The following statements of policy were prepared by the professional staff of the Humane Society of the United States and approved by its Board of Directors. These statements express the values and positions of the HSUS on a wide range of issues involving human activities affecting animals. These positions are not immutable, given that circumstances, technology and societal values can and do change.
- Our mission
- Statement on nonviolence
- Statement of principles and beliefs
- Statement on animals in biomedical research, testing and education
- Statement on animals in entertainment and competition
- Statement on climate change
- Statement on companion animals
- Statement on disasters
- Statement on farm animals and eating with conscience
- Statement on wild animals
Statement on nonviolence
The very foundation of the HSUS's work is to protect animals from suffering and cruelty caused by human actions. Any tactic or strategy involving violence toward people undermines the core ethic we espouse. Such tactics are ethically wrong and do fundamental damage to the credibility of the humane movement. Since the HSUS was founded in 1954, we have never engaged in or supported any form of violence done in the name of protecting animals.
Research has now established that there are strong links between violent behaviors toward humans and violent behaviors toward animals. We actively encourage law enforcement agencies to take violence toward animals seriously and to set appropriately severe penalties for people who are responsible for causing animals to suffer. Furthermore, we are convinced that the corollary is also true; namely, that teaching humans to behave with kindness and respect toward animals will help build a more humane and better functioning civil society.
Statement of principles and beliefs
The mission of the HSUS is to create a humane and sustainable world for all animals—a world that will also benefit people. We seek to forge a lasting and comprehensive change in human consciousness of and behavior toward all animals in order to prevent animal cruelty, exploitation and neglect and to protect wild habitats and the entire community of life.
The HSUS seeks to achieve our goals through education, advocacy, public policy reform and the empowerment of our supporters and partners. We do not engage in or support actions that are illegal or violent or that run counter to the basic principles of compassion and respect for others.
The HSUS strives for integrity, fairness and professionalism in pursuit of our mission. We will seek to be inclusive and to develop partnerships with a broad array of society's institutions to further our goals.
Statement on animals in biomedical research, testing and education
Biomedical research and testing
As do most scientists, the HSUS advocates an end to the use of animals in research and testing that is harmful to the animals. Accordingly, we strive to decrease and eventually eliminate harm to animals used for these purposes. Our concern encompasses all aspects of laboratory animal use, including their housing and care. We carry out our work on behalf of animals used and kept in laboratories primarily by promoting research methods that have the potential to replace or reduce animal use or refine animal use so that the animals experience less suffering or physical harm.
Replacement, reduction and refinement are known as the "Three Rs" of alternative methods. The "Three Rs" approach, rigorously applied, will benefit both animal welfare and biomedical progress. Certain species, such as chimpanzees and other apes, cannot be kept humanely in laboratory caging and should not be used in harmful research given their highly evolved mental, emotional and social features and their concomitant vulnerability to suffering from living in captivity in research settings. Consequently, we place high priority on these species being phased out of harmful research and being relocated to appropriate sanctuary facilities.
Animal use in elementary, high school and college education
Students should be provided an education that instills an interest in and respect for all living things. These are objectives best fulfilled by providing an education that emphasizes animals as living, sentient creatures who share the environment with humans. The HSUS opposes the use of animals in elementary or high school lessons, experiments, science fair competitions or other projects that directly or indirectly cause death, pain or distress to animals.
Dissection is unnecessary and unacceptable in pre-college biology education, being inconsistent with the development of a respect for life and an appreciation of the sentience of living organisms. In postsecondary education, the use of dissection should be limited to the study of ethically sourced cadavers. In professional education (e.g. for veterinary, medical and biological careers), any use of animals should be consistent with an active implementation of the "Three Rs" (reduction, refinement or replacement of animal use).
The Humane Society of the United States opposes any cloning of animals for commercial purposes, whether for use as pets or in research or agriculture. Animal cloning is a destructive, needless and often frivolous enterprise. Cloning is a highly experimental procedure, with an enormous number of failures. Most cloned animals die in gestation or at birth. The relatively few survivors often suffer physical abnormalities, severe and chronic pain and other serious conditions.
Cloning experiments reflect a spirit common to all systematic forms of cruelty to animals. Such experiments reveal a recklessness and hubris, rejecting the prior claims of nature and the inherent dignity of animal life. They treat animals as commodities alone, instead of as living individuals with needs and natures of their own. They are a betrayal of decent animal husbandry, sacrificing the interests and well being of the animals in a quest for notoriety or profit. The commercial cloning of animals is an abuse of humanity's power over the animal world. And, like all abuses of power, it should be prohibited by law.
Statement on animals in entertainment and competition
The HSUS opposes so-called blood sports such as dogfighting, cockfighting, hog-dog fighting, bullfighting, coon-on-a-log, coon-in-a-hole and other similar spectacles involving the purposeful staging of fights between animals. All of these are unjustifiable animal contests that cause acute suffering for the animals forced to participate. These spectacles are largely condemned by the American public but continue to survive because of weak or nonexistent laws or inadequate enforcement of existing laws.
The HSUS opposes greyhound racing. This practice leads to an unacceptable level of greyhound exploitation and suffering solely for profit. The industry promotes and tolerates an overproduction of dogs, resulting in an annual surplus numbering in the thousands, many of whom will end up being destroyed. The sheer waste of life is a scandal. We work to eliminate dog racing tracks where they currently exist, to prevent the legalization of racing in states where it is not permitted and to prevent the establishment of racing tracks in communities where none now exists.
The HSUS does not oppose all horse racing or all horse shows; however, we do oppose a variety of practices that cause unnecessary suffering or undue risks to horses. These include the use of drugs for nontherapeutic purposes to enable injured or disadvantaged animals to race, the racing of young animals whose bones and bodies have not matured sufficiently, the use of goads and whips, the soring of show horses, over-breeding and other activities that cause unnecessary distress to horses. The HSUS also opposes the use of horses in fox hunting and other riding activities that involve the chasing or killing of wild animals.
The HSUS opposes rodeos as they are commonly organized, since they typically cause torment and stress to animals, expose them to pain, injury or even death and encourage an insensitivity to and acceptance of the inhumane treatment of animals in the name of sport. Accordingly, we oppose the use of devices such as electric prods, sharpened sticks, spurs, flank straps and other rodeo equipment that cause animals to react violently, and we oppose bull riding, bronco riding, steer roping, calf roping, "wild horse racing," chuck wagon racing, steer tailing and horse tripping.
Wild animals in performing acts
The HSUS opposes the use of captive wild animals as performers in circuses, film, television and commercials. An ever-growing body of scientific literature supports the contention that wild animals such as elephants and great apes possess highly developed emotional complexity and that their psychological and social needs are difficult to satisfy in a captive setting. The risk of harm to people interacting with them in a performance setting poses undue risk for all concerned.
More broadly, few custodians of these long-lived animals provide cradle-to-grave care for wild animals once their careers are over. They are sometimes sold into the exotic animal trade and channeled to private owners, laboratories, canned hunts or substandard "sanctuaries" where the animals would face obvious and unacceptable threats to their well-being. With the increasing number of circuses that entertain without the use of wild animals and the advent of animatronics, there is a less compelling need than ever for the use of wild animals in entertainment and the HSUS supports a termination of their use for this purpose.
Statement on climate change
The HSUS and Humane Society International (HSI) believe that climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, posing potentially huge impacts on both the natural world and human society. The impacts of climate change will be profound, but most people will be better equipped to adapt to temperature changes and altered weather patterns than plants and wild animals, many of whom are likely to go extinct. In this respect, the world’s natural systems are facing a crisis of immense proportions. The HSUS and HSI are committed to encouraging the adoption of policies that will mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and better equip animals to adapt to the changes ahead—and to survive them. The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that without immediate and meaningful action to reverse the warming trend, 15-37 percent of plant and animal species will be extinct by 2050.
Climate change is already adversely affecting animals around the globe: Diseases are more frequently emerging and spreading to new areas, rising air and sea temperatures are damaging critical habitats and threatening species who rely on these habitats for survival and increasing numbers of extreme weather events are displacing or killing unprecedented numbers of farm animals, companion animals and wildlife. The overwhelming consensus among the world’s most reputable climate scientists is that the majority of the increase in average global temperature is due to human activities over the last century, particularly to dramatic increases in the burning of fossil fuel. The production of animals for meat, eggs and milk is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for 18 percent of all GHG emissions according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization—a share that exceeds the GHG emissions of the world’s entire transportation sector. Deforestation, much of which is the result of feedcrop cultivation for and the grazing of farm animals, is another significant contributor to climate change as well as habitat loss.
The HSUS and HSI are committed to working toward policies at international, regional and domestic levels that will increase the protection of all animals from the harmful impacts of climate change. To achieve this goal, the HSUS and HSI recommend the following reforms be pursued regarding climate change, all of which bear on our ongoing programmatic work and which have a direct bearing on the human relationship with animals:
- Animal agriculture
- Wildlife habitat and trade
- Companion animals
The annual production of more than 11 billion animals in the United States and more than 70 billion worldwide for meat, eggs and milk is simply not sustainable. The “Three Rs” approach advanced by the HSUS and HSI encourages the refinement of production methods, the reduction of consumption and the replacement of animal products with nonanimal alternatives. For example, if every U.S. citizen simply reduced his or her meat consumption by 10 percent, it would not only reduce domestic GHG emissions, but would also save the lives of approximately one billion animals per year.
The HSUS and HSI will seek to educate and engage the public and encourage policies aimed at accomplishing the following goals: Ensuring that consumers are aware of the climate change mitigation benefits of reducing meat, egg and dairy consumption and/or replacing animal-based products with plant-based foods, as well as other changes they can make in their consumption habits to reduce their contribution to climate change. Imposing limits on greenhouse gas emissions from the animal agriculture sector, including industrialized production facilities, transport, fertilizer manufacturing and other inputs that should be:
- Included in international, regional and domestic climate change treaties, agreements, legislation and regulations,
- Strictly regulated,
Limiting the use of animal manure, litter and fat in the production of bio-energy in order to prevent industries from profiting from the massive waste and toxic pollution they create. Promoting small-scale, extensive and/or pasture-based animal production systems instead of large-scale, industrialized animal agriculture production facilities.
Wildlife habitat and trade
The destruction of wildlife habitat in many parts of the world will certainly exacerbate the negative impacts of climate change. In order to reduce these impacts, it is important to preserve as much wild habitat as possible in the years ahead. The HSUS, HSI and Wildlife Land Trust are committed to the preservation of wild places either in the form of parks or other types of protected areas, the benefits of which will accrue to both wildlife and people. In pursuit of this goal, we will work toward the following goals: Enacting legislation that protects habitat and restricts development in areas that are important to species protection and the provision of ecological services to people.
Promoting and expanding conservation easements through the Wildlife Land Trust. Ensuring that any new international climate change agreements include both developed and developing countries. Ensuring that signatories to international climate change agreements are bound to take proactive measures to protect the following systems from harm caused by climate change: Forests, wetlands, grasslands, tundra, fragile island ecosystems, oceans and the wildlife inhabiting them. Lowering tariffs on environmentally-friendly goods and services that also promote animal welfare and protection.
As people are displaced through disasters, marked shifts in water supply and availability, rising sea levels, increasing surface temperatures and other factors related to climate change, their household companion and service animals will be affected as well. Keeping people and pets together during times of crisis will not only prevent animals from becoming lost, abandoned or euthanized, but will also provide emotional comfort to people when they are facing difficult challenges.
The HSUS and HSI will work toward the following goals:
- Continue to pass legislation at the international, federal, state and local levels requiring that emergency planning and evacuation programs include animals.
- Work with state and local responding agencies to develop disaster plans that include animals.
- Train disaster responders and residents regarding how best to protect and care for their companion animals in times of emergencies.
Statement on companion animals
Certain animals can help special-needs individuals who have physical, visual or hearing limitations lead more independent lives by assisting them in the performance of everyday tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. Animals also can alert people to such potentially dangerous situations as fire or intruders. When animals are trained and used to assist humans in these ways, it is critical that the following criteria be met:
- The animal must belong to a domesticated species.
- The human companion of the animal and/or another designated person must be trained in handling and accept responsibility for ensuring that the animal's medical, physical, behavioral and psychological needs are met.
Cosmetic surgery on animals
The HSUS opposes cosmetic and other forms of surgery on animals when done solely for the convenience or pleasure of the owner and without appropriate benefit to the animal.
The number of companion animals in need of good homes is greater than the number of responsible homes available. This results in millions of companion animals either suffering on the streets or being euthanized by local shelters. The HSUS therefore urges people to spay or neuter their companion animals and to solve pet behavior and other problems that may lead to pet relinquishment.
The HSUS also urges humane organizations and animal care and control agencies to require that all animals be sterilized before release for adoption, unless medically inappropriate, and to encourage the spaying and neutering of companion animals within their communities. We support the enactment and enforcement of animal control ordinances designed to regulate, deter and reduce companion animal breeding and we encourage cooperation between animal shelters and veterinarians in implementing sterilization programs and other solutions to the problem of companion animal homelessness.
Pets in housing
Thousands of people across the nation face eviction or exclusion from rental or multifamily housing because they care for pets. Responsible pet caregivers, however, should not be denied the companionship of beloved pets and housing should be open to pets except in those cases in which the pet’s caregiver allows the animal to destroy property, behave aggressively, violate animal control laws or otherwise act as a nuisance to other residents. Accordingly, the HSUS works to empower housing professionals to develop effective policies to welcome more pets.
The HSUS opposes the sale of dogs, cats and other animals through pet stores and other commercial operations. In such situations, the desire for profit undermines proper care, seriously compromising the welfare of the animals. Furthermore, millions of animals are euthanized each year for lack of appropriate homes—a situation made worse by “puppy mills.” Our investigations of puppy mills and other kinds of mass-breeding operations that produce animals for wholesale to the pet industry have also exposed such unacceptable conditions as overcrowding, inadequate shelter, sanitation, food, water and veterinary care and lack of social or behavioral enrichment.
Animal shelters cannot operate effectively without the confidence of the communities they serve and must be seen by the public as a safe haven for lost, stray and abandoned animals. The relinquishment of impounded companion animals from public and private shelters to facilities that use live animals for research, testing or educational purposes is a betrayal of public trust and the implicit contract established between humans and companion animals.
Statement on disasters
A wide range of disasters, as well as war and terrorism, place animals in jeopardy around the world. The HSUS will strive to rescue and care for animals trapped in these circumstances whenever local and regional capacities have been overwhelmed. The nature and extent of HSUS efforts will vary, depending upon issues of timing, access, available resources and security of human responders. The HSUS will tend to companion animals trapped in these settings as well as to farm animals and wildlife whenever possible. In the case of companion animals, captive wildlife and farm animals, the HSUS will endeavor to reunite them with responsible caretakers.
We believe that attention to the protection of animals at risk in disasters and other crises is a responsibility of government, since animals play such a central role in the emotional and economic well-being of people throughout the world. Intervention to rescue and care for animals trapped in disasters or other crises requires coordinated advance planning and preparation among nonprofit and government agencies at all levels and must include organized efforts to urge and support people to include animals in their personal disaster contingency plans. When animal rescue does not impede human rescue and relief imperatives, government responders should directly assist animals in need, cooperating with animal welfare organizations in the process.
Statement on farm animals and eating with conscience
The HSUS is deeply concerned about the ways in which farm animals are treated in modern agricultural systems. The total sum of suffering of these animals greatly exceeds that of any other category of domestic animals. The vast majority of meat, eggs and dairy products sold in American grocery chains and restaurants comes from animals raised in intensive-confinement systems (factory farms) that do not provide for many of the animals' most basic behavioral needs and that impose significant stress on the animals in pursuit of efficiency. The result is that living creatures are being treated as biological "machines."
The HSUS is also concerned about commercial fishing and fish production practices. The proliferation of massive fish farms raises basic questions about their welfare. And commercial fishing practices continue to deplete many fish populations in dramatic ways and result in the by-catch of extraordinary numbers of nontarget animals, including marine mammals, birds and other fish.
Accordingly, the HSUS pursues the reduction of animal suffering in the raising, housing, care, transportation and slaughter of animals raised or caught for food. Furthermore, we seek to ensure that animal production systems are humane, sustainable and environmentally sensitive. The HSUS supports those farmers and ranchers who give proper care to their animals, act in accordance with the basic ethic of compassion to sentient creatures under their control and practice and promote humane and environmentally sustainable agriculture.
Furthermore, the use of plant crops to support the rearing of food animals and the use of fish meal in the intensive "farming" of carnivorous fish, and the subsequent inefficient conversion of plant protein to animal protein, are wasteful uses of limited resources. Research has also indicated that eating excessive quantities of meat, eggs, and dairy can be detrimental to human health.
Considering the foregoing abuses of animals, degradation of the environment and detriment to human health, the HSUS promotes eating with conscience and embracing the "Three Rs"—reducing the consumption of meat and other animal-based foods, refining the diet by eating products only from animals who have been raised, transported and slaughtered in a system of humane, sustainable agriculture that does not abuse the animals and replacing meat and other animal-based foods in the diet with plant-based foods.
While religious practices and beliefs should be respected, this must not lead to disregard for the welfare of animals in our care. In situations where there is a perceived conflict between religious practices and modern public health standards, it has sometimes been the practice to shackle and hoist conscious animals for ritual slaughter. This procedure causes immense animal suffering, but it forms no part of the requirements of any religious faith. Rather, it is a high-speed packinghouse technique invented by packers to comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's sanitary requirements and to expedite production.
The HSUS opposes preparation of animals for slaughter by means of this procedure. It is our position that animals can be prepared for slaughter consistent with ritual requirements by humane alternatives such as the use of humane restraining pens. Ritual sacrifice of animals performed outside of regulated slaughterhouses is invariably cruel and should be prosecuted as such.
Statement on wild animals
The survival of wildlife species is increasingly threatened by a number of anthropogenic factors, including habitat loss and degradation, over-hunting and over-fishing, introduced diseases and parasites, attempts to eradicate "pest" species and capture for the pet trade. The demise of any species is an irreparable loss that deprives the world of a unique creature and the role that creature plays in its ecosystem. The HSUS is committed to protecting threatened and endangered species and their habitats by pressing the U.S. Department of the Interior to aggressively implement and enforce the Endangered Species Act of 1973 as amended in every way possible.
We also urge international, federal and state wildlife agencies and officials to broaden their programs for the protection and recovery of threatened and endangered species and their habitats and we encourage private citizens to assist in preserving habitats where such species are known to reside.
The HSUS seeks to build a humane society that will move toward protecting and celebrating wildlife and will develop humane solutions to wildlife conflicts through innovation. The HSUS actively works to eliminate the most inhumane and unfair sport hunting practices, such as the use of body-gripping traps and snares, bear-baiting, the hound hunting of bears, bobcats, mountain lions and wolves, contest killing events and captive hunting on fenced properties. We oppose live pigeon shoots and other forms of staged hunting where the animals are bred or stocked simply to be shot as living targets. We also oppose the trophy hunting of rare or endangered populations and the use of lead ammunition, since less toxic alternatives are workable and available in the marketplace.
The HSUS opposes the killing of marine mammals for commercial, sport, ceremonial, "nuisance management" and other nonsubsistence purposes—for example, the harpooning of whales, clubbing of seals, drowning of porpoises and other marine mammals in fishing nets and gear and shooting of marine mammals from fishing and other commercial vessels with rifles. We also oppose the chase, capture and confinement of wild marine mammals in marine parks and aquariums because such activities result in considerable animal suffering.
The HSUS therefore supports measures to protect all marine mammals by:
- Supporting a total ban on all commercial whaling (as adopted by the International Whaling Commission) and the imposition of sanctions against those nations that refuse to comply with the ban.
- Supporting a total ban on all commercial seal hunts, including the harp and hooded seal hunt by Canada.
- Opposing the sport hunting of marine mammals.
- Supporting the moratorium on taking and importing marine mammals established by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and encouraging effective administration and enforcement of its provisions.
- Seeking the development of new fishing practices and gear that will prevent injury to and death by drowning of marine mammals incidentally entangled in fishing nets and line.
- Seeking an end to the capture of wild marine mammals for the purpose of public display in the United States and abroad.
The HSUS opposes the introduction of nonnative or exotic species into the environment as such introduction can be harmful to both native and nonnative animals as well as to ecological systems. In the cases where nonnative animals have been intentionally or unintentionally introduced by people and have established populations in the wild, the HSUS supports humane forms of population management and opposes methods that cause trauma and suffering.
All native animals play a vital function within their ecosystems and this is especially true of predators. Many of the predator control programs implemented by counties, states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program result in the killing of both target and nontarget wildlife species without justification. The indiscriminate killing of predatory animals by poisoning, trapping, shooting from aircraft, killing young at their dens and other inhumane methods is unacceptable.
The HSUS accordingly opposes the cruel techniques used in the present program and encourages the use of nonlethal means of protecting livestock from predators, such as guard animals, aversive conditioning, frightening devices, sound livestock husbandry practices and other methods as they become available. We support incentive programs and other means by which to encourage livestock owners to use nonlethal forms of livestock protection.
Trapping and fur ranching
The HSUS opposes the trapping, rearing on "fur ranches" and killing of animals for the production of fur apparel and accessories. Such exploitation causes needless and unjustifiable suffering and death and is therefore inconsistent with the aims of a humane society. There should be an immediate ban on the use of the steel-jaw leghold trap and neck snares in particular, because they are inherently inhumane.
There is no justification for any form of trapping except live trapping in those rare cases in which such live trapping demonstrably benefits animals or provides necessary benefits to ecological systems. This kind of trapping may be accepted only after less intrusive alternatives have been attempted and exhausted and it must be done responsibly, efficiently and by a humane method that captures the animal alive without injury.
Wild animals as pets
Wild animals make unsuitable pets under virtually all circumstances and very few people are equipped or have the expertise to properly maintain wild animals in household environments. We define as "wild" any animals, whether captive born or wild caught, who have not been domesticated, i.e. have not been genetically controlled over a very long period of time and specifically adapted to live in close proximity to humans.
The HSUS opposes the general traffic in wild animals. Wild animals suffer when captured and transported and placed in close proximity to humans. Furthermore, many wild animals carry pathogens that may cause significant human disease and some wild animals are dangerous in and of themselves. The HSUS opposes the sale of wild animals (i.e. any nondomesticated native or exotic mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish or invertebrate, regardless of whether the animal is wild caught or captive bred) by any commercial establishment.
The HSUS opposes the sale of animals as novelty or decorative items and the sale of domesticated fish bred and housed in inhumane conditions.
Wild mustangs and burros
The HSUS works to protect the remaining herds of wild horses and burros from inhumane treatment, exploitation and eradication and we use our influence to ensure that protective legislation is improved and properly administered and enforced.
Zoos and aquariums
Wild animals should ideally be permitted to exist undisturbed in their natural environments. Zoos and aquariums are, however, a currently established part of our society and some of them provide benefits for animals such as financially supporting conservation programs and the preservation and restoration of threatened and endangered species and promoting the education of people to the needs of wild animals and their roles in the ecosystem.
Zoos and other facilities that house captive wildlife must not be set up solely for profit or for entertainment. Such facilities must be organized around a core mission that educates the public about the needs of wild animals and the threats to which they are exposed and that supports humane conservation programs. In addition, such zoos must maintain animals in conditions simulating their natural habitats as closely as possible and must treat them with the highest degree of humaneness, care and professionalism. Achieving these requirements is an imperative not only for the welfare of the animals but also because inhumane or inappropriate conditions viewed by an impressionable public provide a negative learning experience by seeming to condone indifference or cruelty.
The HSUS pledges to work with those zoological parks and other zoos and aquariums desiring to improve and having the capability to do so. At the same time, we are committed to the elimination of those institutions that will not or cannot improve and meet these standards. The HSUS urges zoos to act as sanctuaries for nondomesticated animals, providing facilities for animals in need rather than breeding them for exhibition purposes or acquiring them from the wild or from exotic animal dealers.