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Vegan in The Henhouse

Wayne Pacelle, Putting Animals On (and Off) The Table

By Don Oldenburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 9, 2004; Page C01

Wayne Pacelle is the new head of the Humane Society of the United States. Better take your dog in tonight -- 'cause 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 according to Pacelle's enemies.

"I had this basic sentiment that it was wrong to pick on the less powerful - even if they had four legs or two wings," says Wayne Pacelle, new president of the Humane Society of the United States. (Robert A. Reeder - The Washington Post)

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The new watchdog of the animal kingdom has critics fretting. They warn that behind his John Kennedy Jr. good looks, gentle manner and boyish charm is a teeth-baring dogmatist whose hidden agenda is a scary brand of doctrinaire animal rights that for mainstream Americans would make "humane" feel like the food chain turned upside down.

"He's enemy number one," says Beth Ruth of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a pro-hunting group that has clashed bitterly with Pacelle.

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.

Strong accusations. Pacelle just grins. "They all go wild on me," he says, adding that he has even received death threats. "My ex-boss . . . said you could tell a lot about a person by his friends and also by his enemies. I'm happy to have some of these people as my enemies."

Pacelle does vow to be "more aggressive" pursuing HSUS's goals -- stopping mistreatment of livestock, decreasing the use of animals in research, protecting wildlife and fostering responsible pet care -- but says he's a "reformist" and "not an abolitionist." He's the guardian angel of animals, he says, not a misanthrope out to liberate all beasts at all costs.

What is it about him that has critics so astir?

Legal Cockfighting

At the HSUS building in downtown Washington, Pacelle's corner office is streaming with sunlight. Dressed in a crisp teal suit, he looks more like a 38-year-old corporate Turk than a rabble-rousing activist.

His black hair with wisps of gray is perfect. His strong Italian Greek features and articulate voice have spurred detractors and allies to call him HSUS's "talking face." What he is undeniably is the face of the next generation of influential and ambitious animal advocacy leadership.

On his organized desk are pulpy cockfighting magazines arranged like the courtroom evidence they might become if Pacelle (pronounced pah-sell-ee) has his way. "Look at it -- 112 pages! Ads for fighting birds!" says Pacelle, disgusted as he pages through Gamecock Magazine, one of three national monthly publications of the largely underground business.

A champion killer bird graces the cover. Most pages are advertising -- breeders and dealers nationwide selling "game birds" ("$1,500 a trio") and accessories such as razor-sharp gaffs that strap to their legs and drugs that thicken the blood to delay the birds' bleeding to death.

Cockfighting is the kind of brazen animal abuse that ranks high on Pacelle's to-do list: senseless violence, clearly cruel to animals, against the law in 48 states but still flourishing. Pacelle's persistence has helped to get it banned in three states and laws strengthened in 30 others by making it a felony or banning possession of cockfighting paraphernalia. He has triggered many prosecutions.

"Most people think that cockfighting and dogfighting are relics of past times," he says. But cockfighting is still legal in Louisiana and New Mexico, and Pacelle estimates that there are more than 100,000 cockfighters and tens of thousands of dogfighters in this country. "This is a barbaric and inhumane activity, and these people need to get a new hobby."

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