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Wayne Pacelle

photo of a man, smilingphoto Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Wayne Pacelle is tall, handsome, and looks great in a suit – pretty much the perfect CEO. But this CEO doesn’t run a corporation. He works for animals. In fact, Pacelle, the president and CEO of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is one of America’s most effective champions of animal welfare and industrial farming reform.

Since Pacelle took charge of the HSUS in 2004, he has infused new vigor and dynamism into a venerable organization that used to be known more as a benevolent protector of dogs and cats than as a savvy political operation. During the past decade, HSUS and Pacelle – who was the society’s chief lobbyist for 10 years before becoming president – have helped pass more than 500 new state laws and over 25 federal statutes to protect animals, including bans on cockfighting, cruel factory farming practices, bear baiting, and negligent puppy mill operations.

Under Pacelle’s leadership, HSUS has grown into the nation’s largest and most powerful animal protection organization, with 11 million members and annual revenues of $160 million. Much of this growth was achieved through mergers Pacelle negotiated with other animal protection groups. The rest is due to Pacelle’s determination to keep the organization nonpartisan and push for reforms that are acceptable to all sides – vegans, vegetarians, meat-lovers, farmers, and religious groups.

He might have ruffled some feathers in the process, but on the whole Pacelle has been successful in moving animal protection, especially farm animal welfare, from the margins to the mainstream. In a new book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, he displays a deep faith in our essential connection with all animals and argues for “the ethic of love and compassion to triumph over abuse and exploitation.”

How did you get involved in animal welfare?

I had a bond built into me. It did not come about as a consequence of a sit down talk or a single, sort of, catalytic incident. It really was an emotional, empathetic, intuitive response to other creatures. You can’t avoid, even as a child, the fact that animals suffer. It was just an awareness that animals were vulnerable and we were causing so much cruelty to them. And I was concerned and I didn’t like it, although for many years I didn’t know how to plug in and do something about it. It wasn’t until I went to college that I got actively involved in the cause. And it was at Yale in the mid-1980s that I started an animal protection organization on the campus. And from there it’s been really a sprint forward for me.

What pushed you to extend HSUS’ area of work into farm animal welfare reform?

The Humane Society was always a group that had an ethical concern for companion animals, wildlife, farm animals, and all other creatures. I think what I’ve done since I’ve been president of the organization, and previously the political chief here, was bring a great urgency to the fight, and I’ve tried to take a strategic approach to target the biggest and seemingly most intractable forms of animal cruelty and exploitation. So I’ve really built on the traditions that have existed in HSUS since the 1950s.

You have said that we are living in a moment of “incredible contradiction” in terms of our relationship with animals. Don’t you think this kind of dichotomy is inherent in our relationship with creatures that have both provided us with companionship and also been a source of food?

I think you are right, and I think our relationship with animals has always been multifaceted and always been a tug-of-war between appreciation and exploitation. I think now what is impossible to miss in our relationship is that we love animals. We have standards against animal cruelty. For instance, all 50 states have laws forbidding it and treat certain acts of cruelty as a felony. … We have so many other expressions of a bond or kinship with animals, more so than any time in our history. … But the harm and exploitation is also bigger and more potent than ever, partly as a consequence of our human population, now reaching 7 billion. We adversely affect the life of tens of billions of creatures on this planet every year. And it is this incredible contradiction that defines our relationship right now.

“The American public is still a meat-eating public, but that the vast majority of people also don’t want to see animals mistreated.”

I’m arguing for the ethic of love and compassion to triumph over abuse and exploitation. I don’t see our current setup as necessarily the enduring framework of our relationship. We can rid society of so much cruelty through concerted, deliberate, innovative action and sensible choices.

In July HSUS cut a deal with the egg industry to collaboratively seek a federal law requiring larger cages and improved conditions for laying hens. Has that been worthwhile?

Well, it’s still playing out, so we’ll have to see. But any time you can find a pathway forward, where the industry agrees to join you in going down that path, is an important advance. It’s not our goal to be in a polarized setup. That is the last resort, when negotiation and reason fail. The use of animals is embedded in our economy and in our culture, and the only way we are going to find new pathways is to turn adversaries into allies. Brute force, even if you are as large a force as the Humane Society of the United States, is going to work only on occasion. It’s not the preferred course for changing something quite so large as the exploitation of animals in society.

You’ve received a fair share of criticism from both vegan groups that say you’ve sold out by making it easier for people to eat “happy meat,” as well as the farming industry and carnivores, who allege you are gradually trying to turn everyone vegan, and trying to control what people eat. How do you answer both sides?

There’s a natural tension on these issues because there are so many different belief systems that are at work in our society. And by definition HSUS can’t satisfy everyone. But our metric is – are we moving in the right direction?

I think that meat-eating is an extremely complex sociological, cultural, and economic issue. There are lots of things that are at work here. There are notions about masculinity and power and, obviously, there are enormous companies that are trying to increase market share for their products. I believe that this issue is going to play out in an incremental sort of fashion. I don’t think that the public is overnight going to go vegetarian or vegan.

But animals are suffering right now on factory farms and we have a moral obligation to ameliorate their condition and to stop the most extreme forms of abuse. We’ve made a very pragmatic judgment that the American public is still, by and large, a meat-eating public, but that the vast majority of people also don’t want to see animals mistreated. We can appeal to their sense of decency in curbing the worst abuses on factory farms. Meanwhile, we extol the virtues of a plant-based diet and we also urge people to think about “meatless Mondays” and, you know, exhibiting a greater conscious awareness about their food choice even if they are going to continue to eat meat.

When did you become vegan?

Twenty-seven years ago, when I was 19. I saw images of factory farms and I wanted no part of it. I decided that I would try to not have my dietary choices directly contribute to the killing of animals. And that’s the right choice for me. But I’m not so orthodox that I don’t want to work with meat-eaters or farmers or others who are not where I am. I mean, if you reduce the consumption of animals by 10 percent in America, you save a billion [animal] lives. That’s an incredible payoff.

Given your deep love for animals, how do you deal with the knowledge that millions of animals are being slaughtered every day?

That’s the number one question that I get from people. And it’s not so much that they are completely curious about me, but that they are projecting their own emotional turmoil. It is a heavy burden to be alert to the suffering of animals in a society where exploitation is so rampant. And it leads to people shutting down or disassociating from a cause because looking at it too closely is just too much to bear. What I tell people is that in the face of a crisis of animal cruelty, we simply cannot be bystanders. We must do something about it. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Every life we save, or any suffering that we mitigate, is a great advance for those creatures. We don’t have to win the day entirely and create a cruelty-free world in order to feel like our efforts are well justified.

In the relationship we have with animals, we have all the power. We can crush them and kill them and destroy them. Or we can be merciful and kind. We created this problem because of our misuse of power. And we can turn the problem around by properly using our power.

photo of large pigs in a fenced enclosure
photo of a pig pushing her snout through the bars of a cagephotos courtesy the HSUSThe HSUS is involved in a major campaign against the hog
industry and its abusive livestock handling practices, such as
prodding non-ambulatory hogs to the slaughterhouse and using
gestation crates that don’t allow pregnant sows to turn around.

In your book you sketch out a workable vision of growing economics free from harsh exploitation of animals. Can you give us a brief outline of your vision?

I really believe that in a civil society we’ve got to meld our economic institutions and our values. When you divorce economic activity from your values, you get terrible outcomes like slavery, child labor, and animal cruelty. The enterprise that we are engaged in at the Humane Society is to create this new economy, and that means humane and sustainable agriculture. It means twenty-first-century science and getting away from archaic and unproductive animal testing methods. It means humane wildlife management, and that includes wildlife watching, as an economic driver. It means clothing yourself in natural fiber or synthetic coats, not furs. It means going to shelters and rescue groups or humane breeders rather than going to pet stores or puppy mills. So it’s a vision for a society where we really integrate our value of loathing cruelty with our economic institutions. The definition of corporate social responsibility must be expanded to include animal welfare.

How does animal welfare play into the larger movements for social and environmental justice?

In the preface of my book I talk about pluralism. I say our movement is strong in some ways because we have so many different interests that people care about – endangered species, wildlife … horses and rabbits and guinea pigs. When you add it all up, it adds up to a more robust humane movement. I think that you can take that principle of pluralism and broaden it out into society.

But, to pursue another line of thought, I also think that you cannot confine cruelty. When you have cruelty on factory farms you just see lots of other problems. You see manure management problems and the effects of so much untreated waste being released into the environment. You see public health consequences because we are overusing antibiotics on the factory farms. You see personal health consequences because of our overconsumption of meat and other animal products.

We see this in the households where we see animal cruelty. In 75 percent of those households there’s some other form of domestic violence. There’s spousal abuse or child abuse.

When you are cruel to animals it radiates out in other ways in society. And when you build a greater quotient of kindness that radiates out too. I think if we had a society that cared for animals more, you would see a better society through and through.

Maureen Nandini Mitra is managing editor of Earth Island Journal.


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Wow, a lot of animal haters on this site, and so many boys jealous of Wayne Pacelle. Why, because he’s compassionate, gorgeous, and has women falling all over him? Poor boys, you’ll never measure up to Wayne and I feel sad for you. Wayne is a hero and a mensch (look it up, boys). He is an icon for all people who really love animals, and who live a compassionate lifestyle. I donate money to the HSUS and will continue to do so because I get results through the amazing efforts of the HSUS to protect animals from the vicious thugs like the ones posting on this site.

By Bonnie S on Mon, December 05, 2011 at 5:18 pm

10 YEARS AS A “CHIEF LOBBYISt”  HUH?? 501 (c) 3’s are limited severely in their lobbying by the government.. Tine for the IRS to take a hard look at the HSUS and their former “chief lobbyist”
If the HSUS wants to lobby .. and it seems to be their main function even according to their current CEO ..then they should become taxable organization.. wow wouldn’t that be something? meanwhile I will deal with my “emotional turmoil” and have a steak for dinner. I need to get the taste of BS out of my mouth.

By alice smith on Fri, December 02, 2011 at 12:05 am

How about the fact that it is FLAT OUT ILLEGAL for so called “non-profits charities” to spend anything but tiny sums of money or energy on lobbying?  There is a good reason for that in that these so called non-profits pay NO TAXES on their money so are not permitted to influence any government actions.  HELLO!!!!!!  Pacelle brags constantly how effective and active HSUS is in changing laws.  They employ full time lobbyists is each state and Lord knows how many in DC.  Hell, Pacelle himself registered as a lobbyist in MO so he could go influence their legislation.  But I guess when you have hundreds of millions of dollars of tax free (and in my opinion fraudulently obtained) money in your coffers, you are above the law, eh?  Pacelle’s arrogance will be the undoing of HSUS.  And it will be well deserved.  HSUS employs bully tactics and then tries to come out and say they just want to play nice with everyone who doesn’t agree with them.  It is nauseating to watch.

As part of your investigation, did you happen to check with the IRS and record the tax fraud case number that has been assigned to both HSUS and the ASPCA?  Might want to do that before you go extolling how wonderful these groups are.

By DogLuver on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 4:27 pm

From your magazine’s ‘about’ page: “Our mix of hard-hitting exposés and inspiring stories of grassroots movements for sustainability > <uncovering stories ignored by larger media outlets.”  Hmmmmm, this little article doesn’t seem to meet this standard. Where are the ‘hard-hitting’ questions? This is pandering to a con man. Pacelle changes his story more times than most of us change our socks. He is in it for money and power, with little real interest in improving the lives of animals.

Any 8th grade level biology student could tell you that a vegan society is not sustainable. It is a philosophy, a belief system for about 3% of Americans. Saving animals by not eating meat? Come on, what a silly idea. And you didn’t call him out on that?

How about a real investigative report on the agenda of HSUS? They are sitting on a fortune in assets, pull in more than $100 Million a year in donations mostly meant to ‘save puppies and kitties’, while across the nation animal shelters struggle to keep their doors open, and are forced to euthanize adoptable animals . . . not because there aren’t enough homes, but because there isn’t enough money to run good adoption programs. HSUS could financially support a shelter in every state, but they don’t.  HSUS’s $150 Million annual budget (their own claim) dwarfs the wealthiest of any similar organization, such as PeTA. And, HSUS supports home-grown terrorism through funding groups like ALF - worth a look, don’t you think?

Can we expect a follow up any time soon?

By Charly A on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 1:38 pm

“I mean, if you reduce the consumption of animals by 10 percent in America, you save a billion [animal] lives. That’s an incredible payoff.
says Pacelle..

really a “payoff for whom? Pacelle and his vegan agenda? think about it.. if babies are not born are we “saving their lives”? If we cut our consumption of animals we do that by not breeding them.. therefore they are never born.. so is that ‘saving their lives’.. or pushing them toward extinction?

By alice smith on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 11:42 am

Whoops! Forgot to note in my previous comment that this statement is a quote from Wayne Pacelle:

“We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding ...One generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding.”

By Kaitlyn Chaney on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 10:52 am

“We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding ...One generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding.”
— Animal People News, May 1993

“I don’t have a hands-on fondness for animals…To this day I don’t feel bonded to any non-human animal. I like them and I pet them and I’m kind to them, but there’s no special bond between me and other animals.”

(Wayne Pacelle quoted in Bloodties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt by Ted Kerasote, 1993.)

When asked if he envisioned a future without pets, “If I had my personal view, perhaps that might take hold. In fact, I don’t want to see another dog or cat born.”

(Wayne Pacelle quoted in Bloodties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt by Ted Kerasote, 1993.)

“Animals for the most part just need to be left alone”
(Wayne Pacelle interviewed by Los Angeles Times, July 2008.)

By Kaitlyn Chaney on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 10:31 am

I agree.esp about love and compassion triumphing over abuse and exploitation. our relationships with people and animals is embededed in the economy and culture of a capitalist democracy
i welcome all changes towards a vegan friendly society . sooner rather than later.
it is beyond words to imagine that our childrens children are going to feel the negative impact of an over populated planet. esp if we do not conquer the abuse and exploitation and machoism and power embedded in the capitalist economy.

By queen on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 9:24 am

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