How much does it actually cost to save the life of an animal, or to spare an animal from having to live a life of misery inside a factory farm, fur farm, puppy mill, or other bastion of animal abuse?
That's one of the questions i wanted to find out when researching my new book, How To Be Great At Doing Good, and the answer comes as a shock to many animal advocates.
In looking at local animal shelters, those typical SPCAs that take in and adopts out companion animals like cats, dogs and rabbits, I found that they were spending on average about $500 for each animal they saved through their resue and adoption programs. Certainly not bad! I then looked at some of the country's top sanctuary-based organizations, groups that take in rescued horses, pigs, dogs, or other animals and provide them with lifelong care in a sanctuary setting. While there was some real variety here, the country's biggest and most popular sanctuaries were spending up to $5,000 per year for each animal they provided are and protection for. I then moved on to wildlife protection organizations, and while again there was some variety here, the biggest and most well-funded wildlife groups were spending upwards of $10,000 for each wild animal they protected.
Lastly, I looked at farm animal advocacy organizations. By that, I mean groups who spend all or most of their bugets on promoting vegan eating, and/or on trying to reduce the suffering of animals on factory farms. Based on data compiled by the charity advisory organization Animal Charity Evaluators, as well as several program impact studies with which I've been involved, it appears that some of the top farm animal advocacy groups are spending $1 or less for every animal they spare from a lifetime of misery.
At first glance, that seems hard to imagine. Can the crumpled dollar bill in your pocket - which can't even get you a small cup of coffee at Starbucks - really spare an animal from months or years of misery inside a factory farm? Yes, it can. As odd as it sounds, the data makes clear that it's true.
The average American eats about 31 farmed animals a year. So if a farm animal advocacy group can inspire someone to cut out meat for $30 or less in program expenses (expenses like running advertising, printng booklets, producing videos, or so forth), then they spent less than a dollar for every animal they spared from a life of suffering. Also, some corporate policy changes and new laws can reduce the suffering of hundreds of thousands or millions of animals in one fell swoop. That too is why some of the top farm animal advocacy groups can turn that dollar bill in your pocket into one animal protected from extreme cruelty.
As I discuss in How To Be Great At Doing Good, this raises some extremely important questions for those of us who donate to animal protection causes. If I have $1,000 to donate, I could help give one more pig a happy year at a santuary (on top of the thousands of other animals that are already being protected at sanctuaries). Or with that $1,000, I could spare two cats or dogs or rabbits from being euthanized due to lack of a good home. Or I could spare over one thousand pigs, chickens, and cows from enduring a lifetime of misery crammed inside filthy factory farms.
This is how much is at stake when we decide which organiztions to donate money toward. Psychologically it certainly doesn't feel that way. It doesn't feel like writing the name of one well-respected animal protection group on a check would spare one or two animals, and writing the name of another well-respected animal protection group on a check would spare a thousand animals. To us, writing either name feels pretty much the same.
But as I discuss in my new book, there is so much on the line when we decide where to donate and how to volunteer. Which is why, if we truly care about animals, it's so critical that we make the most thoughful, calculated decisions we can.