Wayne Pacelle Under Siege

February 25, 2009 by  

In response to public outcry over their support and participation in the Wilkes County Massacre, in which the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) first championed and then defended the mass slaughter of over 150 dogs and puppies, Wayne Pacelle of HSUS issued an interim new policy of favoring temperament testing of individual dogs seized in dog-fighting cases, and called for “a meeting of leading animal welfare organizations concerning dogs victimized by dog fighting.” That meeting has been called for April in Las Vegas. If history is any guide, there is little reason to celebrate as of yet.

To begin with, HSUS did not adopt a policy that all dogs will be temperament tested to determine if they are aggressive, only that they will recommend that they be, a policy which can be ignored. Second, there has been no discussion over what type of test will be used and how outcomes will be determined, a major flaw in the temperament testing process used by many shelters. Third, there is reason to believe that the outcome in Wilkes County would not have been any different even if this policy were already in place. Last year, Wayne Pacelle claimed that HSUS had tested all the Michael Vick dogs and determined—in his own words—that “they are some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country,” a blatant falsehood. In overruling HSUS, the court agreed with non-HSUS reformers that most of the dogs were rehabilitatable, and two are now therapy dogs, bringing comfort to cancer patients. Does it matter if the dogs are killed with or without a temperament test if the test itself is as draconian as HSUS is?

There is also reason to doubt HSUS’ sincerity. Regardless of what HSUS says at the meeting or even publicly, they ultimately cannot be trusted to act in a manner consistent with their promises. After all, the support and participation in the Wilkes County massacre comes after HSUS publicly stated that shelter killing is needless and shelters are not doing enough to save lives. Their defense of it reverted to old patterns of blaming pet overpopulation and even suggesting that we cannot ask shelters to be more humane, because they’ll just do a worse job. According to HSUS, if you “impose” the “burdens” of being humane on these shelters, “they may decline to intervene in criminal fighting cases, allowing the dogfighters to continue to operate.” In other words, HSUS believes we can’t ask more of shelters because if we do, they’ll just decide to be even less humane.

In addition, their defense of the needless slaughter of almost every animal at the Tangipahoa Parish shelter last August which claimed the lives of over 170 dogs and cats came after they promised a “new dawn” of animal sheltering in that region.

And despite a “pro-TNR position paper” they published in 2006, HSUS officials said they “didn’t have a problem with humanely killing a stray cat” in April of 2008 after Randolph, Iowa officials announced a bounty on them, offering residents $5.00 for every cat they rounded up and brought to the shelter to be killed. (HSUS supported the plan to round up and kill the cats, but not the process suggesting that people might get bit by cats if the cats were not professionally trapped. They then backpedaled there, too, after a massive public outcry, suggesting it wasn’t a good idea either way. Sound familiar?)

In addition, even Pacelle’s announcement of the meeting suggests a diversionary tactic. The issue which needs to be addressed is not, as he misleadingly claims, a discussion concerning dogs “victimized by dog fighting.” We are all in agreement here. The scourge of dog fighting must be ended. We need to pursue and punish dog fighters with all the resources we can muster. The issue is what to do concerning dogs victimized by HSUS and shelters after they have been saved from dog fighters.

As I wrote in a prior blog,

The choice was not, as HSUS contends, a choice between continued suffering at the hands of dog fighters or death at the pound. This was not the option the dogs faced. Once they were taken into custody by HSUS and Wilkes County officials, more dog fighting was no longer an option. The option was whether HSUS and Wilkes County officials would kill them or whether HSUS and Wilkes County officials would not kill them. Their choice is now well known: they chose to systematically put all the dogs and puppies to death, a choice they defend still.

And finally, is such a meeting really necessary? If Pacelle was willing to stand up for what’s right, rather than to defend his clearly wrong colleagues, he would not need the symposium. He would know what HSUS policy needs to be and he would ensure that it is followed.

Instead, in response to criticism, HSUS—through dog killer apologist John Goodwin—chastised groups for making an unnecessary “fuss.” And when that callous retort sparked additional furor, they further inflamed public criticism by issuing a defense of the massacre. Everyone’s heard some variation of the joke that goes, “how many people does it take to screw in a light bulb?” In this case, the more apt question is: “How many humane groups does it take to figure out that an animal welfare organization should champion the saving, not the taking, of animal life?” The answer, of course, should be “one.” It is self-evident. You don’t need a meeting to figure it out. But the reality is that the answer is “two” if one of those groups is HSUS: HSUS to get the answer wrong. The other group to tell them what the right one is.

Ever since San Francisco’s 1994 seminal achievement when it became the first community in the nation to end the killing of healthy homeless animals in its shelters, HSUS has ignored that success and fought it—and other successes—every step of the way. They continue to regurgitate old clichés about pet overpopulation, continue to support regressive shelters, continue to fight progressive reformers in communities across the country, continue to falsely deny that No Kill has been achieved, and continue to support mass killings—as they have in Randolph, IA, in Tangipahoa Parish, LA, and in Wilkes County, NC. And ultimately, they don’t seem to want to learn from their mistakes.

The public condemnation over their call for killing of all the Michael Vick dogs should have pre-empted the current call for killing, but it didn’t. The support for cat killing in Randolph, IA should have been pre-empted by the outcry over their prior feral cat policy, which resulted in a policy switch two years before. It didn’t. And they should not have supported the Tangipahoa slaughter because every time they have supported other mass killings at shelters, they’ve been forced to back down by public outcry. These are not the actions of an agency whose leadership is truly interested in doing the right thing or learning from the past.

But that doesn’t mean the show mustn’t go on. The meeting has been called, and it should be attended. But we cannot confuse a move for political survival, which this meeting represents, with a sincere desire for change on the part of either Wayne Pacelle or his draconian organization. To do so, is to do so at our movement’s own peril.

This is classic social movement theory. Those vested in the status quo, as HSUS is, first ignore reform, as they did in the mid-1990s and lost. Then they fight reform, as they did in earnest in the first half of this decade, and continue to do so in various parts of the country, only to again find themselves on the losing side. The next stage is co-option. That is the stage we are currently in.

The fact is Pacelle and HSUS cannot ignore the will of No Kill advocates anymore and he is only asking for input because he has no choice in the matter. As Christie Keith noted in her Pet Connection blog,

if what HSUS needs is pressure from their donor base, the general public, pit bull advocates, bloggers, animal lovers or other animal welfare organizations to start doing the right thing for these much-maligned dogs … There seems to be an awful lot of it out there.

This is true. But caution should rule the day. In the past, No Kill advocates stopped the pressure on HSUS in similar campaigns and celebrated victory, only to have discovered they had been hoodwinked by carefully crafted statements and Pacelle’s penchance for meaningless pretty words. In 2004, some No Kill groups signed on to a statement of principles called the Asilomar Accords, which were championed by HSUS as a roadmap to “significantly reducing the euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals in the United States.” Unfortunately, the document allowed for the continuation of policies that resulted in killing, including breed discriminatory actions that culminate in mass slaughters like the one which has sparked the current outcry. In fact, the actions taken in Wilkes County were entirely consistent with the Asilomar Accords—an agreement many No Kill advocates initially supported.

Likewise, some feral cat advocates praised the 2006 HSUS statement on feral cats as a “vision for the future,” until it was shown that the statement was riddled with loopholes which allowed killing of feral cats to continue indefinitely—actions consistent with their support of the cat bounty debacle in Randolph, IA.

Time and time again, Pacelle and HSUS have proved they cannot be trusted. Nonetheless, some groups are optimistic. Best Friends welcomed the recent announcement and stated,

There had been more than enough airing of feelings and outrage that the [Wilkes County] dogs were not evaluated prior to being summarily [killed]. It was time to hit the reset button on this in order to move things forward in a constructive way. Mr. Pacelle was open and receptive to what we had to say and we are looking forward to our meetings in April.

One does not necessarily follow the other.

It was mass public pressure from a large number of groups and a wide array of voices which forced HSUS to the table, not a response to a single group’s call for change, however large and influential. Any appearance of cooperation they get from HSUS is the result of widespread and loud dissent rising up from grassroots activists and rescuers nationwide. It is that clamor which is the only thing that has ever forced HSUS to the bargaining table—and it should not be discouraged.

Moreover, leadership in this movement must reflect the tremendous discontent of those in the grassroots, not seek to prematurely quell it and the vast potential for reform its expression offers. There is no “reset” button for the more than 150 dogs and puppies killed in North Carolina—they are gone forever and we cannot bring them back. It is, therefore, premature to suggest that we move on—not only because HSUS has neither apologized for their actions nor owned up to the obscenity of them, but because the North Carolina incident is a typical example of how HSUS routinely operates, and therefore offers us a cautionary tale as to what we can expect from an HSUS that is anything short of what it is our duty to force it to be: unequivocal in its embrace of No Kill.

And force it we will because the power is now ours. We are in a position to dictate the direction of this movement and we must not settle for any compromises. At the meeting in Las Vegas, demands must be made that include, for example, a condemnation of the Wilkes County massacre. To prevent other shelters from citing HSUS’ actions and its very public defense of it for their own policies which favor killing, HSUS must publicly reject them in total. The demands must also include:

  • The right of individual evaluation and consideration for each dog, not merely a recommendation.
  • It must include a guarantee of clemency for any puppies.
  • It must give rescue groups and No Kill shelters the right of access to save the animals, and the right to conduct independent evaluations rather than rely on the flawed results of HSUS or the shelter’s own potentially predetermined ones which favor killing.
  • It must include an unqualified statement in favor of saving animals that rejects the excuses of the past.
  • It must include support of legislation that will give all of these principles the force of law. It should be illegal for a shelter to kill a dog if a rescue group is willing to save him (as it is in California).
  • And dogs should not be deemed dangerous without an evaluation and hearing, subject to appeal by any shelter or rescue group.

That is just a start. There are thousands of us and only a few of them. We have found our voice, and recognize the potential its fullest expression can create. No more compromises. No more killing.

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