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15 Minutes with HSUS President Wayne Pacelle

08:48AM Jan 24, 2011

Earlier this month, AgWeb editor Greg Vincent and I sat down with Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the U.S. president, at the Missouri capital. After a day of visiting with Missouri legislatures to keep Missouri’s puppy mill law in place, Pacelle said he and his staff also wanted to “challenge some of the false notions about the Humane Society of the United States,” he said.

Throughout the interview, Pacelle emphasized his organization’s desire to enter into discussions with U.S. farmers. “I think the agreement we hatched in Ohio was I thought a great example. We were heading toward a ballot initiative and then we all sat down together…and we crafted a solution that none of us felt entirely good about but that we all felt we could move forward with,” he says.

“Do you think the measures like in Ohio will work in every state? Is that something you are looking for from Missouri?” I asked.

“You know, I’ve stated publically before that we are not looking to do any ballot initiative in Missouri on farm animal welfare,” Pacelle said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because we just decided that we are not going to do it,” Pacelle said.

“Do you think Missouri farmers are better at producing their animals?” I asked.

“Well, I think what we want is a general principle, not just in Missouri, is we want to have more dialogue and more discussion, which is part of the reason I’m talking to you guys. We want to have this discussion with farmers,” he replied.

What are acceptable production practices? “I just visited one of our member’s farms in Nebraska that was a cattle ranch, 1,000 cattle, and I think they are doing a fabulous job. In fact we are forming a national farmers and ranchers council for the Humane Society of the United States,” Pacelle said.

“Can you describe some of the practices he was engaging in that would make this an ideal situation?” Vincent asked.

“Well, I think you haven’t ever really heard any big criticisms on the production side of cattle production from the humane society,” Pacelle said. “Cattle are generally in extensive systems, they are grazing, they have outdoor access. We have been concerned about downer cows. We have advocated for a no downer policy and we think that is a sensible policy from an animal care perspective as well as from the beef industry’s perspective. Frankly the beef industry has gotten more the shaft on this issue than more of a dairy issue.”

Money and image. HSUS has been most critiqued in regards to financial transparency and their image as an umbrella animal shelter organization. “We have it on our website that we don’t run the shelters—we support the shelters, help set standards, publish the magazine for the field, have the national trade show, but there is no group that runs the shelters,” Pacelle said.

“You can not measure the direct care work of an organization by saying well the only stuff that counts are the grants they give to local shelters. We have the biggest network of animal care centers in the United States. We have a national veterinary core that deals with thousands of animals. We treat in rural areas where there are no vets. We have an emergency response unit that deploys to raid cock fights and dog fights , deal with puppy mills that go awry—any sort of animal crisis situation.

“We spend millions, tens of millions on direct care of animals…We have our own experts; we have our own staff that give animal care we don’t need to give money to another group,” he said.

“How much money do you spend directly on animal welfare research through the Humane Society?” I asked.

“Well we don’t need to do research to say that dog fighting is wrong. It’s wrong and we stop it. Cockfighting—,” he said.

“Let’s take it back to the ag community,” I said.

“We have an agreement with the Ohio groups to together spend money on research to solve some of these issues and to give farmers best practices in moving forward with animal production strategies,” Pacelle said. “But you know the whole thing that—HSUS is one group. What do all the farm groups spend on research? I mean, why is all the scrutiny on HSUS about trying to micromanage everything we do? We do things because that is what our board and our members want. The reason groups are concerned about us is because we are very effective.”

“What credibility does HSUS offer more than veterinarians and industry professionals? Where does that authority come from?” I asked.

“The authority comes from—these are moral questions. I mean, the Humane Society has veterinarians, it has animal scientists, it has a whole scientific convey of people. We are not saying that we need to germinate every idea, just like no individual association need to generate every idea about animal welfare. Science happens in a lot of places and you aggregate that information and you move forward with the best information in order to make science based decisions. But science alone doesn’t give you the answer. Science and values together give you answers. And that is where the Humane Society has moved forward.

“One can chose to be completely adversarial about it and say the Humane Society 'they don’t do enough of this and they don’t do enough of that,' or we can begin to have a dialogue to solve some of these issues. Because I assure you that the initiative process is not the way we want to solve the issue. We want to have a discussion and move forward cooperatively and Ohio provides a great case example of how to do that."