Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, contends that a bond exists between mankind and other animals one that we have broken by betraying and exploiting animals in cruel and careless ways.
He details this position (and others) in the very readable "The Bond: Our Kinship With Animals, Our Call To Defend Them" (William Morrow, $26.99, 448 pages).
Since assuming the helm of the Humane Society in 2004, Pacelle, 45, has taken it to record membership (11 million) and made it a major political force.
Pacelle lives in Washington, D.C., but ceaselessly travels on business. I caught up with him in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is hardly known for its progressive stance on animal rights.
That's slowly changing. (Billionaire real estate developer) Steve Wynn has become deeply interested in animal issues, for instance. He had vegan menus added to all of the restaurants in his hotels, an amazing thing.
What about your own diet?
I have been a vegan for 26 years, but the Humane Society is broad-minded when it comes to food. About 95 percent of our members are not vegetarian.
But I believe eating is a moral act, and we can make choices to minimize the suffering of (food) animals. We can buy cage-free eggs, buy pork that doesn't come from factory farms, and avoid eating veal and foie gras.
Your book is about the bond between people and animals.
There is a bond built into every one of us that gives us a head start in doing the right thing for animals, which is more fully expressed in some of us than in others. For myself, the bond was just part of my emotional outlook; I didn't have one special moment that was a wake-up call.
Beginning as a child, I had a deep connection with animals, and more than just the love of my dogs. I drew pictures of animals, read books about them, and all the encyclopedias in our home were dog-eared to the animal entries. "Wild Kingdom" was my favorite TV show.
In our society, the mistreatment of animals has become "normalized," but I've never accepted that.
Do you have pets now?
I've had pets throughout my life. One of my cats just passed away. She was 16. Her sister is still with me, though. I really want to get dogs, but I travel so much it would be a permanent dog-sitting situation.
Where does the Humane Society stand on hunting?
Our program is about responsible hunting and curbing the worst excesses and the most inhumane and unsporting practices.
Sportfishing is not an issue, unless someone did something horrible, like dynamiting fish. Most of the work we've done in the marine realm has been protecting marine mammals and seabirds.
What's the most pressing issue right now?
Factory farming, because of the number of animals caught up in the system. About 10 billion animals are killed for food in America every year, and 65 billion globally, and a large share are raised on factory farms. It's not just an issue of slaughter, but one of lifelong confinement and misery.
Because of your efforts, California voters passed the Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act in 2008, which becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2015.
Proposition 2 will stop the confinement of veal calves, breeding sows and 20 million laying hens, and was a defining moment for us and the nation. It got more votes than any citizen ballot initiative in California history, which validated the principle that, while people accept the idea of eating animals for food, they don't want them mistreated.
It was a wake-up moment for so many industries (nationwide) that deal with animals.
Does the Humane Society have a relationship with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?
We're on a different scale. PETA tries to be provocative and influence the culture, while we deliberately try to be mainstream in view, but not in action.
We take a different tactical approach. For instance, we don't say you must be vegan and we must stop all hunting. We're working to curb the worst abuses and we're very involved in the political realm.