Under Wayne Pacelle's leadership, the Humane Society has expanded its focus on factory-farm animals, including an investigation into a California meatpacking plant that spawned the largest beef recall in U.S. history.
When quarterback Michael Vick met with Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society, in Fort Leavenworth Penitentiary in 2009, he told him something that a lot of people would have a hard time believing: He actually loves animals.
Vick was nearing the end of an 18-month sentence for dogfighting crimes, and Pacelle had been one of his most vocal critics. But through their relationship, Vick eventually (and controversially) became an advocate for animal welfare.
A Utility For The Animal Protection Cause
Pacelle acknowledges the difficulty of really seeing into someone's heart to know their underlying values — especially when they've engaged in something as terrible as dogfighting. But Pacelle says he hopes Vick can learn from his past.
"I think Michael has changed," Pacelle told Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. "And he was jolted by this public shaming by his time in jail."
In his new book Bond, Pacelle speaks to the connection he sees between humans and animals. Vick's bond with animals took a sinister turn, he says, and "fascination turned into exploitation rather than love."
Even if Vick's reasons for becoming involved with the Humane Society come from self-interest and a desire to attack his public perception as cruel and heartless, Pacelle sees the positive side of having such a powerful motivator for his actions to do better.
"There is a utility for the animal protection cause in having him out there speaking, especially in communities where we have not had a very strong voice," he says.
The Animal Tragedy Of Hurricane Katrina
In the days after Hurricane Katrina, Pacelle and most of the country were focused on the human tragedy unfolding in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and lives were thrown into tumult.
"But the animal tragedy began to poke its head out of second-story windows, or they poke their head up when they're standing on top of a car in a flooded community," Pacelle says.
It was an important moment of understanding the human-animal bond, he explains; you can't properly respond to a disaster by only focusing on the human aspect. First responders would take only people, "but not someone's two German shepherds or their three cats," Pacelle says, so many pet owners stayed behind to the detriment of the disaster response.
The Bond By Wayne Pacelle Hardcover, 448 pages William Morrow List Price: $26.99
Learning from the response to Katrina, the Humane Society eventually worked with 20 states to pass legislation to include pets in disaster planning.
The New Profile Of The Humane Society
Under Pacelle's tenure as the CEO and president of the Humane Society, the organization's public profile has increased from simply reminding pet owners to have their dogs and cats spayed and neutered, to a group involved in undercover investigations of slaughterhouses. Pacelle says the Humane Society has always had a broad view of human-caused cruelty, not just restricted to companion animals.
Though he says the group may have brought a greater level of urgency to its fight against agribusiness and its challenge of factory farming, Pacelle doesn't see its mission as extreme.
"I think we're a mainstream group, we're representing mainstream values, and we want to do something about cruelty when we see it," he says. "And we're going to use the full range of legal and accepted tools to get there."
Excerpt: 'The Bond'
The Bond By Wayne Pacelle Hardcover, 448 pages William Morrow List Price: $26.99
I've learned that in the animal-welfare movement no creature is quite forgotten, and there is no animal whose troubles do not matter to someone. Name any species and it has its defenders. It's not just the "charismatic" species, defended by such groups as the Mountain Lion Foundation, the Snow Leopard Trust, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the Gorilla Foundation, or Save the Elephants. Countless other groups have been formed to help farm animals, animals in laboratories, overworked animals like donkeys and camels, stray animals and feral cats, and other injured and needy creatures both domesticated and wild.
Some people are passionate about animals that most of us have never even heard of. After I completed the manuscript for this book, I came across a story by Kate Murphy in the New York Times about purple martins, the largest of North American swallows. Their numbers dropped in the twentieth century because of habitat changes and the introduction of exotic species. Today, all over America, you'll find nest boxes just for these birds, built by people who appreciate the martins for their beauty and want them to survive. Various blogs and YouTube videos are devoted to the birds, and there is even a Purple Martin Conservation Association, along with the Purple Martin Society of North America and the Purple Martin Preservation Alliance. Some might consider this preoccupation with a single species to be a little much, but I for one am glad for it. I love the idea that some people feel so connected to these creatures and are looking out for them.
I thought I'd heard about every category of animal rehabilitation until I read not long ago about the South Bay Wildlife Rehab, a group whose work includes saving injured and orphaned hummingbirds. Abby Sewell of the Los Angeles Times describes the work:
Only a crazy person would do this," said Terry Masear, 50, who has had as many as 60 hummingbirds at a time flitting around in the cages on her back patio in West Hollywood. . . .
During the summer, she takes a three-month hiatus from her job teaching English to foreign professionals at UCLA. Far from being a break, her summers with the hummingbirds entail 15- to 17-hour days of nonstop work. . . . From 5 a.m. to nightfall, every half hour, pre-fledgling hummingbirds must be fed with a syringe full of a special formula made in Germany. Masear guides a tube down the throats of the little birds, not much larger than bumblebees.
Between feedings, she changes feeders for the older birds, cleans cages and monitors the birds' social interactions.
"You can't go out to dinner, you can't go out of town. You don't have a life," Masear said. . . .
When they are ready to live in the wild, Masear opens the door and watches the tiny birds spiral hundreds of feet into the air and disappear among the clouds. Even after seeing it hundreds of times, that moment still makes the long hours of drudgery worthwhile, she said: "When you release them, that's pure joy.
We're told that not a sparrow falls without his Maker knowing, and millions of animal rescuers and rehabilitators like Terry Masear are paying close attention as well.
Of course, the flip side of all this benevolence is that such groups and their labors are needed in the first place. There is so much animal cruelty, homelessness, and suffering, and so much of it is a consequence of human action. In a rational world, the kinder people wouldn't be so busy dealing with the wreckage left by the cruel and careless.
As harsh as nature is for animals, cruelty comes only from human hands. We are the creature of conscience, aware of the wrongs we do and fully capable of making things right. Our best instincts will always tend in that direction, because a bond with animals is built into every one of us. That bond of kinship and fellow-feeling has been with us through the entire arc of human experience—from our first barefoot steps on the planet through the era of the domestication of animals and into the modern age. For all that sets humanity apart, animals remain "our companions in Creation," to borrow a phrase from Pope Benedict XVI, bound up with us in the story of life on earth. Every act of callousness toward an animal is a betrayal of that bond. In every act of kindness, we keep faith with the bond. And broadly speaking, the whole mission of the animal welfare cause is to repair the bond—for their sake and for our own.
In our day, there are stresses and fractures of the human-animal bond, and some forces at work would sever it once and for all. They pull us in the wrong direction and away from the decent and honorable code that makes us care for creatures who are entirely at our mercy. Especially within the last two hundred years, we've come to apply an industrial mind-set to the use of animals, too often viewing them as if they were nothing but articles of commerce and the raw material of science, agriculture, and wildlife management. Here, as in other pursuits, human ingenuity has a way of outrunning human conscience, and some things we do only because we can—forgetting to ask whether we should.
Some object to the abuse of animals because they know that the habits of cruelty and selfishness easily carry over into how we treat one another. Yet in the end, the case for animals stands on its own merits. It needs no other concerns or connections to give it importance. Compassion for animals is a universal value, more so today than ever. Animals matter for their own sake, in their own right, and the wrongs in question are wrongs done to them.
Excerpted from The Bond by Wayne Pacelle. Copyright 2011 by Wayne Pacelle. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved.