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R. Dale Hylton, 77; Animal Rights Advocate

R. Dale Hylton was a longtime official with the Humane Society.
R. Dale Hylton was a longtime official with the Humane Society. (The Humane Society Of The United States)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 9, 2008

R. Dale Hylton, 77, a program director and educator with the Humane Society of the United States whose early work as an investigator helped lead to passage of a federal animal welfare law, died Feb. 1 at his home in Decatur, Ill., after a stroke.

Mr. Hylton, a former Vienna resident, spent most of his career in the Washington area with the Humane Society.

He was hired in 1964 as an investigator and was part of a long-running Humane Society effort to bring federal regulations to the laboratory animal trade. He went to Pennsylvania posing as an animal buyer for a hospital's experimental program and documented unofficial auctions of animals.

He later wrote of discovering animal dealers who preferred "to trade truckloads of dogs with dealers across state lines with the primary purpose of frustrating any owner's attempt to trace any owned pet that had disappeared."

The society turned over its information to state and federal authorities, which led to the federal Animal Welfare Act of 1966. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the act is the only federal law to regulate the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport and commerce.

Mr. Hylton's career as an investigator ended that year when a Pennsylvania dog dealer filed charges against him, citing a 19th-century state law intended to prevent strikebreakers and Pinkerton agents from misrepresenting their identities.

He pleaded guilty, paid a $250 fine and left through a back exit after dog dealers appeared to threaten him inside the courthouse.

Robert Dale Hylton was born in San Bernardino, Calif. He was an Army Medical Corps surgical nurse and electrical lighting salesman before joining the Humane Society through a friendship with its best-known investigator, Frank McMahon.

Mr. Hylton conducted investigations and outreach involving rodeo cruelty and the reform of municipal animal shelters. He did extensive field service work, conveying the agency's standards to animal care and control agencies and organizations.

In the late 1960s, he helped build and oversee the agency's education center and model animal shelter in Waterford, Va.

He became program director at the National Humane Education Center, as the shelter was known, and was instrumental in discussions about improving techniques for euthanasia and neutering.

Mr. Hylton later headed the Humane Society's education program, the Kindness Club. He used the byline "A. Raccoon" in the club's magazine for children. He worked in shelter accreditation and administrative services for the society before retiring in 1998.

Survivors include his wife of 15 years, Susan Dains Hylton of Decatur; two stepchildren, Jennifer Riedle and Jeff Sams, both of Decatur; and a sister.

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