Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, is tirelessly, strategically and politically fighting to give a voice to the silent.Something was off in the Pierre Hotel Grand Ballroom on Fifth Avenue in New York City on a recent night during the height of election season. Tuxedo-clad men sipped scotch. Daughters of well-known billionaires mingled with rock stars and admired one another’s magnificent gowns. Paparazzi impolitely elbowed one another out of the way to capture all the action.
But the red carpet on which the beautiful class marched was, in fact, a piece of green AstroTurf — albeit one with a stunning view of Central Park. And, as guests walked up the wide steps of the hotel into the cocktail area, they were greeted by young concierges in black ties holding small, well-petted mutts snugly wrapped in orange “Adopt Me” vests. And the meal of sushi and lamb? All fake meat, all vegan.
“It isn’t a question of animals’ being equal to people,” says Pacelle, who manages to sound chatty while always staying on message. “It’s because we can be good to other creatures that we have a responsibility to do so. Animals are not our equals in every sense, but they are our equals in their capacity to suffer.”
Pacelle, 45, likely isn’t what one would imagine when conjuring thoughts of the country’s leading lobbyist for animal welfare. He is tall and slim, with the confidence of a Kennedy and the type of handsome face that seems perfectly tailored to accent his tailored suit.
This ability to seem political and authoritative without coming across as slimy, not to mention his deep dedication to the mission of HSUS, has enabled Pacelle to turn what is still sometimes thought of as a sleepy organization that cares for abandoned cats and dogs into a political powerhouse that is winning victories over major industries and altering many aspects of daily life — from where people get their pets to what they feed them — by simply taking issues that are often considered fringe and injecting them into the basic tenets of human understanding.
“How we treat animals in our society is more about human behavior than about animal behavior, and it is a test of our basic character.”
Known for bringing politicians of all stripes together behind an issue and using creative grassroots techniques that achieve success without engaging in a spending war with HSUS’s deep-pocketed enemies, Pacelle appears so savvy, it’s easy to assume he came up in politics and was drawn to animal welfare out of opportunity. In recent years, he has had major victories over the agriculture industry in California with Proposition 2, and he recently succeeded in outlawing the aforementioned puppy mills in Missouri, known as the puppy-mill capital of the U.S.