As president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle has made it his mission to fight for the rights and protection of our fellow creatures. In “The Bond: Our Kinship With Animals, Our Call to Defend Them,” he illustrates the impetus behind that mission. Here’s an excerpt.
By the millions, men and women in America and beyond have set their hearts and minds to the work of preventing cruelty and alleviating the suffering of animals.
There’s an endless division of labor in the good works of society. In the famous phrase of Edmund Burke, each good cause and group is one more “little platoon” deployed in the work of building and defending a civil society. My own little platoon is the Humane Society of the United States. And though I am a friend to many other causes, the cause of helping animals has always had a particular hold on me. I’ve always felt a bond with animals, and I have to come to realize that so do people everywhere. At the same time, in more than twenty years of immersion in animal welfare, I’ve also seen incredible cruelty done to animals, and heard ever more elaborate arguments offered to justify those abuses. This book is my attempt to confront these contradictions, to disentangle our sometimes conflicted attitudes toward animals and to suggest a path forward in our own lives and in the life of our country. We all know that cruelty is wrong, but applying this principle in a consistent way can be awfully difficult when so many people and industries use animals so routinely and so blithely, and often cannot even imagine doing things a different way. In each case, there is a different and better way, and our best guide is the bond with animals — that first impulse to do the decent thing for a fellow creature.
I’ve learned that in the animal welfare movement no creature is quite forgotten, and there is no animal whose troubles do not matter to someone. Name any species and it has its defenders. It’s not just the “charismatic” species, defended by such groups as the Mountain Lion Foundation, the Snow Leopard Trust, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the Gorilla Foundation, or Save the Elephants. There are countless other groups formed to help farm animals, animals in laboratories, overworked animals like donkeys and camels, stray animals and feral cats, and other injured and needy creatures both domesticated and wild.
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Some people are passionate about animals that most of us have never even heard of. After I completed the manuscript for this book, I came across a story by Kate Murphy in the New York Times about purple martins, the largest of North American swallows. Their numbers dropped in the twentieth century because of habitat changes and the introduction of exotic species. Today, all over America, you’ll find nest boxes just for these birds, built by people who appreciate the martins for their beauty and want them to survive. There are blogs and YouTube videos devoted to the birds, and there is even Purple Martin Conservation Association, along with the Purple Martin Society of North America and the Purple Martin Preservation Alliance. Some might consider this preoccupation with a single species to be a little much, but I for one am glad for it. I love the idea that some people feel so connected to these creatures and are looking out for them.
Of course, the flip side of all this benevolence is that such groups and their labors are needed in the first place. There is so much animal cruelty, homelessness, and suffering, and so much of it is a consequence of human action. In a rational world, the kinder people wouldn’t be so busy dealing with the wreckage left by the cruel and careless.
As harsh as nature is for animals, cruelty comes only from human hands. We are the creature of conscience, aware of the wrongs we do and fully capable of making things right. Our best instincts will always tend in that direction, because there is a bond with animals that’s built into every one of us. That bond of kinship and fellow-feeling has been with us through the entire arc of human experience — from our first bare-footed steps on the planet through the era of the domestication of animals and into the modern age. For all that sets humanity apart, animals remain “our companions in Creation,” to borrow a phrase from Pope Benedict XVI, bound up with us in the story of life on earth. Every act of callousness toward an animal is a betrayal of that bond. In every act of kindness we keep faith with the bond. And broadly speaking, the whole mission of the animal welfare cause is to repair the bond — for their sake and for our own.
In our day, there are stresses and fractures of the human-animal bond, and some forces at work that would sever it once and for all. They pull us in the wrong direction and away from the decent and honorable code that makes us care for creatures who are entirely at our mercy. Especially within the last 200 years, we’ve come to apply an industrial mindset to the use of animals, too often viewing them as if they were nothing but articles of commerce, the raw material of science, or mere obstacles in the path of our own progress. Here, as in other pursuits, human ingenuity has a way of outrunning human conscience, and some things we do only because we can — forgetting to ask whether we should.
Some object to the abuse of animals because they know that the habits of cruelty and selfishness easily carry over into how we treat one another. Yet in the end, the case for animals stands on its own merits. It needs no other concerns or connections to give it importance. Compassion for animals is a universal value, more so today than ever. Animals matter for their own sake, in their own right, and the wrongs in question are wrongs done to them.
Each of the chapters that follow expresses this truth in a different way. Chapter one reflects on the human-animal bond, its origins and its varying expressions across time. We are learning so much today about how animals think and feel, and chapter two examines that evidence along with the long history of denials among generations of scientists. In chapters three through six, we’ll survey some of the more systematic wrongs inflicted on animals — factory farming, animal fighting, and the abuse of pets and wildlife — and we’ll see how some of these evils are being confronted and overcome through the power of democracy and the rule of law. From there, we’ll venture into the world of the industries and interest groups that seek to hide or explain away the abuse of animals, and we’ll listen carefully to the arguments and excuses they offer. Finally, chapter eight offers the best counterargument of all, by showing the great and growing possibilities of a humane economy — the new industries and practices that can thrive as we cast off old and cruel ways.
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Over the years, I have rejoiced in the gains for animal welfare, and I've seen my share of setbacks as well, which you’ll read about here too. But the trajectory of progress is unmistakable and undeniable: by ever-larger majorities, the conscience of America is asserting itself. Animal protection has always been a noble cause. Now it's a winning cause, too.
Today, more than ever, we hold all the cards in our relationship with animals. They have no say in their own fate, and it’s up to us to speak and act on their behalf. International assemblies convene to decide which species will be protected and which will not — quarreling over terms and clauses that can either spare animals by the tens of thousands or destroy them on a similar scale. Humans control the births and deaths of billions of domesticated animals, and often the number of days or weeks they are permitted to live. We even shape their very natures and temperament through selective breeding, genetic engineering, and now cloning — taking godlike powers upon ourselves, often with complete disregard for the original designs of God and nature.
When it comes to people and animals, power is asymmetrical, and all the advantages belong to us. Whether it’s a subarctic nursery of newborn seals before the hunters come, or a herd of elephants about to be “culled,” or dogs and cats at the end of their allotted time at a shelter and deemed too costly to keep alive, always their fate depends on our forbearance and our compassion. And one of the themes of human experience, since we first entered the picture ages ago, has been the expansion of that power and the moral test of how we use it — whether cruelly or kindly, selfishly or justly, pridefully or humbly. There have always been people and groups, in every time and place, who seek to dismiss and belittle the cause of protecting animals — as if the other creatures of the earth were just an obstacle to human progress, who need to be cleared away, subdued, or even wiped out as we decide. And there have always been those others who raised a clear voice in defense of animals, unafraid to question old assumptions, unworthy traditions, and practices and industries that can no longer hold up to reason or conscience.
Millions are carrying on in that same spirit of challenging and questioning and calling cruelty by its name. The battle is unfolding on many fronts, as described in the pages to follow. In the end, whenever we humans find it in ourselves to help powerless and vulnerable creatures, we are both affirming their goodness and showing our own. In that way, their cause is also the cause of humanity, and this book is your invitation to join it.
From "The Bond: Our Kinship With Animals, Our Call to Defend Them" by Wayne Pacelle. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow/HarperCollins.
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