Opinion

‘Animal rights groups’ vs. elephants

Buckley Carlson Political Strategist
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As you wade through the ever-mounting requests for your charitable dollars, cast a wary eye on these year-end supplicants, as there’s a good chance the charity seeking your money is relying upon an emotional appeal that is at extreme variance with its actual aims and deeds. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), with its humiliating and expensive defeat last week in its decade-long battle to outlaw elephants at Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, is one such charity.

But, while ASPCA now limps away — proverbial tail between the legs — having coughed up a $9.3 million settlement to Barnum & Bailey’s owner, Feld Entertainment, the legal case against its co-defendants (the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS], the Fund for Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Animal Protection Institute, Born Free USA, and the Wildlife Advocacy Project) continues unabated, exposing widespread, coordinated, and illegal conduct from some of America’s largest “animal rights advocacy” groups.

This interminable legal odyssey — clogging up the court system for 12 years, consuming untold taxpayer dollars (and more than $22 million in Feld Entertainment’s funds), diverting judges’ time and attention — began as a manufactured lawsuit, a complete fabrication cooked up by the defendants; they actually paid a former Ringling Bros. elephant trainer nearly $200,000 to claim injuries that didn’t exist. Predictably, the court rejected his testimony, sending what should be an indelible message that paid plaintiffs, especially those that use litigation to fundraise, have no place in the American justice system.

Undeterred, these self-styled “animal rights advocates” have pursued an ever more radical agenda, manipulating the court system in a never-ending series of twists and turns, finally claiming that Ringling Bros. is violating the Endangered Species Act by harming its elephants with the guides and tethers it uses.

And, of course, they lob these charges against a company that employs teams of full-time veterinarians; subjects itself to constant scrutiny, undergoing repeated inspection by federal, state, and local authorities in every city in which its circus performs; displays visibly healthy, clean animals; has never once been found in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, the comprehensive and demanding federal law that regulates treatment of animals by circuses, zoos, and other exhibitors; and has been a happy household name in America for generations, very much as a result of the joy it has brought to both parents and children alike.

If the ASPCA settlement is any guide, these other “animal rights” groups will also get their justice, however slow the system labors on; their litigation abuse, suborning of perjury, and racketeering are all well documented. Still, it’s time for a public examination of these tax-exempt “charities,” as well as an affirmation that if they want to preserve their status, they need to adhere to the mission statements that earned them their special status in the first place. Being exempt from taxes does not make a group exempt from the law.

Americans deserve a lot better from their “charities.” In fact, it’s time non-profits are held to the same standards as their for-profit brethren. If a group of for-profit companies had conspired to engage in similar criminal conduct, they would have suffered swift and brutal legal and public-relations repercussions. But here, because the perpetrators are public charities, it’s somehow acceptable that authorities and the media look askance.

Why do so many seem so unconcerned that fake litigation was ginned up and used to make money in the name of “charity”?

Two conclusions are inescapable:

1) The average donor to one of these charities has no idea her hard-earned dollars are being used to fund these anti-corporate campaigns, the purpose of which is to deny ordinary people an opportunity they’d never have otherwise: to view these majestic animals up close, in a safe, controlled environment. How many puppies, kittens, and abandoned adult animals could have been spayed, provided shelter and medical attention, and adopted to loving homes for $200,000? Quite a few, according to my favorite animal charity in Washington, the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL.org), from which my family has adopted two angelic dogs.

2) These self-proclaimed “animal rights advocates” don’t really care about animals. If they did, how could they justify burdening Feld Entertainment to the tune of $22 million with ill-founded litigation? That’s money that Ringling Bros. could have spent attending to its Asian elephants and stable of other fine animals. Ringling Bros. has an obvious incentive, as well as a long-established track record, of actually caring for and maintaining its elephant population.

ASPCA reportedly has assets of more than $400 million, raising more than $111 million in cash in 2011 alone. Its co-defendants — equally ferocious in their battle to destroy the family-owned and much beloved Barnum & Bailey Circus — are similarly well endowed. Isn’t it time charitable, animal-loving Americans (and a newly augmented IRS staff) took a closer look at the non-profits that purport to represent their interests? In this economy, and with their as-yet-undetermined tax increase looming, how can they afford not to?

Buckley Carlson, a Washington-based writer and political strategist, can be reached at Buckley@buckmedia.org.

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Buckley Carlson