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March 3, 2011

A Conversation with Wayne: HSUS President Discusses His New Book, "The Bond"

"The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them" is a dialog with America on our responsibility to animals

All Animals magazine, March/April 2011

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by John Balzar

In January 1993, Wayne Pacelle traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a state-sponsored “summit” to decide the fate of wolves. Alaskan officials wanted to send sharpshooters aloft in helicopters to slaughter hundreds of these animals.

Wolves, you see, were bringing down caribou that human hunters believed were rightly theirs to take. I attended as a journalist for The Los Angeles Times. I listened as Wayne spoke. He talked over the heads of the assembled crowd of noisy, uncompromising hunters and their Alaskan political patrons. Wayne addressed the sensibilities of the larger America. He spoke of human responsibility to safeguard animals.

His foes made a mistake that chilly winter. They underestimated Wayne and his message. They saw him as a man on the fringe. And they weren’t alone in that view.

For the next 13 years, I witnessed the progress of Wayne Pacelle as he tirelessly crisscrossed this nation in the cause of compassion. So powerful was his call that four years ago I left journalism and joined Wayne’s staff at The Humane Society of the United States.

Something remarkable had happened during these years. With Wayne in the lead, the animal welfare movement laid firm claim to the American mainstream. Opponents who tried to defend the status-quo mistreatment of animals were forced to the fringes of our civic conversations. Now, Wayne’s continuing dialogue with America moves forward with the April publication of his first book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.

Q: You explore a paradox in The Bond. Will you give readers of All Animals a hint of what’s inside?

PACELLE: I argue that we have a deeply contradictory set of attitudes and behaviors toward animals. There’s so much love and appreciation for animals, yet also so much cruelty and abuse. I wrote The Bond to disentangle some of these contradictions and to try to show us a new way forward. It’s a hopeful book, and while I don’t skid past the problems that exist, it’s not a numbing catalogue of problems. I place the issues within a historical context, and using anecdotes and my personal experiences, I try to reframe the debate and call attention to one of the most important moral failings of our time: the misuse of our power when it comes to our treatment of animals.

Q: What was the inspiration for this book at this time?

PACELLE: I have spent my adult life fighting for animals, most of that time with the nation’s most important animal protection organization, The Humane Society of the United States. I have traveled to every state and to many nations throughout the world and met tens of thousands of people. Wherever I go, I run across people who care about animals, reminding me of the universality of the human-animal bond. I want to harness this energy to roll back our systematic mistreatment of animals. I do believe that how we treat animals is one of the fundamental measures of our humanity.

Q: You sound a call for a humane economy. Can you elaborate?

PACELLE: Let’s face it, most cruelty is rooted in economics—in the raising of animals for food, in adorning ourselves with fur or exotic leather, in pastimes we call entertainment, even in the business of breeding pets. This institutional mistreatment of animals is driven by a shortsighted hunger for profit. Or sometimes it occurs just because that’s how things have been done in the past. When I speak of a humane economy, I’m asking consumers, businesses, and investors to raise their line of sight and to find new ways of doing business that do not cause such cruelty to animals. As I write in The Bond, the horrible mistreatment of animals on factory farms “is the creation of human resourcefulness detached from conscience.” We have to ask ourselves how many innovations we could bring about by applying that resourcefulness in a way that is guided by conscience.

Q: As you describe in the preface, there are many worthy causes to support. You could have made a successful career leading any one of them. Yet you ended up here. Did you choose animals, or did animals choose you?

PACELLE: Animals have always tugged at my pant leg. I never needed anyone to tell me right from wrong when it came to the care of animals. I knew animals were different, but different in good ways. This has been a calling for me ever since I can remember. While many causes attract my interest, there is something so wrong about the merciless exploitation of animals. I refuse to stand aside and let it happen without standing in the way of it.

Q: One early reader of your manuscript reacted by saying that no animal got left behind in these pages. Does that sum up your philosophy?

PACELLE: It’s not enough to love and pamper your dog or your cat. It’s a start, and a good one. But we have duties to all animals, since each one of them has the capacity to suffer and feel pain. They all deserve our compassion, including animals in the food production system, those prodded and dissected in the laboratory, and those captured, trapped, and otherwise chased down by us in the wild. These are the goals of The Humane Society of the United States, and that is my goal for our world. I write about the biochemistry of our bond with other creatures—it’s instinctive and readily explainable. But the full expression of the human-animal bond requires moral awareness and commitment. Animals are not just in the backdrop of our own story, but at the center of the whole drama, and how we treat them is one of the great themes of the human story.

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