What started out as a childhood penchant for animals has led Wayne Pacelle to the top of the Humane Society of the United States. He recently took his new post as chief executive officer, replacing retired executive Paul Irwin.
The Humane Society is one of the largest animal welfare advocates in the country, with 8 million members, and works heavily with state legislators as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Pacelle was senior vice president for communications and government affairs before his promotion and led many of the organization’s public policy initiatives.
As a child, Pacelle said he was repelled by the idea of people treating animals cruelly. “As I got older that sentiment matured, and I learned that there was a larger social cause devoted to improving the lives of animals and reducing the suffering that they endure at the hand of people,” he said.
While an undergraduate at Yale University, Pacelle said he started the Student Animal Rights Coalition, an endeavor that foreshadowed the leadership role he would continue to take in this field. “I’ve essentially been immersed in this work since college,” Pacelle said.
Before joining the Humane Society 10 years ago, he was the executive director for the Fund for Animals, an organization that he said he continues to join forces with on numerous animal protection endeavors.
One of Pacelle’s priorities is to establish felony-level penalties for transporting fighting animals within the country. Dog fighting is illegal in all 50 states, but cock fighting is still permitted in Louisiana and New Mexico.
He also hopes to halt the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption overseas.
Pacelle has worked closely with various legislators, including Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who he said is “arguably the leading Senate advocate of animal protection.”
Ensign, who started working with Pacelle and the Humane Society soon after he was elected in 2000, speaks highly of Pacelle’s expertise. “He’s done a great job of bringing us issues that I think are important. We’ve enjoyed our relationship with him,” Ensign said.
Ensign has sponsored two bills moving through the Senate, with companion bills in the House, which have garnered bipartisan support: the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act and the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2004.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), co-sponsor of both bills, praised Pacelle’s role in the legislative process and his ability to maintain a strong network of supporters. “It’s a testimony to Wayne’s skills that he’s been able to build these wide relationships and keep them moving,” Blumenauer said.
Pacelle’s new role at the organization will incorporate a wider range of issues in addition to legislative initiatives. “Rather than just limiting my activities to public policy, I will be doing a tremendous amount of educating the public, trying to influence corporate policies, consumer practices [and] consumer buying habits,” he said.
He plans to further involve the Humane Society’s vast membership in the organization’s mission. “No successful social movement can rely only on its professional staff. We have to engage people in communities across the country,” Pacelle said.