Then there's Verna Dowd, the 75-year-old editor of the Feathered Warrior, a cockfighting magazine that has lost a third of its 9,000 subscribers since Pacelle got on cockfighting's case. She grouses that Pacelle has put a lot of people out of business. "The Humane Society should spend half of their time and money on helping the children who don't have homes and stuff like that," she says, "instead of messing with people and their rights."
Pacelle and Sen. John Ensign are huddled in the lawmaker's office at the Russell Senate Office Building one morning in mid-July. They're talking over the prospects for two bills -- one to ban exporting horses for human consumption, the other to make transporting animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting a felony.
"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)
"It's not just a sick hobby where they get their jollies from watching animals attack each other -- these are bad people in a lot of other ways," says Ensign, a conservative Republican from Nevada and a veterinarian who has been one of the Humane Society's best friends in Congress.
If actions speak louder than words, this is how Pacelle answers his harshest critics: In the 10 years since arriving at HSUS, Pacelle has become adept at working the levers of the legal system. He has shepherded 22 ballot initiatives at the local and state level on issues ranging from dove hunting in Michigan to the size of crates for pregnant pigs in Florida -- and won 80 percent of them. Last year he helped create a federal law restricting trade and ownership of exotic wildlife such as tigers, lions and jaguars. In 1999 he alerted Congress to a fetish subculture trafficking in "crush videos" of women in high heels stomping on gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, puppies and monkeys. Congress passed a law against cruelty to animals in films.
"People like Wayne, what they do is go around and educate," says Ensign. "What he does is represent people who love animals around the country and get the membership to say 'Hey, this is important to us' and 'Please pay attention.' It's true grassroots lobbying."
Even Pacelle's adversaries are somewhat in awe of his effectiveness. Aquilino describes him as "brilliant, charming, self-deprecating, funny and inexplicably dedicated."
Despite fears of radicalism, Pacelle has been one of the most outspoken opponents of violence in the movement. More than 50 organizations attended the Animal Rights 2004 conference here last month, but not HSUS. He pulled the group out a couple of years ago because some speakers advocated violence.
"What I represent is mainstream approaches and tactics, even though personally, in the way I live my life, I'm a little more orthodox," Pacelle says. "I don't believe there's going to be any revolutions. I believe it's going to be a slow process of people seeing alternatives, accepting them and using them."
Yes, he used to be on the edge. "My views have evolved," he says. "I'm not the same person I was in 1987. I was definitely less tolerant." Today, "if I was viewed as just a complete flamethrower, I would never be able to get bills passed in Congress."
He's happy to set the record straight for his critics. First off, they are right about HSUS not funding shelters run by local Humane Societies. "Our slogan on that is we don't run shelters, we help them run better," he says. HSUS provides material support and training, publishes two shelter magazines, evaluates the shelters for animal care standards and acts as their voice on animal protection issues. Pacelle likens HSUS to the shelters' "trade association."
That vegans-in-the-schools allegation? HSUS does have a youth program focusing on cruelty and environmental issues that's in 41,000 U.S. classrooms. Its university program trains college students to work in the field. But as for strong-arming: "If people are ready to go vegetarian or vegan, that's great," he says. "If people want to continue to eat meat, I encourage them to choose meat products that are humanely produced and not trapped in a windowless shed for the rest of their lives or, if they're egg-laying chickens, have their beaks cut off" so they don't cannibalize each other in their overcrowded cages.
And no, he doesn't have a pet -- but he'd like to. It's just that "I'm single and I travel all the time," he says.
As for what he hopes to accomplish at HSUS: He figures all 50 states will one day treat animal cruelty and animal fighting as felonies, euthanasia of dogs and cats in shelters will dwindle, and the marketplace will diversify with humanely produced products.
"I think we will see a real reduction in the number of people wearing fur and the number of major retailers selling fur," he says. "We will see the end of wild animals in circus acts and the end of horse slaughter for human food. Humane sustainable agriculture, that should happen. So should phasing out animals used in research.
"Hunting? I think you will see a steady decline in numbers, and we'll see the elimination of particularly extreme practices like canned hunts and baiting."
What he doesn't know is whether it'll take five years or 50 years. "I think we will look back on these practices in 2050 or 2075 and say, 'I cannot believe the collective callousness we exhibited to these feeling creatures.' "
But he says his critics did get one thing right about what he's planning now that he's in charge: "It's going to be a hard-hitting approach."