to be truthful. He says there were 26 “violations.” That is a blatant lie, since the court ruled they were NOT violations. But that aside, the real lie here is omitting that the court dismissed every citation and giving you, the reader, the impression that there indeed were violations. Think that is being honest and truthful? And if not, should you believe anything else he says about BCR, or, for that matter, HSUS?
So, what about the last 16 years since then? We have an almost perfect record of totally clean inspections with USDA for the last decade, a remarkable record in fact. Note that Berman points to only TWO citations in that period, in 2010 and 2011. So, what about those? One of the citations they point to about a tree being close to the fence was absurd and the citation was removed when we objected to it.
The other citation was a function of a change in inspectors. There are many subjective rules. The inspectors we had for many years had no problem with some storage units we had near our wall that were 6 inches lower than our 8 foot concrete wall. A new inspector did not like it, cited us, so we moved the containers away from the wall. Big sin eh?
Berman says “former employees” like Deborah Sandlin “speak out.” He neglects to mention that the only former employees who “speak out” are the ones from the early 90s when there was breeding and handling here who did not like the change to advocacy against those activities. Every one of them is an exotic animal owner or breeder and they know we are trying to end ownership and breeding of exotics.
The last thing I will address is Berman citing the same 2011 news report as claiming that we “refused inspection from the Better Business Bureau’s Standards for Charity Accountability, which might uncover its carefully crafted PR image” and implies that this contradicts our “claim” of being “committed to transparency.” We actually do have a strong PR image – the reason is that it is based on truth, something Berman knows nothing about apparently. As for BBB, we do not apply for their seal, and here is why.
It takes years on the waiting list before Charity Navigator will evaluate you. Before we got the evaluation we applied and earned the BBB Wise Giving Seal. BBB was trying to get better known then in a field, totally dominated by Charity Navigator, and still dominated by Charity Navigator, as the entity most donors rely on to learn who are the best nonprofit organizations. BBB had a meeting of seal holders and aggressively encouraged us all to put the seal everywhere we could. We put it on our letterhead.
To make a stupid story short, when a couple of the exotic animal owners wrote letters objecting to us exposing some of them openly, a person at BBB who I do not think treated us well gave us a hard time for doing so, and tried to use one of the standards to back his position even though it was a ridiculous stretch. They are just not used to nonprofits doing advocacy and having to deal with any controversy.
Meantime, we earned the Charity Navigator highest rating of four stars which we have gotten ever since.
BBB has what I think is an inappropriate requirement for the percentage of outside directors for a small, founder run nonprofit. They require that only the greater of 1 person or 10% of the board be employees.
That means Carole and I could not both be on our Board once we became employees. So as we expanded our Board adding outside directors, but no longer met that criteria, there was no point in applying. To go to all the effort of applying to be told you meet 19 of the 20 standards and cannot display the seal makes no sense given the long application.
By using the phrase we “refuse to be evaluated” and implying this is a lack of transparency Berman tries to makes it sound like we are hiding something. Do you think Schreibvogel applies to BBB? 🙂 And at least back then BBB themselves used to specifically say that choosing not to be evaluated is NOT a sign of lack of transparency. All of our financial information and every other aspect of transparency is on our website. With the four star rating at the rating entity that dominates the field, it makes no sense for me to spend my time filling out a long application to BBB when I know we cannot display the seal because I view one of their standards as inappropriate. I do not “refuse.” I simply choose not to.
Oh, and by the way, HSUS does meet all 20 of the Standards and is BBB seal holder. If what Berman says about HSUS were true, they would not meet all the Standards. Do you think Berman sends all his allegations to BBB? If he does, clearly BBB sees right through them as misrepresentations.
In addition to the Charity Navigator four star rating, you can see other independent ratings and credentials of Big Cat Rescue at https://bigcatrescue.org/about/credentials/. Being GFAS accredited means we meet the highest standards in our industry. In fact, GFAS has asked us to hold seminars for other sanctuaries.
Being an effective leader in the fight to stop the widespread abuse of exotic animals means you get attacked. The animal abusing big “ag” companies who pay Berman to deceive you about HSUS, and the exotic animal abusers who lie about us, have no way to justify what they do, so their only defense is to lie about HSUS and Big Cat Rescue.