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Speak Softly or Carry a Big Stick?: Comparing the Approaches of The Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

By Rachel Ruben

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My thesis explores the varying methods that animal protection groups use to achieve their goal of increased protection for animals. In particular, I compare, contrast, and critique the approaches of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The Humane Society's approach is mainstream and professional, working with existing social systems. Conversely, PETA's approach is countercultural and radical, working to change existing social systems. For each group, I examine its theoretical background, its ultimate goals and ideal end states (including how the group measures its effectiveness), its utilization of media outlets to spread awareness of its cause, and its response to the animal rescue needs of Hurricane Katrina. I examine these areas in order to determine what each group is doing well, and what each could adjust to become more effective at improving animal conditions. I conclude that an organization's overall philosophical approach determines its demeanor, approach to media use, and general actions taken. I argue that an organization's philosophical approach to publicity is also directly correlated to its subsequent overall reception, which can color public perception of the entire movement of animal activism. In order to maximize the exposure of animal issues to the public, these organizations must utilize the media as much as possible. However, these groups must seek only positive press in order to further the animal protection movement. Negative press can be counterproductive to the cause, in the sense that it may sour potential supporters and push critics even further away. The quantity and quality of media coverage has been shown to produce positive attention for animal activism, as well as increased donations to the cause. In order to create the most optimal platform for improving conditions for animals, The Humane Society and PETA must devise a deliberate combination of public, corporate, and legislative support, as well as media coverage. The focus of The Humane Society is on tangible legislative change. Therefore, the group focuses less on media. However, considering the power of media to influence potential supporters, I argue that The Humane Society should increase its efforts in this realm, maximizing the visibility of its issues to the public. The Humane Society did increase its publicity with respect to Hurricane Katrina, with rapid, positive results. Therefore, in order for The Humane Society to maximize its effectiveness as an organization, I advise that it continue to increase its name recognition. PETA's main focus is on devising the most shocking ways to grab public attention. Its small-scale demonstrations are only indirect activism, as they do not necessarily produce any tangible improvements for animals. As a result of its efforts on radical demonstrations, PETA's focus is distracted from direct action, like urging large-scale legal changes. Therefore, I argue that PETA should redirect its focus to making realistic improvements for animal conditions through top-down approaches.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2006
Pages 130
Department Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Degree Master of Arts in Communication, Culture, and Technology
Language English
University Georgetown University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal management
  2. Animal rescue
  3. Animal rights
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Communication
  6. Media
  7. natural disasters
  8. open access
  1. open access