Wayne Pacelle is a busy man. Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, made his 68th stop on a national book tour at the Primavera Art Gallery in Ojai, Saturday, June 25. His new book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, has appeared on many best-seller lists, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
Since Pacelle took office in 2004, he and the Humane Society have worked for the passage of more than 500 new state laws protecting animals, and partnered famously with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (convicted on federal charges related to dog fighting and torturing) in reaching millions about animal cruelty.
On his way to Ojai to speak with local residents who successfully ended a lethal wildlife control program that was poisoning rodents and working its way up the food chain, Pacelle talked with the VCReporter about his book and resolving wildlife conflicts.
VCReporter: What have you been speaking about on your book tour?
Wayne Pacelle: A big-picture view of our relationship with animals and how we need to step it up in terms of our own responsibility to be good to other creatures …. A lot of people don’t understand that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) works on all animal protection issues, and we have a very significant wildlife department and a program within that department that promotes resolving conflicts with wildlife in a non-lethal way. We can resolve conflict with wildlife by applying the creativity of the human mind. We don’t have to immediately run to killing as the only way to address these conflicts that emerge.
Why do you think humans have resorted to killing animals as a way of resolving wildlife conflict?
In the relationship we have with animals, we have all the cards, all the power, and it’s been easy for us to exercise that power in a way that produces body counts of wildlife. Some people have thought of that as the normal course of activity in dealing with conflict.
I read some excerpts from your book about practicing agriculture in a humane way. Can you explain the concept of humane agriculture?
There was a great demonstration of this in California. We did a ballot initiative called Proposition 2 (Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act) on the statewide ballot in November 2008. It was a measure to stop the extreme confinement of livestock on factory farms. That effort was focused on stopping the worst abuse in the realm of animal agriculture. And it got more votes than any citizen initiative in history. There was $10 million campaigned against us by big agriculture business trying to frighten people about increased food costs and farmers going out of business. But the state said, “Hey, if these animals are going to be raised for food then it should be in a humane way.” It was a watershed moment and validated that people are concerned about all animals, not just those in wildlife.
And you often mention a humane economy.
We need to think of our commerce and economic institution with values and ideals, including those related to animal protection. I call for the creation of a new humane economy that allows economic progress but doesn’t leave a trail of animal victims in our wake. That means whale watching instead of whale killing; seal watching instead of seal killing; animals raised for food should have a good life by allowing them access to be outdoors and spared mutilation and torment; doing away with animal testing and finding new ways to do that; getting dogs from rescue groups. Every issue I talk about has a humane economy component.
Recently, I know you are focusing on a state-by-state push to end factory farming. Is there something around here that people should keep their eyes on?
Locally, the big issue is that every consumer can make a difference by buying cage-free eggs and not buying animal products from factory farms. …
I’m curious about Michael Vick and the relationship he has with HSUS.
I write about this in the book and note that with Congressman Gallegly, he and I worked hard to make animal fighting a felony; we had a big hand in drafting that. We wanted to enforce the idea that no person is above the law and should be punished for the things he did. He’s (Vick) working hard to do outreach in urban communities where dog fighting is more prevalent. There has been a lot of discussion and soul searching, which I recount in the book. We’ve agreed to put him to work speaking to these kids about these issues. He has spoken with more than 10,000 kids and is adding his voice to warn kids away from the terrible practice of dog fighting. It’s not court-ordered. He’s doing this on his own. He does about two events a month with the Humane Society.
What is the focus of your book?
We have a bond built into every one of us that gives a historic connection with animals, and in the book I explain the underlying stases with our connection for animals. It’s not sentimental but something very deep inside of us that draws us deep to these creatures. The other part is living in moments of incredible contradiction when it comes to our relationship with animals. We have so much love and appreciation for animals and legal standards against cruelty, but in this same culture, we have enormous cruelty on a scale that is almost unimaginable.
Why is that?
Part of it is a function of the growing human population. We’re slaughtering 10 billion animals for food, with most being raised on factory farms. … We have more awareness and organized efforts to help animals than before. So much progress but still so much cruelty with factory farming, puppy mills, dog fighting, seal hunting. …We did an undercover investigation and found a whole class of captive hunting. About 1,000 places in Texas. Exotic animals are bred or purchased for release in these areas, and offered up as menu items for hunters. You can shoot them for a fee.
This is just one example. But the point of the book is to elevate the national discussion of animals and our responsibility to them.