May in animal news: Five questions with Humane Society of the United States leader Wayne Pacelle
This month, Unleashed is debuting a new feature: Five questions about the issues that matter to animal lovers with leaders in the animal protection movement. Here's Humane Society of the United States president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle's take on the most important animal news to happen in May and what animal advocates should watch for in the coming month.
Wayne Pacelle: There was a damning federal report about the United States Department of Agriculture's failure to enforce rules to protect dogs at puppy mills and a gruesome farm animal cruelty case in Ohio, but the tragedy in the Gulf now has overshadowed almost everything. The suffering of animals is brought into America's living rooms every day, and it's plain that the consequences are only going to get worse and will last for an awfully long time.
At the moment, BP and its contractors are handling animal rescue at the scene and limiting access to the water and beaches. But The HSUS has a team of experts going in to make sure that animals remain a top priority in this disaster. We will help in any way we can to make sure of it, and we lend our voice to those who insist on better safeguards in the future.
We have been on the scene to assist with training, and we will move into coastal Louisiana this week to assist local animal shelters, which are being overcrowded. Because of the economic toll on local residents, shelters report they are experiencing an unfortunate spike in relinquished pets. The animal victims of this spill do not stop at the shoreline.
Unleashed: What were the Humane Society's biggest projects in May?
Pacelle: May has been a busy month. We hosted 1,400 animal welfare professionals in Nashville for our annual educational conference and trade show, testified at a hearing on Capitol Hill to press for federal fur labeling legislation, debuted our new Mobile Animal Crimes Lab and built enormous momentum in Congress for legislation to outlaw the sale of animal crush videos in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that nullified the law in April. We also helped to rescue 134 cats in California and more than 50 equines in West Virginia. We helped law enforcement agencies in Virginia and North Carolina break up a dog-fighting ring, while also working to upgrade the anti-cockfighting law in Louisiana.
We worked with Sara Lee, Einstein Noah and UCLA to put cage-free egg policies in place for their baked goods, restaurants and campus dining, respectively. Safeway pledged to double their sales of cage-free eggs over the next two years. We also made an appearance at McDonald's annual shareholders meeting to press the fast-food giant to decrease use of eggs from caged hens and won a major factory farm pollution lawsuit against the nation's largest foie gras producer, Hudson Valley Foie Gras.
Our campaign to stop puppy mills was in high gear. The governor of Oklahoma signed a law to crack down on these abusive puppy factories, lawmakers in Louisiana passed a similar measure and members of Congress introduced a federal bill to address the problems in the current inspection system. Animal Planet aired an hour-long special on our Petland investigation, and a coalition of animal welfare advocates, including The HSUS, delivered 190,000 signatures to place a voter initiative to crack down on puppy mills on the ballot this fall in Missouri.
Unleashed: What will the Humane Society be working on in June?
Pacelle: We are supporting Ohioans for Humane Farms in a ballot measure signature drive that is targeted to end in July. This is a very important November ballot measure to prevent some of the most inhumane forms of factory farming in Ohio. In Missouri, we are working to enlarge the coalition supporting a ballot measure to impose regulations on puppy mills. The International Whaling Commission meets in June and we will be there arguing against any resumption of commercial whaling. Through our international arm, Humane Society International, we will be showcasing for the world our work in Bhutan to spay and neuter street dogs. The Gulf Coast will remain an urgent concern of the HSUS and its members. Our Animal Rescue team will be on the road somewhere answering crises -- whether cases of cruelty, or animal fighting, or hoarding, or puppy mills or natural disaster.
Unleashed: How can interested animal lovers help in June?
Pacelle: If you live in Ohio, please visit OhioHumane.com and help gather the 403,000 signatures to get this common-sense measure qualified for the November ballot. If you live in Missouri or have friends and family in the state, please help by lending names and support for our puppy mill initiative. You can contact the White House and voice your support for whales by registering opposition to any resumption of commercial whaling. You can volunteer at a local shelter or rescue -- because these vital institutions are suffering in these times of economic hardship.
I would be remiss if I didn't urge readers to visit our website, HumaneSociety.org, and take a tour through the important and engaging work that we do. Our homepage on the Memorial Day weekend had four stories -- the rescue of 49 suffering horses in West Virginia, a shocking look at conditions at an Ohio dairy, a seasonal resource page on kittens and the urgent need for spay/neuter programs and our updates on the Gulf oil spill. We hope our deeds inspire your support.
Unleashed: What led you to become involved in the animal-protection movement?
Pacelle: I was probably born to it. I cannot remember a time when the wonder of animal life didn't stir me. I do, however, remember a growing awareness of animal suffering as I came of age. From my college days onward, I've devoted my energies to the cause of easing the suffering of animals. It has been a rewarding time -- because public attitudes about animals are changing, and for the better. But it's been a challenging time as well, because never have so many animals been made to suffer needlessly.
Wayne Pacelle has been the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States since 2004 and, before that, was its spokesman and chief lobbyist for almost 10 years. He writes a blog about animal protection issues called A Humane Nation.
Photo: Pacelle with his cat, Libby. Credit: Christine Gutleben