You don’t have to be one of the 10 million members of the Humane Society of the United States to recognize the name Wayne Pacelle — the President and CEO of the nation’s largest animal organization.
Under Pacelle’s direction, the HSUS has achieved massive victories for animals throughout the world and will celebrate some of those triumphs on March 28th at the 23rd annual Genesis Awards. Ecorazzi recently had the chance to sit down with El Presidente and pick his brain. Check out the interview below!
Ecorazzi: You’ve been involved with the HSUS for 15 years. How did you first become interested in animal welfare issues?
Wayne Pacelle: You know I think I was genetically programmed to advocate for animals. It was always a very powerful emotional feeling that we should not misuse our power in our relationship with other animals. I never imagined it as a profession, but my volunteer work led to employment and here I am at the HSUS and it’s a real privilege to be able to work for the nation’s largest animal protection group.
E: The HSUS just announced that JCPenney agreed to go fur-free. Tell me about how your organization played a part in that.
WP: We did a major set of investigations into some really troubling aspects of the fur industry. One was we looked in China and found that millions of dogs and cats were being killed for their fur and it was finding it’s way into fur trim. So that decreased confidence in fur trim. A lot of people had thought, “No big deal it’s just a little bit of fur,” but when we brought up that dog and cat fur was being used it suddenly became much more radioactive from a moral perspective.
Then we also did an investigation into the killing of these Raccoon Dogs – which are canine type wild animals that are used in fur production in China as well as Finland and some other countries. We saw some really inhumane killing methods and brought that to the attention of JCPenney and other major retailers. I really think that information was decisive in JCPenney deciding to forgo the use of fur.
E: The HSUS has certainly seen their fair share of victories. What would you say has been your proudest achievement at the HSUS?
WP: There are so many things that I’m proud of, and more importantly happy that animals have had suffering relieved. The banning of cockfighting in all 50 states was a personal goal of mine, and also making all animal fighting a felony – that was a big moment.
But I have to say that Prop 2 is certainly among the most important victories because it showed that the public is concerned about the welfare of farm animals. Many people thought the public’s compassion for animals might be limited to companion animals or wildlife and not farm animals.
E: Still, would you say there remains a large disconnect between our love for animals and what we choose to put on our plates?
WP: There’s no question. We as individuals and as a society have long disregarded our own involvement in contributing to animal suffering through our diet. I mean today most animal-products that people consume are coming from factory farms. The animals are inhumanely treated on these operations and thought of just as meat, milk and egg producing machines. So yes, I do think there’s a disconnect. That’s one of the reasons the HSUS exist. We attempt to apply anti-cruelty standards in people’s lives and hold corporations to the same standards as well.
E: The Genesis Awards are taking place in about 2 weeks. Can you give us any inside gossip on some things we might expect to see this year?
WP: Well, we’re very excited about Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi coming to the Genesis Awards and receiving the Wyler Award — the highest Genesis honor. We’re just excited to celebrate so many people who’ve used their talents to illuminate these important issues.
E: If you had to choose, who would you say has been the most outspoken celebrity for animal-issues this year?
WP: I think Oprah and Ellen both took it to another level in 2008. Oprah did a full show on Prop 2 and a series of shows on puppy mills. Ellen was centrally involved in Prop 2 and devoted several of her shows to animal issues. I think both of them really stepped up this year. In fact, I just got an email from a friend in Madagascar who saw me on Oprah’s show about puppy mills. So they’re not just important cultural forces in the United States, but globally, and they’re doing their part to help spread the word about animal issues.
E: Over the past year Nigel Barker has become a good friend of the site. We’re really proud of the work that both he and your organization are doing with the Canadian Seal Hunt. I know the hunt begins again in less than two weeks. What’s the latest update on your group’s effort to try and end the seal hunt in Canada?
WP: Nigel is another celebrity who’s going to be at Genesis and we’re really excited to recognize him as well.
We are making progress on the hunt. We are really doing well in Europe in our efforts to try and ban seal skins from coming into the entire European union. We’re also very pleased that Vladimir Putin in Russia is condemning seal hunting and hopefully will ban Canadian seal pelts as well. All of these things are important to choke off markets for Canada. The seal pelts aren’t used in Canada and we don’t allow them to be imported in the United States, but Europe and Russia are big markets. So I think if we can close those markets that will be the end of the large-scale commercial seal hunt.
E: While you have many animal-loving fans, not everyone is excited about the work the HSUS is doing. You’ve been called “enemy number one,” by the pro-hunting group U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and targeted by various other pro-hunting groups. What do you say to those who think we need to hunt in order to control the animal population?
WP: Really what the HSUS does in the hunting realm is target the most egregious of cases, such as bear-bating or aerial hunting of wolves. It’s really only extremist organizations like the NRA and the U.S Sportsmen Alliance that recognize HSUS as “enemy number one” to their particularly inhumane practices.
Some of these groups will defend anything. Just as with agriculture we focus on these confinement methods and mutilations practices like tail-docking, with hunting we really concentrate on curving the worst of uses. We’re trying to hold hunters and farmers to their own self-professed standards and unfortunately there are folks within these industries who will just defend anything.
E: Now I always end with the same question for all the famous vegetarians I interview. If you had the chance to meet one person who you’ve found specifically instrumental in the vegetarian or animal rights community – dead or alive, past or present – who would it be and why?
WP: I’m sure that many people invoke his name, but I think it would probably be Gandhi. Not only because of his personal dietary regimen, but also for his role as the leader of an independent movement. He had to balance his personal habits with a larger political objective, and he obviously did it in a brilliant way. So I would have to choose him.
A big thank you to Wayne Pacelle and everyone at the HSUS for their incredible work. To learn more about how you can attend the Genesis Awards and help celebrate those who are making a difference, visit HSUS.org.