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Wednesday, August 3,2011

'Cruelty comes only from human hands'

Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle analyzes ‘The Bond’ between people and animals in his new book

by Chris Galford

Photo courtesy of Paul Markow Photography


Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane
Society of the United States, has dedicated his life to enhancing the
relationship between animals and humanity. Now that fight has been
chronicled in Pacelle’s first book, “The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals,
Our Call to Defend Them.” 


Since the book’s release, Pacelle’s been
on a global promotional tour; on Sunday, he’s visiting EVERYbody Reads
in Lansing. Pacelle will use the reading and signing to discuss animal
issues of local, national and international importance.


“As harsh as nature is for animals, cruelty comes only from human hands,” Pacelle writes in introduction to “The Bond.”


“We are creatures of conscience, aware of the wrongs we do and fully capable of making things right.”


The book is what Pacelle describes as a
“meditation” — an examination of the compassionate bond people have with
animals, counterbalanced with the cruelty that is found in many other
aspects of society.


Two decades of work in the field has left Pacelle with a ripe swath of material from which to draw his arguments. 


In many ways, though, the groundwork for
this book was laid in his childhood interactions with animals —
connections he said relied largely on intuition. He also feels it’s
proof positive that people’s bonds with animals are more than merely
social constructs.


“That’s why I think this bond is so significant,” Pacelle said in a phone interview.


“It’s not a social invention. It’s built into every one of us.”


Yet in many ways, he believes, society is
living in a state of contradiction when it comes to our relationship
with animals. While people’s admiration and commitment to animals are
embodied in things like the popularity of the Animal Planet cable
channel, recent years have also seen a surge in activities like dog
fighting and cock fighting.


“We have more expressions of love and
appreciation for animals than ever,” Pacelle said, “and more awareness
about their ability to think and feel. But at the same time we have more
cruelty than ever, and some of it on a scale that is almost
unimaginable.”


The issue extends beyond pets’ rights as
well. Since becoming president of the Humane Society, Pacelle, whose
recent ventures include side-by-side appearances with former dog
fighting financier and operator Michael Vick to push new punishments for
dog-fighting, has retooled his nearly 10 million member organization
into a powerful influence on public policy, acting as defenders of all
animals’ rights.


In the past, this has included the 2008
investigation of the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in Chino,
Calif., that led to the recall of millions of pounds of beef — an event
Pacelle recounts in his book — as well as concentrated efforts to stop
the killing of seal pups in Canada. 


The Hallmark/Westland incident ties into
what is, perhaps, the society’s biggest challenge, and one many
overlook: factory farming, which, according to Pacelle, leads to the
slaughter of billions of animals each year for food.


“So much cruelty has become routine and
normalized, and many people don’t even recognize such uses of animals as
a moral problem,” Pacelle said.


In his book, Pacelle discusses how much
of this cruelty occurs in institutional settings, from food production
to scientific research. 


“We must examine our conduct in these
settings as carefully as we examine it in the realm of dog-fighting or
other forms of malicious cruelty.”


In Michigan, politicians and Humane Society advocates have been working to eliminate several such perceived cruelties. Koda’s bill and Grant’s bills, currently waiting debate on the senate floor, would seek to end the seizure of shelter animals by research laboratories and end gas chamber euthanasia in Michigan shelters, respectively.


Here in Lansing, though, the dog fighting
note strikes a particular chord, given that just last week, police
found three injured pit bulls, a discovery that points to a potential
ring here in town. The Humane Society has offered a $2,500 reward for
information leading to any arrests.


At the same time, the Humane Society has
pushed federal legislators to make it a federal crime simply to watch
fighting and, even more important, to bring a child to a fight.


Yet the battle against animal cruelty that Pacelle advocates in his book and in his daily life is not just about punishment.


Routines can be broken and the cruel can be rehabilitated, as seems to be the case with Vick, in Pacelle’s mind.


People convicted of animal cruelty are
eventually going to be walking the streets again. Pacelle says the
important thing is to work with them, to help them overcome these
issues. 


“We will only succeed as a movement with
the active participation of people of conscience, and I would say that
there are moral problems all around us, because animals are tied into
our daily lives, and in the economy,” Pacelle said.


“But that also means there are moral opportunities all
around us, and we need to turn these problems into more opportunities to
do the right thing, for our fellow creatures.”


Wayne Pacelle
Discussion and book signing
2-4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7
EVERYbody Reads
2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
Free
(517) 346-9900
becauseeverybodyreads.com
Pacelle's blog can be found at hsus.typepad.com

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