While this guise has been a tremendous asset, it belies Pacelle’s upbringing as a passionate friend of animals who realized early in his childhood what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Pacelle was raised in New Haven, Conn., where his father was a high school football coach and his mother was a secretary. Growing up, Pacelle always had dogs, and he bookmarked the animal pages in the family’s encyclopedia. When National Geographic arrived every month, he devoured it as if it were a comic book.
As he got older, he took stands typical of those who haven’t yet been desensitized to animal suffering, refusing to dissect frogs in high school and dreaming of a career working to prevent animal cruelty.
When he was an undergraduate at Yale, unsatisfied with the current animal-activist groups, Pacelle started the Student Animal Rights Coalition, which, unlike many others, went beyond combing the alleys for strays. The group still remains politically involved in shaping how animals are treated on a larger scale.
After graduating in 1987 with a dual degree in history and studies in the environment, he worked with the Fund for Animals, serving as executive director before joining HSUS seven years later as chief lobbyist. In 2004, he became CEO.
“Animals are not our equals in every sense, but they are our equals in their capacity to suffer.”
“Our political adversaries know we have capabilities and know the public agrees with us,” Pacelle says. “Our opponents treat these issues as if they were toxic, as if the way they conduct business today were the only way they can do it in the future. The best outcome is if they can imagine a new pathway for themselves.”
Those capabilities came about in the past decade, when Pacelle consolidated the animal-welfare movement with a strategy and quickness that would impress the greatest of buyout specialists. In 2005, the HSUS and the Fund for Animals merged, with Markarian at the helm of the Fund. The next year, the HSUS added the Doris Day Animal League, a 20-year leader in animal protection, to its organization.
Since then, Pacelle has formed the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and several wild- and domestic-animal care centers around the country have joined forces with the HSUS — and with the new muscle has come new flex.
Under Pacelle’s leadership, HSUS has adopted aggressive strategies to get its message out to the public, including reviving the ballot initiative process, in which foot soldiers go door to door collecting signatures to put a measure on the ballot during the following election cycle. This strategy not only has the advantage of giving people a direct voice in choosing how their governments are run, but it also allows HSUS to inform voters on the issues while sculpting the exact wording of the law.