The Indictment of Wayne Pacelle
August 9, 2011 by Nathan J. Winograd
In the past, I have written many blogs showing how Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, has betrayed the animals he is pledged to protect. From calling for the deaths of the victims of Michael Vick and then championing Michael Vick himself, from opposing No Kill in San Francisco and other communities and working to defeat progressive animal protection legislation in Texas, to publicly maligning and then calling for the death of cats, to his numerous fundraising scandals, time and again Pacelle has proven he is not fit to be head of the largest animal protection organization in the nation. Indeed, he is not fit to have any role in this movement.
With this blog, I set out to do something different. I have catalogued Pacelle’s misdeeds, one after another, so that there is a clear, thorough, and concise public record. While each of the sordid actions I have detailed are powerful enough in and of themselves to expose Pacelle as a dishonest and inauthentic advocate for animals, it is my hope that when considered as a whole, these incidents connect the dots to further reveal an unmistakable, deliberate, and consistent pattern to Pacelle’s behavior: one that shows a disregard for the animals welfare, a determination to undermine the work of progressive reformers, and the use of fraudulent and dishonest fundraising schemes.
I am a former Deputy District Attorney. As a DDA, I prosecuted all kinds of cases, either as the trial attorney, the motions deputy, the preliminary hearing deputy, or as the charging attorney. That includes rape, child sexual assault, domestic violence, animal cruelty, burglary, robbery, murder. Which is why I’ve chosen to lay out a case against Wayne Pacelle as if I was arguing before a judge or jury. I’ve written it with an opening statement, allegations and evidence, and a summation. Obviously, this is not a criminal complaint. And it is for the authorities to decide whether Pacelle’s actions amounts to legal fraud in, for example, the way Pacelle and his team intentionally mislead people to separate them from their money. Whether it is legal fraud or not, I believe it is unethical, irresponsible, and moreover, deliberate.
But as for the claims I make against him, you are the judge and jury, and I will leave it to each and every one of you to decide whether you believe, as I do, that he is guilty of the allegations I’ve laid out. This is my ten count “indictment” against Wayne Pacelle. And I am trying it in the court of public opinion.
I want to start by discussing, not Wayne Pacelle, but his associate, the notorious dog fighter Michael “Monster” Vick. Calling Michael Vick a dog fighter does not paint the picture adequately or accurately. Michael Vick took a dog and hung him by the neck “by placing a nylon cord over a 2 x 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed.” When the dog didn’t die, Vick put on the pair of overalls he wore when he did not want to get blood from the dogs on his expensive tailored suits, and drowned the dog in a 5 gallon bucket of water. He took a second dog that would not die from hanging and tossed the dog to the side, later hanging him again, this time until he did die. Even when some of his co-conspirators wanted to give away dogs who would not fight rather than kill them, Vick refused, stating “they got to go,” meaning the dogs needed to be killed. Vick beat dogs to death. He watched dogs drown in his swimming pool, he shot them, he electrocuted them, he buried them alive, he savagely abused them, he took great enjoyment in it, and he found it funny to watch family pets being torn apart.
Here is what one person involved wrote about her experience:
I just can’t get myself away from the swimming pool in Vick’s yard. I first learned about it while riding in the back seat of a federal agent’s car that sweltering Tuesday back in Sept 07. The agent was assigned with escorting us to the various Virginia shelters so we could evaluate “the evidence” otherwise known as 49 pit bulls – now known as cherished family pets: Hector, Georgia, Sweet Jasmine and the rest. I’m not sure if sharing insider information with us was kosher, but you know how driving down long country roads can get you talking. I imagine she just needed to get some things off her chest. She said she was having trouble sleeping since the day they exhumed the bodies on the Moonlight Road property. She said that when she watched the investigators uncover the shallow graves, she was compelled to want to climb in and pick up the decomposing dogs and comfort and cradle them. She knew that was crazy talk, and she was grappling with trying to understand such a surprising impulse.
Her candor set the tone for this entire saga. Everyone we worked with was deeply affected by the case. The details that got to me then and stay with me today involve the swimming pool that was used to kill some of the dogs. Jumper cables were clipped onto the ears of underperforming dogs, then, just like with a car, the cables were connected to the terminals of car batteries before lifting and tossing the shamed dogs into the water. Most of Vick’s dogs were small – 40lbs or so – so tossing them in would’ve been fast and easy work for thick athlete arms. We don’t know how many suffered this premeditated murder, but the damage to the pool walls tells a story. It seems that while they were scrambling to escape, they scratched and clawed at the pool liner and bit at the dented aluminum sides like a hungry dog on a tin can.
I wear some pretty thick skin during our work with dogs, but I can’t shake my minds-eye image of a little black dog splashing frantically in bloody water … screaming in pain and terror … brown eyes saucer wide and tiny black white-toed feet clawing at anything, desperate to get a hold. This death did not come quickly. The rescuer in me keeps trying to think of a way to go back in time and somehow stop this torture and pull the little dog to safety. I think I’ll be looking for ways to pull that dog out for the rest of my life.
And Michael Vick would still be doing those things if he could, but he can’t. Not because he knows better. Not because he has learned his lesson. Not because decency, and conscience, and compassion dictate that he can’t. But because he was caught. Michael Vick has never expressed any remorse for what he did. In fact, when he and Wayne Pacelle recently appeared together on a radio show, Vick said his was and is “a different kind of loving dogs.” And rather than condemn Vick for it, Wayne Pacelle, the head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization, agreed. He said: “obviously people who are involved in dog-fighting … they really do value the animals in certain ways.” And then, for the second time, he went on to suggest that we are all guilty. We are all “sinners.”
Michael Vick continues to avoid any responsibility for his crimes by claiming shooting dogs, drowning dogs, hanging dogs alive, electrocuting dogs, beating dogs to death and watching them tear each other to shreds is his way of expressing a “different kind” of love. And Wayne Pacelle has publicly stated that that man, that monster, would make a good pet owner and thus should be given the opportunity.
Over the years, Pacelle has shown how little he appears to care for animals. Time and time again, he has taken positions that are the antithesis of what you would expect from the head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization. Time and time again, he has sided with regressive and even cruel pound directors, championed the killing of dogs and cats, and worked to hinder the progress of the No Kill movement.
Given a history of anti-animal positions he has taken, it would seem unlikely that Pacelle could choose to do anything that would still have the power to shock us. But I must admit that Pacelle stunned me with how truly low and vile he has sunk with his embrace of Michael Vick. With his making Vick a spokesman for HSUS. With his claiming that Vick would make a good dog owner. And with his fighting to give Vick his old life back, thereby undoing the lesson every kid in American learned: abuse a dog and you’ll pay dearly. You’ll lose everything. Instead, he chose to give them a very different lesson: that if the lives of those animals don’t matter much to the Humane Society of the United States, why should they matter to you?
To Wayne Pacelle, Vick’s victims—the dogs who were still alive when he was arrested—did not deserve a second chance. He lobbied the court to have each and every one put to death. But the abuser, the killer, the man who shot and hung and electrocuted and drown and beat dogs to death, did and does. And to Wayne Pacelle, that’s valuing animals. That is love.
Can you imagine the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence embracing wife killer O.J. Simpson as a spokesman? Can anyone imagine the National Organization to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children embracing notorious pedophile John Geoghan as a spokesman? Can anyone imagine the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network embracing rapist Josef Fritzl as a spokesman? And yet the head of the nation’s largest animal protection organization did this very thing: embraced our version of Simpson, Geoghan, and Fritzl. It is beyond obscene. It is unthinkable. But that is what Wayne Pacelle did. And with Pacelle, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Count Two: In 1993, Wayne Pacelle’s group, the Fund For Animals, was seeking legislation to round up and kill cats in California. A coalition of TNR and rescue groups lined up in opposition to AB 302 and AB 1000. The latter was the most draconian of the two. Despite only a couple of cat rabies cases per year, and some years none, AB 1000 would have empowered animal control officers to kill cats on sight in the field if they didn’t have proof of rabies. Though tragic, it was unsurprising. In the Funds for Animals legislative wrap-up, they supported an ordinance that would have made it illegal to trap cats in Santa Cruz with two exceptions, one of which was “for proper disposal,” as if the cats were nothing more than yesterday’s trash. I wrote Pacelle and asked him to please stop the pro-killing advocacy. He failed to reply. His response, not to me but to a mutual friend, was that cats kill birds.
Count Three: In 2007, while Wayne Pacelle was lobbying to have the Vick dogs killed, he was fundraising off of them by telling donors that they were caring for them, when they were not. He falsely claimed that “Officials from our organization have examined some of these dogs and, generally speaking, they are some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country.” In fact, following their actual assessment, only one dog was deemed too vicious to save. He thus lied, perjuring himself as an advocate for the mass slaughter of abuse victims. But he almost succeeded in having them killed.
Shortly after the case broke, HSUS contacted the U.S. Attorney prosecuting Vick and asked if they could be “involved” and see the dogs (then being held at six animal control shelters in Virginia). The U.S. Attorney agreed but only on condition that they take no photographs and not publicly talk about the dogs (citing fears of compromising the case, sensitivities involved in the prosecution, and issues surrounding rules of evidence). HSUS agreed and then promptly violated that agreement. HSUS staffers took photographs of the dogs with people wearing “HSUS” shirts to make it appear that HSUS was directly involved in the case and their care and then used these photographs to fundraise. Not only was that a lie. Not only did they want the dogs dead. Not only were they not going to use the money for the Vick dogs, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office felt so betrayed that they did not want to work with any animal groups. If they hadn’t, if they were not convinced otherwise, Hector, Jasmine, and the other victims would be dead right now.
Count Four: In April of 2008, the town council of Randolph, Iowa announced a bounty, offering $5 to anyone who brought a cat to the pound. In most cases, those cats would be put to death. This is the kind of pro-killing public policy that started Henry Bergh’s fight with the dog catchers of New York City. In 19th Century New York City, children were paid 50 cents for every dog they brought to the pound to be killed, leading to a profitable trade in dogs. Dogs were stolen from people’s yards, from people’s homes, taken from the arms of their families, so that they could be taken to the pound and ultimately drowned in the East River. Roughly 150 years later, officials in Randolph wanted to reinstate a 19th Century policy that favored killing, this time for cats. While cat lovers cried foul and tried to stop the initiative, Pacelle’s handpicked Vice-President of Companion Animals at HSUS, the man who himself killed animals as the director of a pound in Florida, defended the Randolph killing, saying that HSUS doesn’t have a problem with killing stray cats, but said the money spent on the bounty would be better spent hiring someone who knows what he or she is doing.
Count Five: In August of 2008, the pound in Tangipahoa Parish, LA ordered the killing of every animal in their facility. The culprit: a mild corona virus that caused diarrhea in just a handful of dogs, which is not contagious to cats, and is self-limiting, meaning it resolves on its own without any medical intervention. More than 170 dogs and cats were killed. A former employee of the pound says she’ll never forget the image: “I did walk back there at one point and they were all piled on top of each other, just lying there dead.” HSUS came to the pound’s defense, blaming the killing on pet overpopulation and that people do not care enough about animals, thereby exonerating the pound.
Count Six: In February of 2009, over 150 Pit Bull-type dogs and puppies were seized from a dog fighter in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Each and every one was systematically put to death over the opposition of rescue groups, dog advocates, and others. Some of the puppies were born after the seizure. And a foster parent was even ordered to return two-week old puppies she had nursed back to health to be killed. As they did in the Michael Vick case, HSUS once again led the charge to have all the dogs, including the puppies, slaughtered. And like in the Vick case, they perjured themselves before the court, testifying that all the dogs, including the two week old bottle feeders, were irremediably vicious and should be put to death. The court sided with Pacelle’s “experts.” 150 victims lay dead, not by a dog fighter, not by an abuser, but because of Wayne Pacelle’s insistence that they should be put to death.
Count Seven: In March 2009, a San Francisco, CA Commission took up the issue of a No Kill city by considering shelter reform legislation to mandate the types of lifesaving programs the pounds in that community were refusing to implement voluntarily, killing animals for being “too fat,” “too old,” “too playful,” and “too shy.” San Francisco has the lowest intake rate of any major urban community in the U.S. but is still killing savable animals despite the fact that communities which have over five times the per capita intake rate have achieved No Kill success. Why? San Francisco pounds find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. But the law, and the No Kill reform effort, was be tabled after Pacelle himself wrote a letter insisting on the right of “shelters” to kill animals in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives they simply refuse to implement, arguing that pet overpopulation prevented more lifesaving, and arguing that “shelters” should not be regulated. The killing continues.
County Eight: A 2010 survey of New York State rescue groups found that 71% of them were being turned away by at least one “shelter,” and those “shelters” then turned around and killed the very animals they offered to save. The end result is that tens of thousands of animals are being killed in New York State pounds even though they have an immediate place to go. Legislation to mandate collaboration which would have saved those lives at no cost to taxpayers, was not supported by HSUS. And when animal advocates tried to mandate shelter reform in Texas, HSUS helped coordinate the opposition. In Texas, the law would have mandated:
- Collaboration: Texas pounds would not have been able to kill animals if rescue groups were willing to save them;
- Transparency: taxpayers and donors would have had a right to know how the shelters they fund are doing by requiring them to post their statistics;
- Decency: would have made it illegal to kill animals using the cruel gas chamber; and
- Fairness: would have made it illegal to kill animals based on arbitrary criteria (breed, color, age, etc.).
It is difficult, for example, to overstate just how abhorrent and revolting gassing is. The process can take as long as 30 minutes after multiple animals are placed or thrown into a metal box, sometimes piled on one another or on the dead bodies of those gassed before them. The gas is turned on, the animals gasp for breath, their insides burning. They claw at the floor and throw themselves against the walls of the chamber in an attempt to get out. Sometimes the process doesn’t work, and is repeated on animals who survived. The law would have also stopped pounds across the state that kill all dogs they claim are pit bulls. It would have made it illegal for “shelters” to kill animals when a rescue group was willing to save those animals. But HSUS brought all those cruel directors together for a meeting with the legislative sponsor in order to derail its passage.
So if Wayne Pacelle’s HSUS does not support that kind of lifesaving legislation, what kind of legislation does it support? One of HSUS’ legislative initiatives this year was California’s AB 1279. It will not save a single life. The law will not improve conditions in pounds and other killing shelters one iota. And not one animal will benefit from it. In fact, it isn’t designed for the animals at all. It has one purpose: to excuse and exonerate those who harm them. AB 1279 changes California’s animal shelter laws to replace the word “pound” to “animal shelter,” “poundkeeper” to “animal shelter director,” and “destroy” to “humanely euthanize.” In other words, it legislates doublespeak and codifies euphemisms that are designed to obscure the gravity of what we are doing to animals as a society, and thus make the task of killing easier.
Count Nine: Every year, Wayne Pacelle’s organization calls for a celebration called “National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week,” where we are asked to reward animal shelters and the “dedicated people” who work at them. According to the annual press release, HSUS is “the strongest advocate” for shelters. But at the same time as HSUS proclaims itself the Number 1 cheerleader for killing shelters in the country, there is an ever-increasing amount of nationwide media coverage revealing widespread animal neglect and outright abuse at these very institutions. These exposes show a strikingly different reality than the fantastical and mythical description of these pounds portrayed by the very agency that is supposed to be their watchdog. And when it does come out, HSUS either is silent, looks the other way, or, more egregiously, defends the abusive and/or poorly performing “shelters.”
You would expect that the head of the nation’s largest and wealthiest animal protection group would condemn shelter atrocities like those occurring in Los Angeles county “shelters”:
- A staff member at Los Angeles County’s animal control shelter kicked a dog forcibly held upside down with a catch-all pole and a hard-wire noose wrapped around his neck; and,
- When another at this same shelter dragged a dog with a broken back; and,
- When another dragged two dogs across hot asphalt; and
- When others allowed a dog to starve and die in a filthy kennel; and
- When they allowed rabbits to go without food and water. In fact, in what has come to be known as “Spinal Monday,” rabbits were forced to cannibalize one another because they were starving. When staff finally checked in on the rabbits, one of them had his spine exposed as he was being eaten alive by the others; and,
- When a sick puppy was allowed to languish and die without any care; and,
- When 80% of cat cages were kept empty while the shelter killed 80% of all the cats it took in.
But not a word of concern, condemnation, or protest from Pacelle, who the director of the pound calls a friend. In fact, Pacelle rarely, if ever, condemns killing shelters for neglect and abuse. In fact, quite to the contrary, Pacelle even came to the defense of Miami-Dade’s regressive director (since forced to resign) even after video surfaced showing abusive killing, with cats screaming in terror as they were put to death cruelly.
Count Ten: When Wayne Pacelle misled donors by asking for money for the care of the Michael Vick dogs even though HSUS not only wasn’t caring for the dogs, but was actively seeking to have them put to death, it wasn’t the first time he did so. Misrepresentation is a recurring pattern and deliberate part of Pacelle’s fundraising strategy. In 2005, for example, after the most devastating Hurricane in modern history, HSUS raised roughly $30,000,000 to help the animals impacted by Hurricane Katrina. HSUS spent a paltry $4,000,000 of that money on Hurricane Katrina animals in the aftermath of the devastation. And after sending the animals “rescued” by HSUS to killing shelters around the country, he declared “Mission Accomplished” and left with tens of millions which he socked away in HSUS bank accounts, earning HSUS an investigation by the Attorneys General of Mississippi and Louisiana.
Adding insult to injury, in 2008, MuttShack Rescue completed a large-scale rescue of animals in New Orleans because of Hurricane Gustav. Instead of supporting the effort, HSUS claimed the rescue as their own. According to MuttShack:
[We] just completed the largest animal evacuation in the history of New Orleans. After its completion, HSUS drove their trucks up in front of the whole deal, shot some footage and has posted it [on their website] as their own rescue.
In 2009, HSUS set a goal of raising one million dollars in one month on the back of an abused dog rescued in the largest bust of a dog fighting ring in U.S. history. According to the HSUS fundraiser, ‘Faye’ was now safe, in a loving home, recovering thanks to HSUS. But none of it was true: HSUS was not involved in caring for Fay. HSUS, in fact, suggested that Fay should be killed. In further fact, they could not even get her name right. And while Fay was being cared for, and needed surgery, the costs and care were being provided by a small rescue group.
In response to the criticism and condemnation of this fraudulent fundraising appeal—on blogs, on twitter, including calls for a criminal investigation of HSUS—and with the memory of an investigation for fraud by the Louisiana and Mississippi Attorneys General for Hurricane Katrina fundraising still fresh, HSUS announced that they were going to give $5,000 for Fay’s surgery, ½ of 1% of what they hoped and expected to raise from the appeal.
To this day, HSUS has a strategy of deliberately confusing donors that HSUS is their local humane society and refusing to let local humane societies clarify it if they want any assistance from HSUS (HSUS spends roughly ½ of 1% of what they raise on actual care of animals in U.S. shelters). In fact, when the State Humane Association of California cried foul and asked the Attorney General to investigate the ASPCA’s fraudulent fundraising, ostensibly fearing that HSUS might be the next target, Wayne Pacelle sent them a bullying letter of condemnation.
There is more. While the World Health Organization was telling people cats did not pose a health risk during the heightened frenzy over bird flu, Pacelle’s organization was fanning the flames of misinformation and fear mongering by telling people not to help, feed, or touch stray cats but to call animal control when they see them, agencies with a history of mass slaughter. They lobbied to stop No Kill legislation in King County, Washington. They supported breed discriminatory legislation in Indianapolis, Indiana that would have led to the round up and killing of Pit Bulls. Pacelle told USA Today and Newsweek that killing in “shelters” is acceptable and that No Kill was warehousing. He and his team lied to the public, falsely claiming an epidemic of dog bites to convey the view that trying to save Pit Bulls was irresponsible and put children at risk.
His organization has falsely blamed cats for every conceivable social ill, including:
- Being a public rabies threat: “cats are now the most common domestic vectors of rabies”;
- Decimating wildlife: “free-roaming cats kill millions of wild animals each year”;
- Being invasive, non-native intruders: “cats are not a part of natural ecosystems, and their predation causes unnecessary suffering and death;” and,
- Causing neighborhood strife: “they also cause conflicts among neighbors.”
In Austin, HSUS supported the effort of former pound director Dorinda Pulliam (since forced to resign) who presided over 100,000 deaths, to move the facility from the vibrant community of downtown Austin which is the daily destination for thousands of Austinites to a more remote, industrial location where it would have led to decreased adoptions (and thus more killing), but would have meant bigger offices for shelter bureaucrats. In 2009, his group told people not to adopt animals during the holidays, effectively accepting the deaths of 1,000,000 animals as the alternative. Pacelle allowed PETA to give a presentation at his national conference equating a movement to save the lives of animals in “shelters” with the mental illness which leads to animal cruelty, despite the fact that PETA slaughters over 90% of the animals they take in and dumps the bodies in supermarket trash bins. In Oregon, his representative slammed No Kill and supported a pound which left all but six cat cages intentionally empty so that staff did not have to clean the cages or work hard, killing the remainder. And he continues to claim that killing is kindness.
When someone shows us, tells us who and what they really are, over and over and over and over again, we should believe them. Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, is an embracer of killers, an apologist for killers, an accomplice to killing, a defender of abusive pounds, a thief, a bully, and a liar, with “crimes” against animals going back over 15 years.