Eric Bruner, chairman of the board of the American Humane Association (AHA), has resigned.
AHA offered few details, saying simply: “Mr. Bruner is no longer serving on the board, and we thank him for his six years of service.” Not exactly an overwhelming vote of appreciation. And that’s not surprising, given that the AHA increasingly looks like an organization that’s lost its way.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Bruner has been linked to questionable financial practices concerning the charity:
The AHA paid $233,863 to Bruner’s business partner, Gregory Dew, to provide unspecified consulting services to the nonprofit organization, making him the highest paid “independent contractor” for the AHA in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, according to a document the charity filed with the IRS.
Dew was Bruner’s business partner in Spectrum Consulting Group, a management consulting firm in Austin, Texas.
Records showed another board member also had ties to Spectrum. Former interim AHA Chief Executive George Casey had been managing partner and consulting principal in Spectrum since 2009, according to his LinkedIn site. He was paid $277,102 by the AHA during the same period the charity compensated Dew for his services.
In an interview last fall, Bruner said the board tapped Casey and Dew because of their expertise to assist the charity during a period of financial uncertainty. The AHA also said it fully disclosed the payments in a tax filing and followed its policy for handling conflicts of interest.
Of more concern to the animal protection movement has been the whole direction of AHA and its animal welfare policies in recent years. Perhaps best known for its monitoring of nonhuman animals in movies, AHA has given its stamp of approval to movies where animals were seriously harmed, even killed. AHA justifies itself by saying that the abuse took place off the set – as if that makes a difference. Three of the worst cases are:
- The Hobbit, where 27 animals died off the set,
- HBO’s drama series Luck, in which three horses died during production, and
- Water for Elephants, in which the elephant Tai was subjected to some of the most horrific abuse ever caught on undercover video (but by Animal Defenders International, not the AHA).
Another signature AHA program is Humane Heartland, through which meat and dairy producers pay the charity to qualify them as “humane” killers of farm animals. There’s so much about this that’s questionable – from the fact that AHA is accepting money in exchange for inspecting and then certifying these producers, to the fact that there’s simply nothing humane about killing animals or having them live out their lives laying eggs or having an endless series of pregnancies and births to keep the milk flowing for human consumption – and sending the calves to the veal factory.
Worse yet, in August, 2011, AHA co-hosted a dinner with the American Cancer Society (ACS), where they served a six-course meal that included scallops, chicken breast and beef Wellington. Apart from the fact that the ACS is supposed to be promoting a heart-healthy diet, it is also up to its eyes in bed with the vivisection industry.
AHA has been on the ropes for years. In October 2010, Robin Ganzert took over as President and CEO after stints at the Pew Charitable Trusts, Wachovia Bank and as the dean of finance and admin at Wake Forest University. She’s also a trustee of the ALS Association. All very worthy endeavors, no doubt, but with little, if anything, to do with protecting animals at a time when they are in greater crisis than ever before in history.
All in all, of all the national animal protection organizations, AHA stands out as the one most unprepared and ill-equipped to address what’s happening, at home and abroad, to nonhuman animals. And in hiring Ganzert, the board and its chairman were clearly more interested in having a CEO who could hobnob with other CEOs in both the charitable and commercial arenas than in leading the way toward a better relationship with our fellow animals.
Will a new chairman chart a new course? Most unlikely. (But please, AHA, go ahead and surprise us!)