Case Study: HSUS's Humane Index of U.S. Cities

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The Humane Index is a joint effort by the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Research Council to determine the overall humaneness of America's largest metropolitan areas, as determined by 12 factors such as percentage of pet stores selling puppies and the ratio of wildlife watchers to hunters. The intent of the Humane Index is to facilitate improvement in America's treatment of animals by measuring its progress over time.

Measuring the Relative Humaneness of U.S. Cities

To establish fair metrics for assessing relative humaneness, HRC and HSUS researchers developed categories that (1) would describe each metro area's humaneness on a wide variety of animal issues and (2) for which meaningful and available data existed. The categories that resulted from this initial process roll up into a reasonable representation of overall humaneness for each metropolitan area. Project challenges ranged from having to dig for obscure data sources (e.g., a specific government database for marine mammal reporting) to aggregating data from multiple sources (e.g., compiling a definitive list of wildlife rehabilitators) to finding data recent enough to be a valid measure of current conditions. Animal-related data are often poorly maintained (if at all) and/or considered proprietary. Because some of the twelve Humane Index factors were based on state data, relating it to specific metro areas meant manually combining all of the states touched by the metro area.

Developing and Displaying a Meaningful and Valid Set of Metrics

The Humane Index is composed of twelve key metrics, shown below. These are used to measure concrete improvements in the treatment of animals by America's 25 largest metro areas which, taken together, constitute 41% of the US population. Metro rankings are available for each metric and include an overall humaneness measure (with all metrics combined). They are posted at, an interactive website where visitors can compare metro areas to each other as well as the national average. The website also points visitors to actions they can take, for each metro area or animal issue.

  1. Bird "Shooters": Ratio of wildlife watchers to hunters.
  2. News Hounds: Mentions of animal issues in major newspaper per capita.
  3. Fur Shame: Number of retailers specializing in garments made from animal fur per capita.
  4. Egg-citing Policies: Number of locations of companies, restaurants and food stores with cage-free egg policies per capita.
  5. Captive Entertainers: Number of captive marine mammals and elephants on public display per capita.
  6. Citizen Advocacy: Local engagement with The Humane Society of the United States.
  7. Puppies in Windows: Percentage of pet stores selling puppies.
  8. Wildlife Whisperers: Number of licensed wildlife rehabilitators per capita.
  9. Big Top Cruelty: Number of shows performed by Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus during 2006 per capita.
  10. Veg-Friendliness: Number of vegetarian or vegan restaurants per capita.
  11. Congressional Compassion: Average member rating for recent Congressional votes on animal issues.
  12. Seal Protectors: Number of restaurants and companies participating in The HSUS' ProtectSeals boycott of Canadian seafood.

Announcing the First Edition of HSUS's Humane Index

In 2007, the first year of the Humane Index, San Francisco took top honors in overall humaneness, exceeding the national average in 10 out of the 12 factors measured. Seattle, Portland, Washington DC, and San Diego rounded out the top five in overall humaneness. Interestingly, only the top four metro areas had an average rank above 10 for individual metrics, and every Humane Index metro area ranked in the top five and bottom five in at least one factor.

Project Impact and Benefits

The constructive competition of the Humane Index's ranking system encourages America's largest cities to work to improve their Humane Index scores above their edition's scores and rise above other cities in the rankings. By breaking the index into categories, cities can feel good about incremental steps and campaigns can target other metro areas based on the categories where their lower ranking shows a need for improvement. Additionally, rankings are attractive to journalists and help create buzz around issues, as evidenced by the widespread media attention received by the Humane Index.

Also, the HSUS has announced that the Humane Index will be updated every two years, so that it may be used as a barometer of progress on animal issues and overall humaneness for the tracked metropolitan areas.

More Information

Client: Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)

Project Website:

Author: Humane Research Council (HRC)

Date of Original Research Study: 2007

Contact Person: Che Green, HRC; (206) 905-9887;

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