In his more than quarter century career fighting for animals, most recently as president of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle has witnessed the best and worst of human behavior toward animals.
From factory farming and baby seal clubbing to puppy mills and dog fighting, humankind continues to exploit and abuse animals even as we have developed a growing reverence toward them and raised our voices to stop the cruelty.
Witness the extraordinary efforts of so many to save the victims of abuse, be they pigeons or elephants, the hundreds who stayed behind with their pets during Hurricane Katrina - many losing their lives in the process - and the billions of dollars Americans shell out each year to pamper their pets.
Pacelle, who speaks tomorrow night (7:30) at the Philadelphia Free Library, looks at the history of the human/animal connection, in this new book The Bond, Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend them." From St. Francis of Assisi to Genghis Khan and Cesar Millan, explores the complicated, even paradoxical, role of humans as both protector and persecutor of living things.
Philadelphia occupies a unique kind of bookend role in this continuum. Moved by the horrors of the carriage horse trade, Philadelphian Caroline Earle White founded the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - one of the first SPCAs in the nation. Fast forward to Philadelphia in the summer of 2009 when the Eagles dropped the bombshell that they had signed fallen football star Michael Vick, only just released from prison on federal dog fighting charges.
Pacelle examines his own controversial role in the rehabilitation of Vick (HSUS brought Vick on to preach the message of animal kindness to inner city school children). He also charts organizations growing role in shaping federal and state policies on animals from Prop 2 - the pitched battle in California to end factory farming - to efforts to curb puppy mills in Pennsylvania and beyond.
Even as Pacelle describes the growing body of research showing animals not only feel pain and suffer, but clearly exhibit more complex emotions, such as compassion and lasting trauma, he searches for answers as to why our agricultural industrial complex continues to lobby for the right to abuse animals, aided in no small part by such seemingly unlikely allies as the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Kennel Club.
To be sure, the battles to create a humane world for living creatures remain. But the rallying cry for animal protection has grown louder.
Pacelle recounts the tale of a whale who lived at least 130 years - they know this because when the whale was killed off Alaska in 2007 native hunters found buried in his skin a metal cylinder fuse made before 1890. In that whale's lifespan the planet had witnessed a seismic shift from the days when species were hunted to extinction and domesticated animals were solely beasts of burden, to a time when the forces for good and humanity are winning out.