‘It is a question of human responsibility’ says Wayne Pacelle, as he talks about the importance of the animal protection movement.
Wayne Pacelle repeatedly refers to India as a country that has had a head start in animal welfare, despite having a fraction of the resources that the developed world has. The President and CEO of the Humane Society of United States (America’s largest non-profit group in the field) was in India to flag off the Humane Society International’s Indian arm and promote his bestselling book The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them. He speaks of the horror of puppy breeding mills and factory farms, and the need to join forces against violence towards animals.
The Bond has made it to bestseller lists in the New York Times and L.A. Times. Is this a sign that the animal protection movement has moved from the fringes to a more mainstream position?
I think that the movement increasingly connects with mainstream sensibilities. Opposition to cruelty is almost universal. What we need to do is logically apply these principles. We say we love animals, yet we eat animals that come from factory farms. We say we’re against needless cruelty but we buy products that are tested on animals even though there are alternatives. This contradiction between belief and behaviour is a central theme in the book. We do have anti-cruelty statutes, pets in our homes and so many manifestations of the connection we share with animals but we don’t really live by those principles. But more young people are becoming aware, and the animal welfare movement is truly stronger than ever.
Your book talks of the need to reduce and eventually end animal testing. What alternatives do you propose?
We’re a different society than we were 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. I think the march of progress is going to make the use of animals in tests obsolete. Animal tests are not reliable indicators of (effects on) human health. When it comes to skin tests, cell cultures can be used. There are now all sorts of computational tests that don’t involve animals. In some ways, the use of animals in testing hinders rather than helps protect against the effects of chemicals. The European Union has phased out the use of animals in cosmetic testing. More companies are stopping the use of animal tests every year. India has been a leader in limiting the use of animals in education for dissection and other classroom purposes. India also banned the export of primates for experiments, several years ago. This is just part of our society’s evolution; to be more innovative in the way we conduct scientific studies.
In the absence of animal-friendly legislation, what powers do consumers have in reducing animal cruelty by large corporations?
Vote with your money. There are now options in the marketplace; choose products that say they’re cruelty-free, or have the ‘no animal testing’ symbol. Once enough people do that, it will shift the market in that direction.
Your book strongly criticises puppy breeding centres. What are your primary objections to the pet trade?
We have too many dogs and cats for too few homes. Over-crowded shelters and rescue organisations struggle to find homes for animals, and the pet trade contributes to the population problem. One hopes that an individual will make the right choice by adopting a shelter pet; they can be vaccinated and cleaned up for the home, and that saves an animal’s life.
The animal welfare movement is typically driven by contributions. How has the global recession impacted charitable giving?
The recession has cut down the discretionary income that some people have. Having said that, it’s not as if the bottom has fallen out.
I do think that in areas where people are struggling to have a good quality of life, it becomes more difficult for them to use their very finite resources to help animals. I think that’s the situation in India with so much poverty. So we’re hoping that India’s emerging middle class will keep animals in mind; to not just give but make personal lifestyle choices that will make things better for animals. It’s the world’s biggest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies. This is fertile terrain for animal protection.
What’s the India agenda?
Our street dog programme is a priority. We’ve started work in a number of cities, beginning with Ahmedabad. We’ve developed a revolutionary, quick surgical procedure; we capture the animals on the street, sterilise them against reproduction and vaccinate them against rabies.
What are some of the benefits of having a companion animal?
One of the worst things you can do to a prisoner is put him or her in solitary confinement. We need to be around others, and our social relationships aren’t restricted to human-to-human interactions. It’s no accident that, in the United States, two-thirds of households have pets. It’s far too common a social phenomenon to attribute to overly sentimental behaviour on the part of a few. All of this is an indication of our bond with these creatures.
What is the one message you’d want readers to take away from your book?
That it’s less a question of animal rights and more a question of human responsibility. We have all the power in the relationship and how we handle this power is a test of our humanity.