Wayne Pacelle

Even Wayne Pacelle—one of America’s foremost advocates for animals—was a little incredulous as men and women who had lost limbs in shark attacks pleaded with Congress to ban the practice of cutting fins off live sharks for fin soup.

“If these people could speak up for sharks, how much more should those of us who have known nothing but the goodness of animals speak up on their behalf?!” he said.

As president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, Pacelle is one of the world’s foremost advocates for animal welfare.

He has taken apart in the passage of more than 25 federal statues to protect animals, including laws to ban the sale of videos depicting animal cruelty, halting interstate transport of fighting animals and commerce in big cats for the pet trade, protecting great apes in their native habitats and laws requiring government agencies to include pets in disaster planning.

He’s testified before Congress on canned hunting, cockfighting and bear baiting.

And now he will be one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming 2017 Sun Valley Wellness Festival, speaking on the “Humane Economy” at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 28, in the Sun Valley Opera House.

The title is derived from his 2016 book “The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers are Transforming the Lives of Animals.”

“The backlash to SeaWorld following the ‘Blackfish’ documentary shows that the only sustainable business model in our economy today is a humane one,” he said.

Pacelle was hardwired to be compassionate for animals as a youngsters growing up in New Haven, Conn. The pages of his encyclopedia were dog-eared where there were animal entries. He was glued to the TV every time Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” or a Disney wildlife program aired.

He realized the severity of man’s inhumanity towards animals while studying history and environmental studies at Yale University and vowed not to be a bystander.

“Domesticated animals are dependent on us,” he said. “How we treat them is a test of our behavior.”

Pacelle recounted the story of a diver who came face to face with a shark that swam up to him and began nudging him. The diver’s fear turned to empathy as he realized the shark was trying to get him to remove a metal hook embedded in its torso.

“As harsh as nature is for animals, cruelty comes only from human hands,” he said. “Good people always choose the path of kindness.”

At age 23 Pacelle became executive director of The Fund For Animals. In 1994 he became the Humane Society of the United States’s lobbyist and spokesperson, before assuming its head position in 2004.

He is credited for retooling an organization seen as a mild-mannered protector of dogs and cats. It’s turbocharged the farm animal welfare movement, while providing a platform for protecting farmers against factory farms that hurt both farmers and animals. And it’s fought on behalf of animals across the globe.

“We’re working in 50 counties with the motto, ‘All animals everywhere,’ ” Pacelle said.

In fact, Pacelle’s 2011 book, “The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them,” prompted ape champion Jane Goodall to say, “If the animals knew about this book, they would, without doubt, confer on Wayne Pacelle, their highest honor.”

Pacelle has often been privy to what he calls “the worst expression of our inhumanity.”

He has, for instance, visited puppy mills where mother dogs are kept in small cages outdoors through blizzards, downpours and heatwaves. They’re never let out of their cages, and they’re bred every time they come into heat. When they are no longer valuable, they’re typically killed.

“There are 10,000 mills just in the United States. We’re trying to get people to get dogs from shelters, rather than buy them over the Internet or in a pet store,” said Pacelle. “We’re also trying to stop the killing of dogs for meat. More than 30 million dogs are butchered each year for human consumption in places like North Korea.”

On another occasion, Pacelle visited an egg factory boasting 10 million laying hens in north-central Iowa. The chickens were crammed six to eight in cages the size of a bread box, with the cages stacked eight high and side by side the length of a football field in 93 buildings.

“I was overwhelmed by the disconnect between conscripting these animals for food purposes while forgetting that they’re living, feeling creatures. It strikes me that we can honor efficiency while figuring out better ways to get food to the table,” said Pacelle, who has been a vegan for 32 years but insists that one does not need to be vegan or even vegetarian to be humane towards animals.

Fortunately, Pacelle said, public attitudes are shifting, prompting businesses to rethink their treatment of animals

The number of dogs and cats euthanized in this country has gone from 15 million cats and dogs 40 years ago to fewer than three million today.

Walmart, one of the largest corporations in the world, has pledged to honor the Five Freedoms of Farm Animal Welfare, which ensures animals are given sufficient space, treatment that avoids mental suffering, appropriate shelter, fresh water and adequate food and immediate treatment should they suffer injury or disease.

Airlines are refusing to carry elephant and other trophies in cargo holds. Two hundred food retailers, including McDonald’s and Burger King, have pledged to use only cage-free eggs. Filmmakers, such as those behind “Noah,” “The Revenant” and the recent “Planet of the Apes” are using computer generated imagery to bring animals to life without using wild animals at all.

And fashion designers such as Giorgio Armani and Hugo Boss have removed fur from their lines.

“There’s no need to wear fur, anymore—we can develop garments that provide everything the fur did,” Pacelle said. “We can do safety testing without animals. And we even have companies like Hampton Creek making plant-based egg substitutes to take animals out of the equation.”

Pacelle is currently is trying to convinced Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to end seal hunts that kill thousands of baby harp seals. He’s launched a campaign to improve the welfare of broiler chickens. And he’s trying to shut down the slaughter of horses for human consumption in Mexico and Canada, having already succeeded at that in the United States.

“Horses and dogs are trusted human companions. Horses have served us for transportation, in battle, for recreation. Dogs have served us as companions, as guard dogs. We wouldn’t be anywhere we are as species without animals. They’ve changed the course of human history and to treat them as a slab of meat is a betrayal of our longstanding bond,” he said.

Companies that do not embrace change will face risk, much as Ringling Brothers did when rising public sentiment against wild animal acts forced it to pull up its tent stakes after 146 years, Pacelle said.

“The best companies figure out innovative ways to advance their economic goals in a way that reflects the values of their customers,” he said. “We don’t have to choose between morality and economic progress. We can have both.”


Americans could spare more than a billion animals in the United States every year by eliminating food waste. Americans throw out 40 percent of their food—22 percent of it animal products.

If you eat meat, you can advocate for their welfare by choosing those with such labels as “Certified Humane,” “Global Animal Partnership” and “Animal Welfare Approved.”


The 2017 Sun Valley Wellness Festival will be held May 26-29 at Sun Valley. Individual tickets are available, as are day-long and weekend-long passes. For information, go to www.sunvalleywellness.org.

Thursday, May 4, 2017 – BY KAREN BOSSICK, Eye on Sun Valley

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