Chickens Need Not Apply: A Closer Look at the ASPCA's Grantmaking

Not long ago, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) announced that it granted $7,337,371 million to animal-welfare groups in 49 states (sorry, Alaska) in the first half of this year. The 596 grants to 467 recipients ranged from $100 to $1 million.

So which group got $100? Which scored a gift with five more zeros? Here’s a quick breakdown:

For starters, if you’re a farm animal, you’re pretty much screwed. The ASPCA gave to only five organizations dedicated to helping the country’s nine billion chickens, cows, pigs, and other creatures you’re used to seeing at your local supermarket. Of those beneficiaries, the University of Pennsylvania received roughly 80 percent of the ASPCA’s $103,500 farm-animal grants, for “Research Fellowship for Welfare Training Focusing on Enrichment with Ice Blocks, Outdoor Access and Foraging Materials at the Penn Vet Swine Center.” Whatever all that means.

To be fair, a smaller portion of the ASPCA’s cash went to farm-animal groups like Farm Sanctuary, earmarked for things like veterinary and medical care for rescued female broiler chickens. Still, the ASPCA’s mission is “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals”—not some types of animals—“throughout the United States.”

The ASPCA’s greatest portion of contributions—$3 million, 243 gifts—went to organizations that helped save the lives of cats, dogs, and a few other species. These awards supported initiatives like adoption and fostering efforts, medical care, as well as shelter improvements and training of their staffs. The largest handout, not just in this category but overall this year so far, went to the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. The ASPCA gave $1,000,00 to maintain the group’s efforts to transform New York into a no-kill city—that is, reducing the population of cats and dogs to a point at which shelters no longer need to euthanize animals.

Of course, one way to do that is through spay-and-neuter initiatives, which received $2 million (104 grants). The Humane Alliance, a national advocate for controlling the pet population, got this category’s largest award, $300,000.

The ASCPA didn’t forget the “C” in its name; it awarded 51 grants, totaling $760,733 to helping groups with investigations, raids, interventions, training programs, and other efforts to fight puppy mills, cock fighting, and a myriad of other atrocities. A quarter of the money went to the University of Florida Foundation—one grant to its ASPCA Forensic Science Institute Development Fund, and the other to the ASCPA Veterinary Forensic Graduate Student Fellowship.

All that is great, of course, particularly for the University of Florida. And truthfully, it’s great for animals too, because forensics is a vital part of animal cruelty investigations. But is this really the wisest use of the ASPCA’s funding?

Maybe. Maybe not. At the very least, it’s at least worth pondering how the nonprofit is allocating grants within its anti-cruelty program area.

The ASPCA gave to other causes too, like reducing the number of animals that end up in shelters by supporting pet-food banks and vet services for low-income folks. And interestingly, aside from cats and dogs, the organization is partial to horses, doling out 123 grants toward their rehabilitation, rescue, and wellness, as well as toward equine population control.

Ultimately, it’s fantastic that the ASPCA is helping smaller groups throughout the country. (You may see a full listing of ASPCA grant recipients here.) But given that the group aims to help all victims of animal abuse, it curiously stays mum (aside from a few position papers it buries on its website) about the animals that suffer the greatest amount in the greatest numbers—those on factory farms.

Some species are simply unluckier than others.