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Stirring up animal passions

August 14, 2004|Don Oldenburg | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Better take your dog in tonight -- because pet ownership could be in trouble. Might want to stock up on steaks before meat prices soar as factory farms shut down. And your children are being brainwashed to veganism in school.

At least that's according to the enemies of Wayne Pacelle, new head of the Humane Society of the United States. "He's enemy No. 1," says Beth Ruth of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a pro-hunting group that has clashed bitterly with Pacelle. Then there's Verna Dowd, editor of the Feathered Warrior, a cockfighting magazine that has lost a third of its 9,000 subscribers since Pacelle got on cockfighting's case.

"The Humane Society should spend half of their time and money on helping the children who don't have homes and stuff like that," she says, "instead of messing with people and their rights."

He's "a wolf in sheep's clothing," duping the public into thinking donations go to shelters for stray cats and dogs when he's bankrolling a radical agenda, says Patti Strand, president of the National Animal Interest Alliance, whose mission includes countering the animal rights movement's goal of ending all animal use.

"The thing about Wayne is he is a very competent spin doctor. He's very good at disguising the true agenda with a message that the public would accept," says Strand. She and her husband, Rod, are authors of a 1993 book that argued the humane movement had become radical. The book is being updated for publication in November under the title "The Bambi Conspiracy: The Hijacking of the Humane Movement." She says Pacelle is a key figure in that "hijacking" and HSUS is a Trojan horse rolled into mainstream America by the extremist animal-rights movement. "It is the fundamentalist wing.... They equate all animal use with animal abuse," she says.

Pacelle is happy to set the record straight for his critics. First off, he says, they are right about HSUS not funding shelters run by local Humane Societies. "Our slogan on that is we don't run shelters, we help them run better," he says. HSUS provides material support and training, publishes two shelter magazines, evaluates the shelters for animal-care standards and acts as their voice on animal-protection issues.

That vegans-in-the-schools allegation? HSUS does have a youth program focusing on cruelty and environmental issues that's in 41,000 U.S. classrooms. Its university program trains college students to work in the field.

But as for strong-arming: "If people are ready to go vegetarian or vegan, that's great," Pacelle says. "If people want to continue to eat meat, I encourage them to choose meat products that are humanely produced and not trapped in a windowless shed for the rest of their lives or, if they're egg-laying chickens, have their beaks cut off" so they don't cannibalize each other in their overcrowded cages.

In his 10 years at HSUS, Pacelle has become adept at working the levers of the legal system. He has shepherded 22 ballot initiatives at the local and state level on issues ranging from dove hunting in Michigan to crate sizes for pregnant pigs in Florida -- and won 80% of them.

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