Within? New Directions for the Humane Society
The Satya Interview with Wayne
Wayne and Grace. Photo: Hilary Schwab
Founded in 1954 by a handful of activists dissatisfied
with the ineffectiveness of the national humane movement, the Humane
Society of the United States
was established to address the surplus breeding of companion animals,
the humane treatment of farm animals, and the investigation of animal
cruelty. Some people may be surprised to learn that in addition to
supporting local humane societies and low-cost spay/neuter programs
for companion animals, throughout the mid to late 1950s and ‘70s,
HSUS directed much of its resources into the humane slaughter of farm
animals and was a leader in the passage of the Humane Slaughter Act
The past half century has seen the HSUS grow into the largest animal
protection organization in the country, and one of the most influential
June, after years working as Senior Vice President of government affairs and
communications, Wayne Pacelle became the Chief Executive Officer of HSUS. With
his promotion came a revamp of the organization’s mission, the development
of a new campaigns section with a focus on farm animals, and the establishment
of a company-wide vegan policy. The vision is to consolidate forces. Early this
year, the Fund for Animals formally merged with HSUS, and the leadership of one
of the most successful grassroots animal advocacy groups, Compassion Over Killing,
joined its ranks. Tireless vegan activist MD, Michael Greger, also moved to HSUS.
With an operating budget of over $95 million and roughly nine million members
and constituents, people are taking notice.
Wayne Pacelle has built a career trying to keep animals out of harm’s way.
A vegan for two decades, Pacelle has worked with many animal protection organizations,
including the Fund For Animals. He is credited with leading efforts at HSUS in
the passage of more than a dozen federal laws, 15 statewide ballot initiatives,
and countless state statutes to protect animals. Catherine Clyne spoke with Wayne
Pacelle about his new role at HSUS, his vision for the movement, and his personal
objective of creating “a National Rifle Association of the animal rights
You’ve been CEO of HSUS since last June. What is your overall vision
for the organization?
I want to achieve greater effectiveness and create an even more powerful organization
to advance major social changes. One of the greatest difficulties we face at
HSUS is the sheer number of issues we confront. I’ve tried to focus the
organization on a few key reforms because I believe the only way we are going
to achieve change is by putting enough muscle behind specific campaigns—to
change the views of policy-makers, corporate decision-makers, and get issues
into the media—and to create a grassroots movement to drive these issues
So we’re first focusing on factory farming, the greatest of all animal
abuses as measured in terms of animals involved and the duration and acuteness
of their suffering. Second is to have a zero tolerance policy for animal cruelty,
to have all 50 states have felony level penalties for animal cruelty, and also
to eradicate particularly barbaric spectacles of cruelty, such as dog fighting,
cock fighting, and hog-dog fighting. Third is reviving our campaign against
the fur industry, and closely linked to that is our effort to stop the Canadian
kill. And fourth is combating particularly abusive hunting practices, such
as canned hunts, bear baiting, pheasant stocking, Internet hunting, and similar
We have a second tier of other campaigns, dealing with puppy mills, greyhound
racing, exotics as pets, and the elimination of great apes in research, and
on these eight campaigns that we will focus a considerable amount of institutional
What are some of the changes you have already instituted since you started?
In terms of management structure, the organization has been substantially reorganized
to focus on these major campaigns. Two of the big changes relate to the creation
of a new campaigns department, headed by Heidi Prescott, former national director
of the Fund for Animals, who’s now our Senior Vice President for campaigns,
and campaign managers for each of those four campaigns. The second big change
is the creation of a new animal protection litigation department, headed by
Jonathan Lovvorn, with a mandate to take aggressive action in all of these
and frankly wherever swift legal action is required. We now have eight full-time
attorneys doing offensive litigation, in addition to being able to call on
major law firms doing pro bono work and relationships with several law schools
their law students.
As you know, many animal activists have been abuzz with the recent
hiring of the Compassion Over Killing leadership—Miyun Park, Paul Shapiro and Josh
Balk. What’s your strategy behind this?
One of the most important things you can do to be effective is hire the most
talented people. Miyun, Paul and Josh—and COK’s former general counsel
Carter Dillard—are enormously talented. We wanted to work with talented
and energetic advocates who could build our capacity to make a difference for
farm animals. It’s not so much about orthodoxy; I was trying to find people
who have the energy, the passion and the smarts to effect major changes in public
and corporate policies when it comes to animal agriculture. And I do believe
that with major retailers—whether it’s Safeway or fast food chains
like McDonald’s and Burger King—their decisions in terms of the
products they purchase will have enormous implications for animals.
With regard to Humane USA, the Political Action Committee you started,
been quoted as saying your ambition was to create “a National Rifle Association
of the animal rights movement.” What do you mean by this and how has
it done so far?
The way things work in Washington and in state capitols across the country
is that logic and humane sensibilities can only go so far. You need them in
to be effective and the merits of an argument do mean something in this culture,
but you also need to amass political power and that comes from working the
political system in a way that achieves results. There’s no substitute
for being able to deliver votes and having an informed constituency. The key
goal for us
is to help organize the universe of passionate animal advocates across the
country who understand the political process and can plug into that process
public policy goals. Combined with raising the political and electoral awareness
of animal advocates is our focusing on a few key goals, so that lawmakers and
the general public can understand the larger agenda. And third, given the role
that money plays in political campaigns, is to be able to play in that theater
to some degree by directly supporting candidates who care about animal protection
and to work against candidates who are hostile to these values. A lesson you
learn from watching how laws are made is that you have to bring the full set
of capabilities and tools to the task of building a body of law to protect
So Humane USA is growing. We had a really important win in the last election
in helping to defeat Chris John for the U.S. Senate seat opening in Louisiana.
He was the leading cock fighting advocate in the House and a leader on a whole
range of anti-animal causes. Humane USA implemented a major television advertising
campaign and a direct mail campaign, in addition to activating grassroots activists,
to help tip that election. It showed that if we could do this is Louisiana,
which is a rough state for animals, we would have the capability to do it in
We also continue to be even-handed in terms of our approach to issues. As worthy
as other important issues may be to us personally, we zero in on animal issues.
We look at a legislator’s or candidate’s record on animal issues
only and we strive to be bipartisan. Humane USA is backing a very substantial
number of Republicans and really is more balanced than the NRA, which is heavily
Republican, or the labor or environmental movements, which are heavily Democratic.
We truly have the potential, like the Israel lobby, to be comprehensively bipartisan.
I find the NRA’s views on hunting and other issues to be really at odds
with my own, but I admire the fact that they train thousands of activists across
the country to achieve so much working through the system. I do think that
is a model for us, because we have the potential to activate many more people
the NRA does. There are a lot of people in this country who care about guns,
but I think many more people are passionate about protecting animals. If we
organize them, we can achieve enormous gains and victories for animals.
It’s really a failure on our part: it’s not a structural or economic
circumstance that inhibits our success, it’s our failure to provide leadership
and organize the millions of people who care passionately about animals.
Given that the Bush administration is no real friend to animals, a lot of people
are really disappointed after all of the energy that went into the last presidential
election. Why should animal activists care about politics and get energized
to really do anything?
Well there are an enormous number of opportunities in Congress and in the states
to establish new and better standards for the treatment of animals in society.
Right now we have opportunities to: make animal fighting a federal felony,
ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption for export, ban the keeping
primates as pets, protect bison in Yellowstone National Park, include poultry
in the Humane Slaughter Act, strengthen the law related to puppy mills—there
are enormously important issues that can be pushed through Congress and signed
by the President.
Matthew Scully just wrote the cover story [“Fear Factories,”] in
[the May 23rd] issue of the American Conservative arguing why conservatives should
care about animal cruelty. It’s an enormously important essay, and a strong
case. We should not write off conservatives. There are tens of thousands—millions—of
conservatives who care about animals, and we need to continue to reach out
to them as well as to liberals and moderates. Every person is a potential advocate
for animals in some way.
You’ve had an impressive track record with getting state ballot initiatives
passed. Can you give a brief overview of some of the initiatives you’ve
It has certainly been a major team effort, especially benefiting from the involvement
of Mike Markarian, former President of the Fund for Animals and now Executive
Vice President for external affairs at HSUS. We’ve been able to engage
and activate tens of thousands of people to qualify ballot measures and to work
to pass them. We’ve orchestrated more than 20 measures since 1992, and
had a win rate of 70 to 75 percent. We’ve banned cock fighting in three
states, hound hunting in four states, and bear baiting in four states, banned
the use of gestation crates in Florida, banned leg-hold trapping and other forms
of body gripping traps in five states. So it’s been a very successful
means of changing laws.
Even more importantly, it’s shown that our movement has the capacity to
win tough fights and expose people to the political process. I don’t believe
there are any short cuts to this form of sweeping social change and I don’t
believe that breaking the law—except in a nonviolent and civilly disobedient
way—is the path for us to pursue. We want society to play by the rules
we are seeking to establish and then to observe these laws, but then if it doesn’t
suit us, we flaunt the laws. I think that hurts our credibility, and it’s
a contradiction that cannot be logically reconciled.
That’s a good point and you’ve brought me to my next question,
which puts you in the hot seat a little. You and HSUS staff have distanced
from certain animal rights activists and tactics. Can you talk a little more
I have great respect for people who are self-sacrificing and who question prevailing
orthodoxy in order to advance important ideas. But I do not support breaking
the law for animals, even as I recognize the commitment these individuals exhibit.
And I don’t question the commitment of people who are willing to break
laws and engage in acts that we wouldn’t engage in. I think though there
are two issues here. One is: the public likes animals. People have an intrinsic
connection to animals and it’s evidenced by the fact that 90 million
American households have companion animals; 100 million people go bird-watching;
people go to national parks to see animals. There is this incredible connection.
So most people like animals, but a lot of people don’t like animal activists
because they think they’re too strident and hypocritical. I think it’s
important for us, as the ambassadors for animals, to be ethically consistent
and to embrace mainstream values. I don’t think we need to resort to illegal
tactics to achieve change, I am ultimately confident that our views can prevail.
It’s a mark of desperation to resort to illegal actions. It’s important
for the public to realize people in the animal protection movement will stand
up and say it’s wrong to engage in certain tactics when we are offering
all sorts of ideas on how people should be living their lives and how corporations
and lawmakers should be deciding on policies. So we’re quick to call
for standards to be adopted on animal issues, as we should be, but then to
that any and all tactics are acceptable when it comes to advancing animal protection
goals is a contradiction.
Second, resorting to such tactics also seems to undermine the core principles
of respect that we talk about. Ultimately, we’re talking about an ethic
of mercy and compassion and respect, and if we don’t treat people with
that same level of attentiveness and respect, it undercuts our credibility. That’s
not to justify what people who are harming animals are doing, but again, there’s
no short cut to the sort of fundamental social change we are envisioning. And
I guess that’s the third point: I just don’t believe it’s effective.
I think that we’ve got to educate middle America, build a powerful political
movement to effect public policy change, and build a strong grassroots movement
to effect corporate change and inform consumers about their choices in the
marketplace. Resorting to illegal tactics, whether it is petty vandalism or
almost nothing in terms of lasting reforms for animals. And it turns animal
abusers into victims and gives our political opponents the moral high ground.
important thing that we have is our self-sacrificing, other-centered approach
and concern for animals, and when we turn down the path of illegal conduct,
we allow our opponents to transform us from self-sacrificing people to simple
You just finally got to the nitty gritty of what we’re talking about: basically,
petty vandalism and threats and such. We’re not talking Weather Underground
or Black Liberation Army tactics. So far, no one has been murdered or seriously
injured by these individuals or tactics. Why make such a big deal out of it?
I wouldn’t say that we’re making a big deal out of it in the sense
that we’re crusading on it. We comment on it when asked. And when the matter
comes up in public discourse we don’t hesitate to offer our view.
But I don’t believe that threats and intimidation are a small matter. These
actions are counterproductive and they undercut the values of respect and compassion
that we’re trying to instill in the public. And in terms of vandalism,
these acts are sophomoric, and I just do not see the point. You do not topple
billion-dollar industries by breaking a few windows. It may be psychologically
satisfying to people who do it, and it may be true that at this time it doesn’t
feel like there are many options. I understand this sense of urgency and impatience,
but I just don’t think there’s any other way we can get to a more
compassionate society than by doing the grassroots organizing and making our
case to the public.
Why did you and HSUS and a number of other groups decide a few years ago to
no longer support the annual animal rights conference organized by FARM?
For one simple reason: there were a number of invited speakers who advocated
violence and other illegal activities beyond civil disobedience, and we did
not feel comfortable supporting a conference that gave a platform to those
We recognize that these people have a right to speak their views. We just didn’t
want a major national animal rights conference, which the public would be taking
as a statement of the beliefs of the cause, to have those voices if we were going
to be associated with it. I don’t want to give our political opponents
the opportunity to brand us as a lawless or terrorist organization, that we support
people who are engaging in those practices, even if it’s exaggerated for
their political bent. I don’t want to spend time fending off those arguments
when I have a limited opportunity to talk in the press. I want to talk about
issues, not tactics. The battle will not be won on the margins with those tactics.
The battle will be won when we can convince regular Americans in Michigan or
Iowa or Alabama that animals deserve respectful treatment.
Still, people who have broken the rules have achieved results. Meaning, technically
the COK open rescues broke the law, and JP Goodwin, who works with you at HSUS,
used to be quite the radical direct-action animal liberationist as founder
of the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade.
Well, number one, the open rescues I would view as an act of civil disobedience.
People were taking responsibility, they weren’t damaging property, they
were simply recording the cruelty that was going on and letting the owners
of the companies take action if they wished. In terms of JP, he has renounced
past views on illegal activities. Again, in this issue of personal transformation,
we want to embrace people who are thinking about the long term strategic benefits
of organizing and influencing corporations and the government to adopt animal
protection policies. JP has, in my view, changed his views for the better.
And I want to embrace that change.
So, HSUS split from supporting the FARM conference. Now you’re sponsoring
a major conference in DC the weekend after FARM’s conference in LA with
a bunch of groups that used to be with the FARM conference. What do you think
this says to animal activists—both newbies and veterans?
It says there is a major core of the animal movement that wants effective action
but is not going to countenance the rhetoric of violence and vandalism and
other illegal tactics—we’re taking a stand in that respect. I don’t
think every event can have every voice. We’re a cause that talks about
values and ethics and we cannot suspend that thinking when it comes to tactics.
I think it’s important to us to reclaim the core values of the movement.
When we speak of vivisection, we say the ends cannot justify the means. Well,
that same line of thinking should apply to our tactics.I want to go back to
some of the things that formulated your ideology.
What helped you make the
between animals and your decision to go vegan?
I had a real empathy for animals ever since I was a small child, and that was
never drummed out of me. In my college dining hall, I remember talking about
animals and how it was wrong to hunt or use them in research. I had people
you’re eating them.’ There’s a logic there that cannot be
denied. So I became vegetarian and then a month later vegan in my sophomore
started an animal rights group. I think it really empowered me to take action
because the mantle of inconsistency that had kind of been on my shoulders was
In terms of making changes for animals, what are some of the real obstacles
that we face?
Several. One is that the oppressed group cannot speak for itself and we are
ambassadors for them; and the people who are trying to thwart this change and
status quo can invoke their own livelihood and their own values. So you have
a disparity in that we’re advocating for others, where our opponents
are essentially advocating for themselves. That is a real impediment.
Second is the sheer diversity of issues. It’s really hard to succeed if
you’re drawn in truly a hundred directions. The panoply of abuses is enormous.
It’s easy to see your energy dissipated by focusing on too many things.
Third is the economic might of the industries we’re confronting. These
are not fly-by-night operations. In some cases these are multi-billion dollar
industries that are leveraging their money and influence to maintain the status
I think fourth would be the historical and cultural inertia: this is the way
things have been done for a long time. Those are a few.
With regard to farmed animals, realistically what are your hopes for the future?
We have to understand that people are in different places and we cannot have
a one-size-fits-all solution for every American. I’ve been a vegan for
20 years, but my parents aren’t completely there. And people who are friendly
to the issues often don’t demonstrate the same level of commitment as those
of us who are really active in the movement. I think it is important to give
people more eating options. That’s why we’re now doing a guide
to vegetarian eating, to really make the case for it and try to make that transition
Also, just reducing meat consumption can be a tremendous benefit to animals.
Because it’s 10 billion animals killed a year—if 50 million people
reduce their meat consumption by half, that can save hundreds of millions, if
not more than a billion animals. Some people are going to continue to eat meat
so we want to see the worst abuses in factory farming eliminated and at least
see that animals reared for food are not tormented during production, transport
and slaughter. That speaks to having the existing agricultural systems made less
inhumane. Some people may say, ‘Well, the animals are still being killed.’ Well,
those animals I am quite sure want to be better treated and they don’t
want to be tormented, and if we can lessen the pain and suffering they endure,
then we have achieved something tangible.
I want to hear a little more of your message to animal activists.
HSUS has been criticized for being a rather conservative, wealthy, dog and
that, until you came along at least, still served dead animals at its events.
Can you talk about your vegetarian vision and what motivated you to move from
more animal rights work, like at the Fund for Animals and the Animals’ Agenda,
On the issue of HSUS and what we do with our resources, I think it’s important
at our events, whether it’s the Genesis Awards, Animal Care Expo or Congressional
Awards, that we reach for the highest standard. I don’t want the dollars
of any HSUS supporter going to support any harming of animals, and that’s
why I decided, with the chairman of the board’s support, that we would
have all-vegan events and that any purchasing of food products would be done
with that principle in mind.
In terms of my own personal transformation, for many years I was on the ‘front
lines’—at demonstrations and protests—and I was arrested many
times during my years of activism. I believe there’s a really important
place for demonstrations and civil disobedience and other ‘front line’ activities.
At the same time, I recognized that we have to amass political power and apply
that power in the broadest sense in order to save animals’ lives. I felt
HSUS was an entity that was doing good work but had enormous potential to effect
even more meaningful and lasting social reforms. It was not marginalized by the
media or viewed as an extremist or radical organization by mainstream Americans.
It had a good, patriotic name [laughs]. At the same time, I felt there was leadership
here and people who were willing to go beyond traditional notions of humane treatment
toward companion animals, to work on wildlife, agriculture and animal testing
issues. I just felt this group had more potential to effect change than any other.
I had worked closely with and have had friends in almost all the other groups—it’s
not a denigration of any of those groups.
It’s great that there are so many animal groups—it shows all the
passion and excitement there is. But I think for the public and policy-makers,
it’s confusing. That’s why I am trying to achieve some consolidation
and bring more individuals and groups together so we can focus more resources
on the big problems. We’re in a period where I think we need to see some
consolidation in order to become more effective. I can’t script what’s
going to happen over the next year or two or five, but I do hope that we can
recognize synergies and bring people and groups together so we can reach new
levels of effectiveness.
Because of its history, some animal activists are mistrustful of HSUS. What
would you like to say to them?
I would say: Take a look at us now. If you’re mistrustful, leave that aside
or chalk it up to a healthy skepticism. Don’t focus on the past, but
examine what our capacity is now and take a step back and look at what we as
movement really want to achieve. Do we want to see factory farming turned around?
Do we want to see every state with strong animal cruelty laws and proper enforcement?
Do we want to see an end to the fur industry? I think HSUS offers the best
potential to get us there, if we come together. We have a powerful staff with
but we have to have millions of volunteers involved. If every person who cares
about animals was participating in a strategically focused effort to achieve
specific reforms that we are seeking, I can guarantee they will be pleased
they invested the time and energy in such an effort.
Animal advocacy is notoriously hard work and people can get discouraged. What
do you recommend to activists to help them cope?
I think it’s very important for people to celebrate the victories. It’s
very easy to get frustrated that the pace of change is not faster, but this is
not an all-or-nothing game for animals. Every individual animal saved or protected
is a 100 percent win for those animals. And there’s change occurring all
around us: whether it’s companies moving away from animal testing, new
vegan products in the marketplace, new laws being passed, animal issues prominently
discussed in the media—whatever it is—celebrate those and use them
as fuel to continue to drive your passion. And do not allow yourself to get too
disillusioned or disheartened. We have lost too many people to a feeling of hopelessness.
To that end, it’s important that people pace themselves and try to achieve
some balance in life. It’s vital to take time for yourself in order to
maintain your long-term participation in the cause.
Can you tell us about some of the nonhuman animals you share your family with?
Rose is half German shepherd and half husky and was rescued at the age of just
a few days. She’s a great dog. And there are three cats, Molly, Ellie and
Buffalo, and they’re all great and constant reminders of the wonder of
animals and how they’re their own independent, fully-conscious little
creatures. And once you accept that they have these capacities and characteristics,
so tough to deny the same privileges and protections to other creatures.
To learn more about HSUS, visit www.hsus.org.