Humane Society CEO On Michael Vick, New Profile Wayne Pacelle has been criticized for inviting the quarterback to speak out against dogfighting. But he says he thinks Vick has learned from his mistakes and will hopefully be able to speak out in more communities about the special human connection to animals.
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Humane Society CEO On Michael Vick, New Profile

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Humane Society CEO On Michael Vick, New Profile

Humane Society CEO On Michael Vick, New Profile

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Scott Simon.

When Michael Vick, the pro quarterback, met with the president of the Humane Society in Fort Leavenworth Penitentiary in 2009, he told him something a lot of people would have a hard time believing. Michael Vick said that he actually loves animals.

Mr. Vick was nearing the end of an 18-month sentence he was serving for dog-fighting crimes. And Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, had been one of Mr. Vick's most vocal critics.

The story of how Michael Vick actually became an advocate for animal welfare is one of the many chapters that Wayne Pacelle relates in his new book, "The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them."

Wayne Pacelle, who has been with the Humane Society for 17 years, joins us in our studios.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. WAYNE PACELLE (President/CEO, Humane Society of the United States): Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And inevitably, we have to talk about Michael Vick first. Did you believe him?

Mr. PACELLE: I think it is really difficult to get into a man's heart and figure out what his underlying values are, especially someone who did such terrible things to animals. But I think Michael has changed, and he was jolted by this public shaming, by his time in jail.

SIMON: I'm interested in what he told you - that, actually, I like animals. Because at first, reading the book - I mean, you said to him: Like animals? You drowns dogs in buckets. And yet at another level, you kind of understood what he was saying.

Mr. PACELLE: Absolutely. And you know, this is the issue of the title of the book, "The Bond." I have a view that all of us are connected to animals at some level. But dog fighters and cock fighters, they are really interested in these animals. They value the musculature of the animals, the agility, the toughness - what they call the gameness in the dog, putting him in the street. So Vick had all that. I mean, he was really interested in pit bulls. It just got corrupted somewhere along the line. And you know, fascination turned into exploitation rather than love.

SIMON: Before we go on to the rest of the book, a final question has to be raised about your relationship with Michael Vick. Are you using each other? You'd have - make a point, and for that matter, him, to kind of earn a credit back into respectful society.

Mr. PACELLE: I think that there is utility for the animal protection cause in having him out there speaking, especially in communities where we have not had a very strong voice - in urban communities with young, African-American males and boys.

In terms of Vick and his own relationship with me and the Humane Society of the United States, clearly he has a professional interest in redeeming himself. He needed to aggressively attack this perception that he was cruel and heartless. He's been doing it. Clearly, there's self-interest but sometimes, when you've got self-interest working in your favor, that's a very powerful and beneficial motivator.

SIMON: Want to get you to talk about your role during Hurricane Katrina. You talk about that at some length in the book. Help us understand that because I think that led to a change in a lot of evacuation procedures.

Mr. PACELLE: Well, it was really a, you know, terrible moment for our country to see what happened in the Southeast, in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana -and Mississippi and Alabama. And of course, you know, it was a human tragedy on an enormous scale. I mean, more than a thousand people died; hundreds of thousands were displaced; and lives were really thrown into tumult. And of course, in the days after that crisis, our focus was on the human tragedy.

But the animal tragedy began to poke its head, you know, out of second-story windows, or they poked their head up when they were standing on top of a car in a flooded community. And it was a seminal moment in our understanding of the human-animal bond, that you could not have a proper response to an afflicted community by just focusing on the people.

When the first responders would only take the people but not someone's two German shepherds or their three cats, so many people stayed behind. And it undermined the effectiveness of the response. And we worked to get about 20 states to pass legislation to include pets in disaster planning. We got the Congress to do the same. And we've worked on preparedness in communities that are at risk for natural disasters.

SIMON: It's sometimes asserted that under your stewardship, the Humane Society has a new kind of profile, a level of aggressiveness. It's gone from being an organization that says love your animals and get them spayed and neutered, to a group that has undercover investigations, and is often bringing up videos of practices in slaughterhouses and on whaling boats, and that sort of thing.

Did that develop, or did you decide there was a need to mix it up a little?

Mr. PACELLE: Well, I think that the Humane Society has always had a broad view of human-caused cruelty, and never restricted its concern just to dogs and cats, or other companion animals. I think what I may have done, in bringing on other outstanding people to work with the organization, is that weve brought a great level of urgency to our fight, and that weve brought a real strategic sense and a real attitude of winning. And if that requires our taking on agribusiness and challenging factory farming - which is, you know, an enormous industry and has a very big lobby behind it - then we're going to be prepared to do that.

I mean we are going to call cruelty by its name. But I dont think that aggressiveness is a synonym for extreme. I think we are a mainstream group; we are representing mainstream sensibilities and values, and we want to do something about cruelty when we see it. And we're going to use the full range of legal and accepted tools to get there.

SIMON: Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. His new book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.

Thanks so much.

Mr. PACELLE: Thank you.

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