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Envisioning a Humane Economy

In his forthcoming book, HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle writes how the world can be better for animals—and humans, too

All Animals magazine, March/April 2016

Opportunities are dwindling for those who seek to profit from animal cruelty. Here, Wayne Pacelle comforts a dogfighting victim. Photo by Kathy Milani/For the HSUS

In his forthcoming book, a work Jane Goodall calls “essential reading for anyone interested in animal welfare,” HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle tells the story from the front lines of the animal protection movement. The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals illustrates how entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and Fortune 500 CEOs are using their own creativity to overcome cruelty.

In this Q&A, Pacelle shares his inspiration for the book, scheduled to release April 19, and how he hopes it will connect with readers’ minds and hearts. Scroll down for excerpts:
Ringling Relents »
A Capitalist Revolution »
Breaking the Chain on Dogfighting »

The opening of your book is about your two adopted pets and how you acquired them. How close do you think we are to ending pet homelessness in the U.S.?

There’s still a ways to go, but there’s undeniable progress—with animal protection advocates helping to bring down euthanasia numbers from about 15 million adoptable cats and dogs 40 years ago to fewer than 3 million today. Innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, corporate actors and rescuers are getting us there, and in the book I tell the story of a few high impact players who have delivered game-changing strategies.

How is working on a book different from your day-to-day role at The HSUS? What do you enjoy about the process?

Working on the book has been a duty and a pleasure. As the CEO of the largest animal protection group, I feel I’ve got a responsibility not only to execute winning campaigns for animals, but also to spark a dialogue and to frame the debate in society about our treatment of animals. I didn’t take a break from my work at The HSUS to write; instead I got up at 4:30 just about every morning for a year to focus on it. We are a far-flung organization, in the thick of nearly every major battle for animals, with staff members working around the clock all over the globe, so it’s not like I have a lot of spare time. It was an act of real will and discipline, but I actually think it was beneficial for me, because it forced me to think more deeply about the amazing sweep of reforms in which we’ve been involved in just the last few years and to share some of what I learned.

If you could choose three people to read The Humane Economy, who would they be and why?

What’s amazing is that so many extraordinarily influential people are already on board, and they are featured in the book—Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, investment guru Carl Icahn, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, politicians such as Senator Cory Booker, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, and others. Their involvement is thrilling to me. I would love to see Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg read it. He’s set to become one of the biggest philanthropists in the world, and he’s already one of the most influential figures of the Information Age. I’d really like the president of China, Xi Jinping, to read it, given the magnitude of animal use in the world’s most populous nation. And I’d like the new prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, to read it, so that he can see that the seal hunt in Canada is an economic boondoggle. It’s the epitome of an antiquated and costly form of animal exploitation, and the world will soon say “good riddance.”

  • "When there is a base of consumers who are alert to animal welfare issues in the marketplace, you'll see even more companies adopt practices to reflect that sentiment," Pacelle says. Buy your copy of The Humane Economy.

Do you think we’ve reached a “tipping point” where creating a more just world for animals has become a priority? And if not, what will it take?

Every issue within the animal field has its own dynamic, and some issues long ago reached a tipping point, such as the revulsion to dogfighting and general antipathy to malicious animal cruelty. But what’s so exciting for me to see is that we are now close to reaching a tipping point on the intensive confinement of animals on factory farms, the use of animals in cosmetic and chemical testing, the use of wild animals in entertainment and a range of other issues. We’ve got immense challenges ahead, but the progress we’ve witnessed, especially in the last few years, has been extraordinary.

You talk about the long campaigns to persuade corporate giants such as McDonald’s and Walmart to adopt more humane standards for their supply chains. What companies would you next like to see join their ranks?

Walmart has made an initial pledge to honor the Five Freedoms of Farm Animal Welfare. But now we hope this very important company will set definite timeframes to cleanse its supply chain of products that violate these standards. I also want the big supermarkets, not only to adopt cage-free standards, but to adhere to a certification system for their animal products, so that consumers can have more information in the marketplace. It’s not a company, but I hope the National Institutes of Health, the largest public funder of medical research in the world, continues to evolve and invest in alternatives to animal experiments and calls on the scientific community to put those practices to work.

The backlash against SeaWorld after the Blackfish documentary was swift and severe. Do you think consumers can apply enough pressure that the company will finally retire its orcas?

Yes, it’s just a matter of time. Having orcas doing tricks in small concrete pools is no longer a sustainable business model, and I think you’ll be hearing more about this soon. Who would have thought Ringling Bros. would end its use of traveling elephant acts—the part of the show so central to the brand? The company knew that ultimately it was sustaining brand damage by continuing with that form of animal exploitation. It decided, as SeaWorld will, that it’s better to control the transition to a new business approach than to have it imposed by lawmakers or by customers leaving in droves. The reaction to Blackfish was a great lesson to businesses based on animal abuse: In the new economy, the only sustainable business model is a humane one. [Update: On March 17, 2016, SeaWorld announced it will end all orca breeding.]

What can average citizens do to help the humane economy grow?

As consumers, we have the power to influence outcomes for animals by making conscious food choices, buying products not tested on animals, adopting homeless animals and seeking out alternatives to fur and other cruelly produced garments. We can all get involved in the political process by contacting elected officials and encouraging them to take action on critical policy proposals. We should not be bystanders—especially given the gravity of the moral problems and the opportunities for each of us to make a mark.  

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Excerpts from The Humane Economy

Ringling's elephants can travel to more than 100 cities a year, chained in box cars for an average of 26 hours at a time. Photo by Luke Sharrett/The New York Times/Redux

Ringling Relents

With elephants at the very center of the company brand of Ringling Bros., the news [that it will retire the animals] was something like the fall of the Berlin wall for the animal protection movement. Relative to factory farming or animal testing, circuses use few animals—perhaps tens of thousands, if you add them up all over the world, as compared to millions and billions in the biggest of animal-use industries. But the symbolism was incomparable because you’d be hard pressed to find a kid who hasn’t attended a circus; it’s been something of a cultural rite of passage for a child to go to Ringling, which each year spent millions to draw in kids by advertising elephants as the featured performers. Precisely because it was Ringling, the decision to stop using elephants had—like the animals themselves—special force and weight. No other circus had Ringling’s resources or resolve in defending the animal-based circus as a business model—sparing no expense in enlisting lawyers and lobbyists to fight reform at every turn. With Ringling finally closing the curtain on this act, the politics of using elephants in circuses—and perhaps even other wild animals, too—was upended. It was a signal moment in the progress of the humane economy, demonstrating that even the most familiar and supposedly benign forms of cruelty can eventually give way to change for the better.

It had not been a smooth road, however. Over the years, Ringling’s Ken Feld earned a reputation for ruthlessness and cunning in dealing with his adversaries. In the early 1990s, Feld hired Clair George, a former deputy director of operations for the Central Intelligence Agency, to lead a series of clandestine operations to gather intelligence on his foes and to distract or disrupt them. One target was Janice Pottker, a freelancer who wrote a 10,000-word piece on Feld Entertainment for the Washington, D.C., area business magazine Regardie’s. When Pottker signaled that she wanted to dig in deeper and write a book about the Feld family, Feld unleashed Clair George. George in turn enlisted an operative, Robert Eringer, to befriend Pottker and disrupt her project, according to thousands of pages of documents unsealed in a later legal dispute. This intrigue directed against a largely unknown journalist was an eight-year gambit for Feld. It was utterly disproportionate and overreaching—Pottker estimates that Feld spent $3 million on the surveillance and disruption effort.

Feld may have recognized that the American public had become alert to the plight of captive elephants and didn't want any part in their mistreatment.

George, who had been drummed out of the CIA after his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, also allegedly oversaw the infiltration by Feld operatives of at least two animal protection groups critical of the circus—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Feld got into protracted legal fights with both of those groups, ultimately paying PAWS an undisclosed financial settlement and giving the group several Ringling elephants, who were retired to the organization’s California sanctuary. Subsequently, Feld became embroiled in a legal bout with a another set of animal welfare groups, which sued Ringling for allegedly violating the Endangered Species Act by routinely chaining, beating and abusing Asian elephants. That case, originally led by the ASPCA, Animal Welfare Institute and The Fund for Animals, lasted all of 14 years, and in the end turned out well for Feld. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan denied the animal protection groups standing to sue and never ruled on the merits of the original claim against the circus. As was customary for Feld when he felt threatened, he went on the offense, filing a civil RICO case against the animal welfare groups. The legal saga—both the original case filed by animal organizations and then the civil RICO claim by Feld—was settled just 10 months before Ringling’s announcement to retire the elephants. The animal groups (including The HSUS, which was brought into the case after it combined operations with an original plaintiff, The Fund for Animals) ended up paying Feld’s legal fees but did not admit to any of Feld’s far-fetched claims in the RICO suit; in fact, the litigation only exposed some further damning information about the treatment of animals by Ringling.

So how could a guy willing to go to these lengths—spending millions on public relations, infiltration efforts, and endless litigation—pivot so sharply, especially after his most recent lawsuit went his way? It may have been fatigue from decades of battle over animal welfare issues against both animal groups and government regulators. In November 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined Ringling $270,000 to settle numerous alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including forcing an injured elephant to perform, allowing animal escapes and losing control of an elephant inside a crowded arena. The fine against Ringling—though inconsequential against Feld Entertainment’s hundreds of millions in revenue—was nonetheless the largest animal welfare penalty ever meted out in the agency’s history and a black mark against the company.

But more likely Ken Feld was looking ahead—seeing no end to the political fight, with more local ordinances [against bull hooks, the cruel instruments used to train elephants] expected to germinate throughout the country. Feld may have recognized that the American public had become alert to the plight of captive elephants and didn’t want any part in their mistreatment. …

Through the years, Feld and animal advocates did agree on one thing: Asian elephants are extraordinary in so many ways, with their gargantuan size, long and dexterous trunks (operated by 40,000 muscles) and ability to fascinate people with their very presence. They had, for decades, been the not-so-secret sauce in Ringling’s formula for success, as well as the main provocation to animal advocates. Ringling had long traded on the public’s fascination and love for pachyderms, but that made the business vulnerable, since there was a backstory of exploitation that had the potential to alienate the fans who came, in large part, because of their affection for elephants. The circus, like other enterprises that use and harm animals, is involved in a sort of never-ending cover-up—using all the right rhetoric in talking about its devotion to the animals and its high-caliber animal care, even as its handlers beat the animals with bull hooks and kept them in chains. …

It isn’t so much the handling of the animals during a live performance, but what happens before and afterwards, in the shadows where nobody’s around to watch.

More companies, such as Chipotle, are choosing business models that support higher welfare standards for farm animals. Photo by Kathy Milani/The HSUS

A Capitalist Revolution

Chipotle, which describes itself as a fast-food company with a conscience, made its stand against extreme confinement of animals a centerpiece of its brand years ago, and it’s been building on that notion ever since—with phenomenal success. In 2000, company founder Steve Ells was visiting a hog farm in Thornton, Iowa, where he saw free-range pigs foraging, grunting and socializing outside, and he was shocked to learn that most pigs, cooped up in factory farms, would never enjoy such simple pleasures. “I didn’t want my success or Chipotle’s to be based on that,” said Ells. So he made a commitment to buy all of Chipotle’s pork from farms that do not crate pigs—part of a broader “Food with Integrity” commitment. Chipotle has since campaigned aggressively against factory farming, producing a series of viral YouTube videos that earned millions of views and shined a light on the excesses of industrial agriculture. Ells’ decision—benefitting animals but also a boon to small farmers and the environment—has paid off handsomely for the company. Between 1998 and 2013, Chipotle grew from just eighteen restaurants to more than 2,000. Its revenues for the first time ever exceeded a billion dollars in the first quarter of 2015.

That incredible revenue growth—Chipotle had done $727 million in sales in the first quarter just two years earlier—occurred at a time when the company had a major disruption in its supply chain. In January 2015, Chipotle learned that one of its suppliers had violated the company’s animal care standards. Chipotle promptly cut off the supplier even though it would face a shortage of higher-welfare pork. Chipotle stopped selling its popular carnitas at more than 1,500 of its restaurants. “We would rather not serve pork at all than serve pork from animals that are raised this way,” Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesperson told the press. “Replacing the supply we have lost in these ways will take some time, but it is important to us to maintain our high standards for pork, and we will continue to see some shortage while we work to increase the available supply.” Food industry analysts noted that the decision “shines their halo” and reminds customers that the company stands for something meaningful, which also burnishes the brand and grows revenues.

We would rather not serve pork at all than serve pork from animals that are raised this way." —Chris Arnold, Chipotle spokesperson

Whole Foods Market co-founder John Mackey, co-author with Raj Sisodia of Conscious Capitalism and also a board member with HSUS, argues that every company must have a higher purpose than profit making. Mackey has reformed not only his company’s pork procurement practices, but also its approach to every other kind of animal product sold in its stores. Mackey made Whole Foods the first major food retailer to adopt a program that raises animal welfare standards and gives customers information to act on their beliefs about any animal product. He provided the inspiration for the Global Animal Partnership (GAP), an animal products certification program with a five-step animal welfare rating system that helps farmers move away from confinement and toward more humane, pasture-based systems.

While other certification systems declare a product humane or not humane—a binary approach—the beauty of GAP’s framework is that the rating system allows consumers and producers to ask more of themselves and to embark on a sort of moral climbing expedition. With competition spurring them on, along with the moral adrenaline that comes with doing the right thing, many producers who are already part of the program incorporate more animal welfare standards into their husbandry practices and go from step one to step three and eventually to step five. Consumers, driven by the same sort of moral positive feedback systems, are spurred to pay a bit more and bring home higher-welfare products. With a race to the top on both the supply and demand sides, animals benefit.

By the end of 2015, GAP was connecting millions of consumers with more than 3,000 farms through more than 400 Whole Foods stores and was the most important and comprehensive animal welfare program associated with agriculture. Overall, Whole Foods does $16 billion in annual sales, and reports that sales of more ethically sourced animal products are robust and growing. Other major food retailers have mimicked Whole Foods’ in-store innovations, and I expect other industry leaders to adopt the GAP program or develop their own animal welfare standards over time. Even with the other giants in food retail not yet on board, and Whole Foods as the biggest purchaser of GAP-certified products, there are now more than 300 million animals certified under the program and free from the harshest forms of confinement on factory farms. …

For those clinging to old, crude ways, there really are no escape routes with an informed citizenry. Consumer sentiment should alone be enough to lever a change in the way the pig industry goes about its business; but when that’s reinforced with the demands of food retailers, institutional investors, pollsters, politicians, scientists and other influential people, you know the end of the era of gestation crate confinement looms. It’s almost as if the old guard is in a box, unable to make a turn and see what’s best for them. The only humane thing to do is show them a way into the light and fresh air of the burgeoning humane economy.

In a 2013 raid, The HSUS and other groups rescued 367 dogfighting victims, while authorities recovered drugs, firearms and more than $500,000 in gambling proceeds. Photo by Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Breaking the Chain on Dogfighting

When the lead member of the SWAT team made his first few attempts to break down the front door, he quickly realized something more than a firm kick was in order. Robin Stinson, a convicted felon and a suspected dogfighter, had reinforced the doors with steel in his refurbished double-wide, green-paneled white trailer, and then dropped wooden planks across the doors to impede forced entry. Apparently, he suspected he might draw some uninvited guests, whether angry dogfighters, rival drug dealers or perhaps even a SWAT team like the one massed outside his home that morning. The man had good reason to be concerned about the last group, since the county sheriff’s office, acting on a tip, had obtained a search warrant two years earlier and turned his trailer inside out. Deputies didn’t uncover enough evidence to bring charges then, but they had a feeling there would be another visit.

Unbowed, or maybe just unaware of law enforcement’s interest in him, Stinson persisted in fighting dogs at pits throughout the South and continued to keep dogs on his property. On the morning we showed up alongside the sheriff’s deputies, 18 pit bulls strained on 6-foot-long metal chains staked into the dirt. Most of the dogs had a small rudimentary wooden enclosure, providing just the barest relief from southern Alabama’s late August sun.

I had set my alarm for 3 a.m., as had about fifty other HSUS personnel and volunteers assigned to this site and six others for possible raids in Alabama and southern Georgia. Our team met downstairs at 3:30 a.m. at a Hampton Inn in Dothan, all of us in our blue Animal Rescue Team jackets. We drove about 20 minutes to the outskirts of town to an old peanut warehouse that now serves as a staging area for the Houston County Sheriff’s Office. We waited for clearance to proceed to the site an hour away, heading through the early morning fog as we passed over the Pea River and into Elba until we found Stinson’s home.

These men had believed they were beyond the reach of the law and that they would suffer no consequences from profiting from animal cruelty.

The fortified door proved only a temporary problem. A battering ram would do. While some members of the SWAT team were knocking down the door, others broke through a large-frame window, throwing flash grenades into the bedroom to disorient the suspect as the teams rushed in behind. Stinson was thought to be armed and dangerous.

He started to run, but with a dozen officers drawing weapons he quickly figured out the situation and surrendered. By 6:30 a.m., he was in the custody of U.S. Marshals and on his way to Montgomery for booking.

After police secured the premises, our HSUS team moved in to handle and seize the dogs. I mapped the property. At the center was the house trailer, with its large wraparound patio. A cedar fence extended almost to the outer reaches of the property. In the yard were an aboveground swimming pool, a satellite dish and scattered mounds of junk—rusting chairs, stacks of wooden pylons and metal pipes. According to the sheriff’s deputies who had been on the site two years earlier, Stinson had recently upgraded his home. The trailer had doubled in size, with six freshly painted bedrooms. All of the fencing was new. It wasn’t opulent, but it wasn’t too bad for a guy without a regular job.

The chained dogs were at the rear of the property, where the fence made them invisible from the road. The chains were not long enough for any of the dogs to interact, and that was by design—after all, they had been bred and trained to fight. The fencing wasn’t quite finished, so you could see some of the tethered dogs from the road if you were in just the right spot.  Two little dogs were kept in rabbit hutches with feces piled up beneath them.

Despite years of neglect and suffering in such disgraceful conditions, the dogs greeted us with ears down and wiggling rear ends and tails. A few of them were hyper, starved for attention after having been denied affection for so long.  Seeing the men and women who had come to rescue them, they seemed to instantly know that here was a different breed of person, clearly unlike what they were used to. Every one of them welcomed clean water, since the metal bowls within reach of their chains contained two inches of stagnant, fetid, discolored slurry. The dogs couldn’t dispense enough kisses or get close enough to the volunteers. The ones I bent down to pat wagged their tails; even their tongues seemed to be wagging too. My colleagues all got into the act, taking a little time to comfort the animals before we started documenting the scene, taking pictures of the dogs and then delivering each one to our vet teams stationed out front.

We didn’t need a diagnosis from the vets to conclude that many of the dogs were undernourished. The older dogs had scars on their faces and forelimbs. Fleas covered other body parts. One sickly looking, emaciated older dog had been eating his own vomit. Another had to be rushed directly to a veterinary hospital.

My colleagues joined law enforcement agents at six other locations that morning for arrests and dog seizures. All told, at the thirteen sites raided by police, The HSUS, the ASPCA and other animal welfare groups rescued 367 dogs.  It is thought to be the second-largest dogfighting bust ever in the United States. (The biggest one was an eight-state operation centered in Missouri in July 2009, where we joined law enforcement teams and other animal groups in seizing more than 500 dogs.) By the time every lead had been chased down, using evidence gathered in the initial raids, we’d helped to rescue more than 400 dogs.

Ten suspects, including Stinson, were arrested and indicted on felony dogfighting charges. Federal and local officials also seized firearms and drugs, as well as more than $500,000 in gambling proceeds. And they discovered the remains of dead animals on some properties where dogs were housed and allegedly fought. “The lowest places in hell would be reserved for those who would commit cruelty to animals,” said George L. Beck, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, when he announced the indictments.

Throughout that morning, my mind raced with thoughts.  If the dogs weren’t too damaged, we could turn their lives around with veterinary attention and behavioral work, and get them rehabilitated and then adopted. I also reflected on how quickly fortunes could change, even in the lonely life of an abused dog. They had all been destined for life at the end of a heavy chain, untethered only when they entered a dogfighting pit. But thanks to the SWAT teams and our Animal Rescue Team, they’d experienced, perhaps for the first time, sustained human kindness. At the very least, they’d never see the inside of a dogfighting pit again.

In a different way, this operation would also turn around the lives of the dogfighting suspects. These men had believed they were beyond the reach of the law and that they would suffer no consequences for profiting from animal cruelty. After they had chained and penned up the animals, now the state had a pen of its own for them. Even when their families or friends visited, there would be a wall between them. Was the dogfighting business so lucrative and exhilarating that Stinson and other suspects would risk their freedom for it?  Would a taste of confinement make them think about the far worse punishments they had inflicted on those dogs?

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