Wayne Pacelle, Author and Crusader
By Candice Russell / July, 2011
Fighting for the cause of dogs and cats is just one aspect of the job done by Wayne Pacelle, CEO and President of The Humane Society of the United States. A first-time author, he recently published "The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them."
"For all the various theories of rights concerning animals, the cause of animal protection appeals ultimately to our sense of fairness, to our capacity for mercy, and to standards of conduct that are ancient and universal," Pacelle writes in his book.
Using clear-sighted, straightforward prose, he makes a passionate argument against factory farms, puppy mills, cock-fighting and bear baiting, all of which place profit ahead of the compassionate care of animals. In 2002, he was behind the battle against forced of confinement of pigs in gestation crates in Florida, an important act of legislation, and followed through on other animal rights issues in a dozen states.
Not everyone agrees with the point of view of the Humane Society, the nation's largest animal protection charity. Its mission is to confront cruelty through public education, enforce of humane laws, and reform corporate and public policies, among other topics. Pacelle is controversial. He stands up to the National Rifle Association on the subject of pigeon shooting and agri-business on the matter of animals living in severely restricted quarters. He isn't a fan of the Exotic Animals Owners' Association and their belief that it's all right to own pythons, alligators and tigers as pets.
"I've also seen a lot of cruel practices grow from bad to worse," he writes. "The agribusiness and hunting industries have strayed farther and farther from mainstream sensibilities, treating animals like a harvestable crop, and using technologies that destroy any clam they ever had to benign husbandry or sportsmanship. More hunters are using laser sights, radio tracking collars on dogs, robotic ducks, automated corn feeders, night-vision goggles, and high-fenced 'guaranteed kill' properties that make sport hunting ever more unfair. And factory farmers are using severe confinement systems, fast-growing breeds, hormones and antibiotics, genetic engineering and cloning, and other methods that show no respect for animals' dignity as living creatures."
But Pacelle does see the sense when city or state officials mandate the killing of certain animals endangering humans and other animals. "I think a moral argument can be made at times when there are dangerous animals or nuisance animals," he says in an interview with the Parklander. "But we have to strain and struggle to live with wildlife. Inevitably, conflicts will arise. There are 310 million people in the U.S. Humans and wildlife are going to run into each other in situations that will be irritating. We must work through it."
Cats of the feral kind can be problematic. Pacelle recommends that cities adopt a trap, neuter and return policy "to capitalize on the great enthusiasm that people have for cats. What it involves is trapping the cats, sterilizing them and returning them to their colonies. The alternative is to round them up and kill them, which is not publicly supported."
Pacelle even weighs in on the subject of the federal list of animals that seem doomed for extinction. The American crocodile, key deer, manatee, Florida panther and loggerhead sea turtle are just some of the species mentioned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Does he agree with the current list for all states? "This is really a science-based question," says Pacelle. "To be put on the list is warranted when a population is imperiled. But there isn't the money to do it for all the animals that should be put on the list. Extinction is forever. We've got to be very careful as to how to execute this awesome responsibility."
One issue subject to scrutiny was Pacelle's help in the rehabilitation of the public image of Michael Vick, the professional football player, after his 18-month imprisonment on charges of dog-fighting, as well as the torture and extermination of dogs in his care. To some animal lovers, the fact that Vick was allowed to resume his highly-paid athletic career is a blight on the National Football League. They don't believe in Vick's sincerity when he lectures young people and church groups about his change in attitude about dogs and his actions.
"A lot of people are skeptical," says Pacelle. in an interview in South Florida. "I hope he gets better. I never knew what was in his heart. I could measure Michael Vick by his good works. He has more potential to help dogs. The Vick issue is a race issue. African-Americans think highly of him. When he speaks to children, it is transformative. There has been a cascade of positive reactions when he speaks at churches about dogs."
Education makes a difference. There has been a sea change in the way people look at pet shops, which are sometimes the recipients of newborns from ill-kept puppy mills. "I think the public is really waking up," Pacelle in regard to the mills. "Most people can't stomach what they see occurring in those places. When voters have an opportunity to improve conditions, they favor them."
A love of the four-footed, feathered and furry began for Pacelle in childhood. "I had many pets growing up," he says. "I was closest to my dog Brandy, who was half Labrador Retriever and half Golden Retriever. I was seven or eight when we got Brandy. I played with her so much. I would throw the ball to her for hours. She was always so excited to see me."
And now? "I just lost one of my two cats," says Pacelle. "It was a sad moment. When my travel schedule eases, I want to get a few dogs. I have none now. We have a dogs- in-the-office policy. We have five animal care centers where I get to interact with horses and wildlife."
Teaching children to be kind to animals is a mandate he endorses. "Kids have an instinctive connection to other creatures," Pacelle says. "Look at children's books. That bond is something we have to nourish and not drain or diminish it. To encourage that compassionate approach, we must lead by example as parents and grandparents. When kids are kind to animals, it builds citizenship and responsibility in general."
With so much to say, Pacelle has another book in mind: "I'm thinking about it. The book would be about synching the humane economy with the economy of commerce that is in line with our values and ideals. For example, in the case of seal clubbing, with people slaughtering seals for their fur, we have the power to create a new economy based on compassion and mercy."
What is the biggest challenge of his position at the Humane Society? "The diversity of issues we confront," says Pacelle. "To monitor the varieties of animal abuse and exploitation is a daunting task.
The Humane Society is stronger as a movement to help animals. But this is an odd moment in history. There is more love than ever for animals. Yet at the same time there is more harm done to and exploitation of animals than ever before. "I think we can do something about this situation. I am ultimately an optimist as people become kinder and more alert."
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