Welfare's Political Animal

Welfare's Political Animal

HSUS front man Wayne Pacelle says mainstream America is driving a new welfare agenda
Jan 01, 2008

He's been called a wolf in sheep's clothing, a man with hidden agendas and the most influential player the animal-welfare arena has ever seen.

The one-time lobbyist and public-policy guru garners regular headlines espousing animal-welfare expertise, with profiles in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, to name a few. To foes, it makes Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) Wayne Pacelle, 42, even more politically dangerous.

With JFK Jr. looks and a Yale University education, the head of the world's largest, richest welfare organization gets face time with Washington interest groups and political leaders. His fame almost rivals some Hollywood celebrities.

Mainstream America's acceptance of HSUS' president and chief executive officer tends to chip at the fringe-activist profile organized veterinary medicine paints. Washington lawmakers turn to Pacelle for welfare advice, and he spends lavishly, tapping a $120 million budget to fund their campaigns. Pacelle writes a column for Newsweek, he's featured on Larry King and is a media go-to guy for stories like the Michael Vick case.

Critics contend Pacelle's HSUS is drowning out AVMA's voice on welfare. It is best illustrated when the American Veterinary Medical Association fights HSUS agenda items, such as federal anti-horse slaughter legislation. To the public, banning horse slaughter seems like a no-brainer. Citizens in the United States don't eat horse meat.

AVMA, a body of scientific experts, unsuccessfully argued — along with other groups — the legislation will result in thousands of horses at risk of starvation, disease and inhumane euthanasia.

Cultivating support: "We've tapped into mainstream sensibility," says HSUS' Wayne Pacelle. Organized veterinary medicine isn't buying it, especially when the issues are about agriculture.
It's an argument that apparently has lawmakers unconvinced: "Every time a vote has been taken on the issue, it's always gone our way in a landslide manner," Pacelle says.

Strength in numbers

Rubbing salt in those wounds, Pacelle recently announced steps to merge with the Association of Veterinarians for Animals Rights to create the Humane Society Veterinary Association (see related story, p. 1). The group is expected to rival the nation's largest membership body, offering a choice for veterinarians dissatisfied with AVMA and its strict science-based stances.

AVMA refused to balk when controversy and pressure surfaced regarding foie gras production practices and swine gestation stalls despite louder calls against them. Many leaders consider Pacelle a radical out to upend agriculture. He's a vegan who believes in animal rights. Yet at the same time, he claims to be taking HSUS in a more modest direction, dropping the term "rights" in favor of "animal protection" and touting a philosophy that supports an animal-welfare agenda.

America's political climate represents a defining moment for the veterinary profession, Pacelle contends.

"Its leaders can embrace the change that's happening in our society or they can continue to represent the voice of industry and be part of a power system that results in the continued exploitation of animals," he says.

The public, to a large degree, appears to view HSUS as a dewy-eyed welfare group out to rescue unwanted and disadvantaged animals. That interpretation is evident considering the group boasts 10 million donating members.

"We've tapped into mainstream sensibility," Pacelle says. "You don't get many radical groups that have that many people supporting them."