Two weeks ago, I wrote about a nationwide tour by Roger Haston of PetSmart Charities. Despite being called “The Future of Animal Welfare,” PetSmart Charities harkens back to the days when killing was central to sheltering, especially of dogs Haston says no one wants and calls “blocky-headed whatevers” (but which most people label “pit bulls”). The presentation was entirely consistent with PetSmart policy, which prohibits “pit bulls” from playgroups and other services because of the way they look (such as the little puppy in this photograph who was banned). After thoroughly debunking Haston’s arguments, I noted that you can’t create a bridge to the future by digging a trench to the past.
Last week, Roger Haston tendered his resignation. The timing of this resignation came in the aftermath of an outcry from dog advocates across the country who expressed outrage over Haston’s regressive views. This Friday is his last official day. While that is good news because his reactionary views about dogs and killing will no longer have the imprimatur of PetSmart Charities, I think celebration would be premature. History proves there is always a second act for the incompetent or those who espouse antiquated, anti-animal views in the animal “protection” movement. Therefore, I have my doubts as to whether or not we have heard the last of Haston. My bet is that he will go the way of former ASPCA CEO Ed Sayres and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle, two equally out of touch individuals preaching and practicing the gospel of failure in animal sheltering, by falling up.
I’ve written about Sayres’ and Pacelle’s numerous betrayal of animals many times before. In fact, not only have I catalogued their various misdeeds as the heads of a series of “animal protection” organizations, but as to Sayres, I also witnessed his lack of caring and concern for the cause of animal protection when he was my boss many years ago at the San Francisco SPCA. Though Sayres repeatedly displayed a lack of empathy for animals, a lack of intellectual curiosity about animal protection issues, and a lack of interest in any solutions that might address those problems, Sayres always “fell up,” achieving greater pay and greater responsibility as he stumbled from one abysmal — indeed, often disastrous — job performance to the next. After failing to make a mark at the American Humane Association, PetSmart Charities, and the San Francisco SPCA, he was hired as the head of the ASPCA.
Like Sayres, Pacelle was another of the movement’s golden boys no matter how many animals he caused the death of or whose killing he defended. It didn’t matter that he defended animal abusers like Michael Vick while simultaneously calling for the death of his victims, or that he fought legislation to ban the gas chamber, end convenience killing, and protect animals from abusers by requiring them to register so that shelters could check those registries before adoption. Even when he sexually assaulted women, the Board of Directors refused to fire him. He resigned, but he didn’t go away. He now runs yet another “animal protection” organization with access to wealth and power.
How is any of this possible? Two reasons. First, a dysfunctional landscape within the modern animal protection movement that values, even rewards, surface appearance and hackneyed platitudes over substance and the disruption of the status quo necessary for concrete change. Second, there is simply no shortage of what one law professor called “moneyed stooges” willing to give these reactionary voices a platform. For despite their lack of caring or competence as leaders, Sayres, Pacelle, and now Haston excel at window dressing, or knowing how to look and sometimes even sound the role of a corporate animal welfare “professional,” even when the actions they take — or in some cases, fail to take, such as failing to champion No Kill — undermine that very cause. Moreover, even when they acknowledge that they fail to do their jobs — with a Pacelle-enabler on the HSUS Board I know once explaining to me that Pacelle admitted to him that he “missed the boat on No Kill” even though No Kill was the cause at the very heart of HSUS’ mission — those failures continue to be measured by their Boards not in lives or opportunities lost, but against donations contributed in spite of them.
In other words, for the largest and wealthiest of animal protection groups, success is gauged not by how many animals they protect or how clearly their leaders can articulate a vision and navigate our society towards a brighter and more compassionate future for animals, but by how much money such groups raise (as in the case of Pacelle and Sayres), or, when it comes to animal sheltering, how effectively they use their organization to shield their friends and colleagues running poorly performing pounds from scrutiny and accountability.
Until such organizations are led by individuals who share the commitment and zeal of their founders — people such as Henry Bergh, the ASPCA’s 19th century legendary founder for whom the protection of animals was a driving passion — it will, sadly, require no mental gymnastics on my part to understand how an individual who today might lead one of the largest, best known, and well-funded animal protection groups without compassion, skill, or competence can tomorrow find an even more lucrative job, another platform to share their ham-fisted claims, or in the case of Sayres, become a shill for puppy mills.
Simply follow the money, because for such individuals, it was never about the animals to begin with. As the American moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer once astutely noted, “Every great movement starts out as a cause, turns into a business, and eventually devolves into a racket.”
Time will tell where Haston falls, but before the champagne corks are popped, I caution that it is unlikely to be down and out. Vigilance is required, because if experience is any guide, we have likely yet to hear the last of Haston and his draconian vision of killing and “pit bull” hysteria for the “future of animal welfare.”
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