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Forget about Coke vs. Pepsi and Mac vs. PC. The most entertaining comic feud in America has always been dog people vs. cat people.

Personally, I'm a dog guy-or at least my allergies force me to lean that way. But it's important to me that all pets are taken care of. That's why it's so worrisome to see some animal charities taking money out of South Dakota's local communities and making it disappear.

You're probably familiar with the slick TV infomercials from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The ads are everywhere, showing tear-jerking images of cats and dogs, and begging for money. Just give $19 a month and you can personally help these poor animals.

Most Americans-71 percent, according to a recent national poll from Opinion Research Corporation-believe HSUS is an umbrella group for pet shelters. And no wonder, since "humane society" is right there in its name! That poll also found that 59 percent of us believe HSUS gives "most of its money" to the pet shelters in our cities and towns.

Most of us are dead wrong. HSUS isn't affiliated with any pet shelters, it doesn't run any, and it barely funds any: If you pledge $19 a month to HSUS, less than $1.15 of your $228 annual contribution will trickle down to pet shelters. And odds are that the humane society in your community will get left out completely. In fact, HSUS gave no money to shelters in South Dakota between 2006 and 2008.

During that same three-year period, HSUS spent almost $280 million on salaries, lobbyists, lawyers, programs, and more fundraising expenses. America's pet shelters got less than $7 million of that-barely more than the $6.6 million HSUS put just in its pension plans.

It's not just a problem in the Mount Rushmore state. Thirty-nine states saw their shelters get less than $50,000 from the deep-pocketed national "Humane Society" between 2006 and 2008. That's one-fifth of one percent of HSUS's total spending.

What's going on here? What else would an "animal protection" group do with $86 million in yearly donations and another $192 million-plus in the bank?

You can see HSUS's money-your money, really-at work in statehouses, courtrooms, and voting booths. That's where the organization pushes for its radical concept of animal rights, including some of the same ideas that made the wing-nuts at PETA famous. HSUS is driven by the belief that animals deserve legal rights, including the right to not be eaten as food and the right to sue people in court.

So while the group does little for the dogs and cats in its TV ads, it works overtime in pursuit of goals that are out on the fringes.

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HSUS works to reduce everyone's consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy, for instance. It does this by filing lawsuits, lobbying for new laws, and pushing for ever-tighter regulations-driving up the cost of being an egg farmer or a cattle rancher.

While HSUS gave no money to hands-on South Dakota shelters from 2006 to 2008, it spent more than $5.4 million on political front groups and millions more directly lobbying lawmakers.

It makes more sense to give locally. Especially in these economic times, the animal shelters near you need every nickel they can get-including the local "humane societies" that share part of their names, but not any affiliation, with HSUS.

And I guarantee that the humane society in your community won't care if you're a dog person or a cat person-as long as you help them care for needy animals.

David Martosko is the director of research at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers based in Washington D.C.

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