by Wayne Pacelle
William Morrow/Harper Collins
(10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022), 2011.
432 pages, hardcover. $26.95.
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
Wayne Pacelle, in The Bond: Our Kindship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, becomes the third president of the Humane Society of the U.S. to produce a book during his tenure, but the first whose book is a work of sole authorship.
Longtime Pacelle associate Mike Markarian describes The Bond as “one of the first major political books for animals, looking back on political activity in the movement and calling folks to action on political advocacy for animals in the future. A quarter-century ago,” Markarian accurately notes, “legislative activity and political organizing on behalf of animal protection was scarce.”
Animal advocates lobbied politicians and inundated them with calls and letters of protest, as they had for more than 100 years, but did not take an active role in either electing or defeating candidates for public office.
Pro-animal ballot initiatives had been put before the voters of several states during the preceding 50 years, but had either been defeated or, when victorious, were soon repealed by the state legislatures.
Pacelle was not the first animal advocate to mobilize voters to defeat an incumbent politician who took an anti-animal position. That honor went to Companion Animal Network founder Garo Alexanian, who toppled House of Representatives member Bill Green in 1992. But Pacelle noticed that Alexanian succeeded by just identifying fewer than 1,000 pro-animal swing voters in Green’s precinct, then sending each one a postcard on the eve of the election, bearing a reminder about Green’s voting record–which, ironically, was considered positive by several national humane organizations.
As national director of the Fund for Animals, assisted and eventually succeeded by Markarian, Pacelle chiefly led confrontational protests. His emulation of British hunt saboteur tactics backfired when within five years every U.S. state had passed anti-hunter harassment laws.
Jumping from the Fund to HSUS in 1994, where for 10 years Pacelle was vice president for legislation, Pacelle at first lobbied in the traditional manner. By 1996, however, Pacelle had begun to emphasize grassroots political organizing, with increasing success both in passing ballot initiatives and in mobilizing voting blocks to either reward or punish politicians for their positions on animal issues. Ascending to the HSUS presidency in 2004, Pacelle within six months brokered a merger with the Fund for Animals and created the Humane Society Legislative Fund, headed by Markarian.
As a young activist Pacelle hoped to form what he termed a “National Rifle Association of the animal rights movement,” meaning an organization to which politicians would have to listen. Twenty years later, the NRA, the American American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Farm Bureau Federation, among other frequent foes of pro-animal legislation, are increasingly often fighting rearguard defensive battles in state capital corridors to avoid making concessions to animal advocacy, because they are no longer able to win against animals in the open court of public opinion, and in each recent election have lost numerous legislative allies.
Many of the gains for animals achieved through grassroots organizing strategy are small, incremental, and allow the animal use industries years of phase-in time, during which the industries predictably lobby to weaken or erase the new animal care standards. Pacelle sees this as the beginning, not the end, of raising public expectations about how animals are treated and impressing upon the industry the need to accept change.
The Bond is neither a deep philosophical tome nor a
personally revealing autobiography, but Pacelle outlines the ideas that have most influenced him, and offers some personal vignettes.
His summaries of issues and how they have evolved offer no news to any longtime animal advocate, but are accurate both in outline and, mostly, in detail. Stumbles come chiefly in discussing companion animal issues, where Pacelle credits several former HSUS employees for larger roles than they really had in introducing ways, means, and motivation for reducing shelter killing. Pacelle overlooks that one of those ex-employees–Ed Duvin–was fired by HSUS for taking the “no-kill” positions that he did, and that HSUS vehemently opposed many of the new directions in
sheltering until early in Pacelle’s own tenure as president.
The Bond is essentially a well-informed extended campaign speech, seeking to win friends and to avoid making enemies. Pacelle attacks the NRA, AVMA, and Farm Bureau Federation, but avoids criticism of other animal advocates. His only major discussion of tactical differences within animal advocacy pertains to his decision to accept football player and convicted dogfighter Michael Vick as a public spokesperson for HSUS in opposition to dogfighting. Pacelle acknowledges other activists’ reasons for skepticism, but concludes that if the cause is to progress, activists must allow people who formerly exploited and abused animals the opportunity to demonstrate that they have changed.
The books by Pacelle’s predecessors John Hoyt and Paul Irwin, could also be described as extended campaign speeches, but were cobbled together from essays by numerous HSUS senior staff. Hoyt in Animals In Peril: How “Sustainable Use” Is Wiping Out The World’s Wildlife (1995) presented a timely, much needed, and quite thorough rebuttal of “sustainable use” conservation philosophy, especially as applied to African elephants. Hoyt, however, was at the very end of his 25-year HSUS presidency, and Animals In Peril offered little forward direction for either HSUS or animal advocacy.
Irwin in Losing Paradise (2000) was in mid-tenure, but offered only a muddled Jeremiad which called for little in specific except “a return to the traditional practices of conscientious family farmers, who cared for their animals and their land”–a sentimental phrasing which overlooked 10,000 years of cruelty, exploitation, and environmental havoc wrought by the farmers of every culture that was ever centered on animal husbandry.
The Bond is, as a whole, a coherent philosophical and strategic blueprint.