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Humane Society President speaks in Grand Rapids on national book tour

August 8, 2011

Earlier today Wayne Pacelle, the President of the US Humane Society, spoke at the 28th Street Schuler Books while he made his way through the Midwest on a book tour.  His book is entitled The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.

Pacelle talked about his own upbringing and how it influenced how he viewed animals. He developed at an earlier age, like many of us do, a bond with the family dog that led him to believe that we need to develop a bond with all creatures in order to respect them.

The President of the Humane Society also talked about how animals are also social beings and that like humans they need interaction with other creatures. Pacelle says that we even have a bio-chemical attraction to other people and species. These biological and bio-chemical reactions we have with other creatures also means we have the capacity to develop an emotional bond with animals.

Pacelle says that two-thirds of Americans have pets in their homes and 70% of the population engages in some sort of wildlife observation, whether that is looking at the birds in our backyard or going to designated parks and preserves to observe other animals.

However, on the other hand there are serious animal issues that we face in this country. The fact that we have animal rescue groups throughout the country is one indication that there is a nationwide problem. Pacelle says that there are groups that focus on all kinds of animal welfare issues such as the treatment of circus animals, zoo cruelty, the treatment of animals that are trapped, as well as groups responding to the fur industry and dozens more that focus on the well being of animals.

One recent incident that Pacelle cited underscores how Americans are responding to animal cruelty issues. He mentioned the grassroots organizing that developed after Hurricane Katrina to rescue animals. Pacelle said this was necessary because the federal government did not include animals in their rescue plan, but also because many people who were being rescued said they would not leave unless their dogs and cats would be rescued along with them.

However, despite all the compassion that people show towards animals Pacelle said there are thousands of puppy farms all around the country, where dogs are bred in a style similar to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). He also mentioned animal fighting as a major problem in the US.

When it came to what we can do, Pacelle focused on individual choices that people can make. What kind of food do we eat and how does that impact how animals are treated? Pacelle said that we have all participated in the exploitation of animals, but that should not deter us from make decisions about we do in the future. He also said that the choices available do not require much sacrifice.

However, Pacelle then seemed to contradict himself by talking about the history of struggle in this country, such as the fight against slavery, the outlawing of child labor and the fight to win the right for women to vote. It is on this tradition of struggle and resistance that the animal welfare movement is built, according to the Humane Society President.

This tension between individual choices and systemic change was further emphasized during the Q & A session where Pacelle said that “we can not do battle with every industry” and that “we must meet industry where they are.” This was in reference to a recent agreement the Humane Society made with the American Egg Board to craft legislation, which would require more space for egg laying hens. Therefore, Pacelle doesn’t seem to want to challenge the for profit food industry and their systemic murder of billions of animals annually for human consumption, he felt that just providing more space for the egg laying hens in their cages was adequate.

Most of the question surrounded the treatment of specific animals and some existing legislation both in Michigan and at the federal level, with virtually no discussion about animal liberation. People were more interested in what Michael Vick was doing with the Human Society than how humans might rethink our relationship to the non-human world as a whole.

While it was clear that the people in the room had a deeply passionate commitment to protecting some animals, there didn’t seem to be much interest in pushing the discussion outside of human-centered notions of what is means to challenge oppression that writers such as Jason Hribal (When Animals Fight Back), Anthony Nocella (Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals) and Carol Adams (Neither Man Nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals) explore in each of their books.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Patricia permalink
    August 8, 2011 9:09 pm

    Hi Jeff. It was nice seeing you in the audience today and I knew that I’d be reading a slightly different slant to today’s talk right here on your web site. I became a member of HSUS when they pushed to prosecute Michael Vick for dog fighting crimes. I learned today that local authorities would not prosecute Vick so HSUS did. I think Wayne has been very effective in raising the issues of humane treatment for many kinds of animals. Granted, no one’s efforts are perfect but raising the issue of how we treat animals is a start and gets people thinking about how they want to live in the world. I am a meat eater. That repels some people. But still there is room for me and others like me within animal advocacy. It’s a big tent and one I hope many kinds of people will enter so that we can improve the lives of animals in the this country and in the world.

  2. Brett Colley permalink
    August 8, 2011 9:40 pm

    I don’t know if we’ve ever met (?) At any rate, I don’t wish for the question I’m about to ask to seem antagonistic, but it is earnest. I am ALWAYS interested in omnivores who self-identify as advocates for animals. How does one reconcile their advocacy for some animals while eating others? I am not judging. I am simply curious as to how you will answer, since you revealed your diet in the reply above. When I decided that I would become an active advocate on behalf of animals, the very first action I took was to stop eating meat. This seemed the most direct, efficient way for me to work toward justice.

  3. Patricia permalink
    August 9, 2011 10:30 pm


    We can only live according to our own beliefs. I think protein is an important part of the human diet just as it is for other animals. I enjoy eating meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk. I think though that the way we raise meat in this country is criminal. I make my choices accordingly. I’m glad you are happy with your first action you took on behalf of animal advocacy to stop eating meat. I assume that you also don’t eat eggs, milk, cheese, fish, butter or any foods with those ingredients. I hope my reply doesn’t sound defensive. It is not. I know that there is no need for me to defend my beliefs to you. I am only describing them. And yes, I believe we have met before along the way.

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