But saving animals is not the only concern. The spokeswoman at the time, Laura Satlter, noted that "By helping the animals we're helping the people because livestock is an important part of their lives, as food and as an economic resource" (Rodriguez). More recent disaster efforts have taken place after Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami, and are currently underway in Haiti and Japan.
The most potentially influential and yet least direct work that the WSPA does is in its support of the "Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare," a document currently in draft form which is "a declaration of our duty to respect animals and their welfare needs would have a long-term impact on the welfare of billions of animals and people worldwide" (WSPA Home Page). The goal is to get this document adopted formally by the United Nations in order to "encourage governments to improve and enforce national animal welfare legislation by providing a benchmark," and to "encourage industries which use animals to keep welfare at the forefront," among other possible benefits.
The organizational structure at WSPA is slightly different than that of other non-profits, which stands to reason given their manifold projects and initiatives. Their architecture is of a highly collaborative model, incorporating the efforts of many partner organizations they call the "Member Society Network" (WSPA Home Page). The organization feels that there is strength in the size and span of the network, which they term "an international force that governments and decision makers cannot fail to listen to…helping to create a momentum of positive change for animals worldwide" (WSPA Home Page). These member organizations take many forms, including "large national organizations, covering a range of welfare issues…[and] small specialist groups, working on specific problems" (WSPA Home Page). The network makes WSPA an international organization in the truest sense, given that it reaches into so many different parts of the world, including remote locales where other non-profits may not have a large presence.
Animal welfare organizations are often the focus of controversy and ridicule. The very term "animal welfare" calls to mind a politically progressive agenda, possibly accompanied by a lack of concern for human welfare. The WSPA clearly does not want to be lumped in with these kinds of ideas. They are careful, for instance, to note the ways in which their disaster work benefits the people in local communities and not just the animals. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to find several practices and interests which could create public relations problems even for those inclined to support animal welfare.
One instance of a controversial issue taken on by the WSPA is the treatment of companion animals. The official point-of-view of the organization is that "all animals owned by or under the care of humans should be kept in conditions appropriate to the needs of the species. Where the physiological and behavioral needs of a species cannot be met, the animals should not be captive" (WSPA Home Page). Both in America and abroad, companion animals are widely available and often little prevents their owners from caring for them in whatever fashion they please. While most countries and municipalities have laws protecting against physical abuse against pets, there is often not much said about the quality of conditions in which animals must be housed. The problem here lies in how widely standards vary in different communities, often attributable to the income and culture of the family keeping the animals. For example, for some people keeping a dog outside only is the norm and to invite it in would be considered unsanitary or simply unorthodox. But does this meet, as the WSPA notes, "the needs of the species"? Possibly not. Thus the organization's language could create confusion and engender bad feelings even from the most responsible of pet owners.
Also of concern is the use of the word "captive" in their policy, since many owners are loathe to see their companion animals as prisoners, but rather see them as members of the family who choose to remain with their owners as much as their owners have chosen to provide for them. There could also be hypocrisy found in this statement, given that if the animals are truly captive, is there ever any justification for keeping them, whether they are treated well or not? Other animal rights organizations are often split on this issue, with some condemning the practice of raising and keeping of companion animals altogether.
Another potentially hot button topic, and one that might differ from many other mainstream animal welfare organizations, is the attitude of the WSPA toward animal slaughter. Their official website states that "methods of killing animals are critical as the process can often cause extreme pain and distress before death occurs. WSPA advocates humane slaughter methods" (WSPA Home Page). The statement reads as a tacit approval of the practice of slaughter for human consumption, which runs counter to a vegetarian lifestyle championed by other animal rights organizations. Here, another argument for a hypocritical outlook could be made, given that the WSPA wishes to end pain and suffering for animals and opposes their use as "raw materials" for human beings.
Both of the potential public relations problems mentioned call attention to the fine line that the WSPA must walk as an animal welfare organization. They can not find themselves being too radical in their advocacy of animals to the point where it is at the expense of human beings, or they will lose the confidence of the people in the communities in which they work, often people whose education into animal rights has been limited. They would also risk losing the support of conservative or even middle of the road donors, who might not want to ally themselves with an agenda that opposes activities in which they regularly participate and which are viewed as mainstream in American culture, like meat consumption and pet ownership. On the other hand, the WSPA also must be proactive enough to satisfy their base donation pool, which likely ranges from the average animal lover to the animal rights fanatic. They can endorse the keeping and killing of animals, but must emphasize how to do these things in the fairest ways available. Out of this concern comes initiatives like "the Pet Respect Campaign which seeks to alleviate the plight of millions of unwanted companion animals that are often indiscriminately destroyed through cruel methods" (WSPA Give). Responsible companion animal ownership is then praised and supported.
Several key publics have been mentioned, including employees of the organization and member network organizations, governmental bodies to which the WSPA is tied, and perhaps most prominently their base of donors, including corporate donors and individuals. Communication to these publics takes many forms, comprising official reports, press releases, marketing videos, advertising, lectures and classroom presentations, and direct mailings.
As previously noted, WSPA's well-organized and comprehensive internet presence is represented by their website and YouTube channel. Their internet videos feature multiple languages, befitting the international nature of their missions. They also contain emotional pleas, often with frank and brutal depictions of some of the inhumane practices against which the WSPA is fighting. These ads have the effect of not merely informing the viewer, but shocking and disturbing them into action.
There is also more uplifting content, such as WSPA's annual "Achievements" videos, which act as a kind of thank you note to their donors, and catalogue the previous years' efforts. The 2010 video, for example, updates viewers on a petition to the South Korean government which resulted in "a process that could…end…the country's bear farming industry" and one to the Catalonian Parliament in Spain that demands a bullfighting ban which was passed (WSPAUSA). By using this platform to tout their successes, the WSPA bolsters its reputation while seeking new converts.
The YouTube channel also houses a series of public service announcements entitled "Animals Matter" that features celebrities like actress Tiffani Thiessen and singer Leona Lewis recounting the roles animals play in their lives and touting the good work the WSPA does. For instance, television personality Simon Cowell says that on the worst day of his life, he was comforted by the affection of his pet dog. He goes on to point out that "People [say] that animals don't feel pain, don't suffer. Trust me, it's complete and utter rubbish. If you mistreat an animal, it will be distressed and they feel pain the way we do" (WSPAUSA). The effect of these celebrity endorsements is an increased relatability to the organization, as in, these pop culture staples are in favor of this organization, and so should we be. The celebrity names are also highly searched on sites like YouTube, so fans of these individuals might see a WSPA when they were simply seeking content related to the object of their fandom. This accidental receipt of the WSPA message is useful, particularly in how it might recruit young people to change their way of thinking about animals.
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