Early Animal Welfare Advocates
The period immediately after the American Civil War witnessed the emergence of a movement that advocated for greater awareness and sympathy towards the plight of animals; this movement was particularly focused on draft animals. Our cavalier disregard for the pain and suffering inflicted upon animals went mostly unchecked and unnoticed for centuries. There were some exceptions, mainly in religious traditions whose Biblical teachings of love and compassion were embraced and recognized as applying to all of God’s creatures. However, there were also a few secular appeals from people appealing to an innate sense of decency and compassion.The 18th century English painter and printmaker, William Hogarth exemplified the latter. His quartet of prints entitled “The Four Stages of Cruelty”provides an early example of animal welfare advocacy. It also contains a wrenching message underscoring the detrimental effect animal cruelty ultimately inflicts upon society.
The abolition of slavery in America allowed people of conscience to turn their attention to the cruelties inflicted on animals. A number of organized animal welfare societies sprung up during the post-Civil War years. Most prominent among them were the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1866, the American Humane Association in 1877, and the American Anti-Vivisection Society in 1883. In addition to taking on animal cruelty issues, such organizations also campaigned in support of pressing social issues including child welfare, feminism and temperance.
Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, was spurred on in his mission by animal cruelty he witnessed while traveling in Europe and Russia. He also saw the need for an organization dedicated to animal welfare like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) which he had visited while in England. Back home in America, his organization waged campaigns against animal cruelty in transportation, slaughter, entertainment, scientific experimentation and several other industries.
At the time of the formation of the ASPCA, there were few laws in most states or territories in the United States relating to animal protection. By 1886, thirty-nine states had adopted animal protection laws similar to ones Bergh secured in 1866 and 1867 in New York. Bergh’s work and that of the ASPCA soon incurred opposition from groups and industries involved in animal cruelty. Among them were the streetcar and food industries as well as hunting groups involved in pigeon shoots. Similar groups continue to provide fierce opposition to those in the animal welfare movement in the modern era.
The AHA, Fred Myers and Founding of The HSUS
The founding mission of the American Humane Association was the protection and advancement of the welfare of animals and children. The AHA is perhaps best known today for the “No Animals Were Harmed” trademarked certification on sets of Hollywood films and other productions. In 1916, the AHA founded the Red Star Animal Rescue to rescue injured horses from the battlefields of WWI.
A lesser-known historical fact regarding the American Humane Association, but of no less significance, is a shared ancestry with The HSUS.
The early 1950s found The AHA among a sea of local humane societies scattered across the country. The primary focus of these local societies was on the welfare of cats and dogs and monitoring practices at municipal pounds. National organizations such as The AHA and ASPCA had made efforts to expand the scope of their animal protection work but the emphasis remained squarely on companion animals. The editor of the AHA’s National Humane Review magazine, Fred Myers, pushed for more awareness of the cruelties inflicted on animals in laboratories, in the food industry and in the wild. In particular, Myers vigorously opposed pound seizure of animals for use in laboratory experiments. He would eventually part ways with the AHA over this issue along with censorship of his writing for the group’s magazine.
In 1954, Myers, along with several others including Larry Andrews, Marcia Glaser and Helen Jones left the AHA and formed the National Humane Society. Unlike the AHA, the founders of this new animal welfare organization believed that their expanded cause would require a national focus backed by federal legislation. Based on this goal, they made the decision to establish the headquarters of their fledgling organization in Washington, DC.
In May 1956 The AHA filed suit in federal court alleging that The NHS’s name was too similar to its own and could cause confusion among its constituents. Rather than risk extensive litigation and its associated costs, The National Humane Society changed its name that same year to The Humane Society of the United States.
Fred Myers embarked on an ambitious agenda of animal welfare issues with humane slaughter at the top of the list. Myers provided testimony at a Congressional hearing on the matter and through his efforts and those of The HSUS, the Humane Slaughter Act passed in 1958.
The use of animals for medical research was another issue that received attention during the early days of The HSUS. Myers drafted the organization’s first legislative initiatives around the issue. He directed HSUS field investigations into labs to gather evidence of inhumane treatment of animals housed at their facilities and even appeared on a newly-launched TV show called “The Today Show” to present the issue to a nationwide audience.
Myers remained committed to championing and supporting the work of local societies and animal shelters, acknowledging that they were at the core of the humane movement. From its outset, The HSUS worked with local societies and shelters to define best practices in rescue, adoption, the implementation of spay and neuter programs and at its center, promoting humane education. Myers passed away in 1963 after suffering a heart attack. Looking back, he pioneered and defined a core set of strategies that have been used to great effect by his successors at The HSUS to this very day.
1966: A Good Year for Animals
Part of Fred Myers’s campaign to push through federal laws regulating animal testing involved hiring the organization’s first investigator in 1961 in the person of Frank McMahon. McMahon quickly went to work launching an investigation into dealers who sold dogs to research laboratories for experimental purposes. The goal was to draw attention to the practice and gain support for a federal law. It would become a five-year investigation and included sending investigators undercover as animal caretakers into labs to observe and report on inhumane practices.
The campaign received an enormous boost when the February 4, 1966 issue of Life magazine published a photo-essay of a raid on a Maryland dog dealer conducted by McMahon and the Maryland State Police.The title of the article was “Concentration Camp for Dogs” and sparked national outrage leading to passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (later renamed the “Animal Welfare Act of 1966”). The AWA was only the second major federal humane law passed since World War II and opened up research facilities to accountability. The Endangered Species Preservation Act and Endangered Species Conservation Act were signed into law the same year.
Frank McMahon would continue his investigative role at The HSUS gathering evidence in support of reforms governing rodeos, slaughterhouses, animal fighting and seal hunts. Many of the policies and procedures he established during these campaigns continue to guide the investigative work of The HSUS.
Transition Under John Hoyt
Leadership at The HSUS went through a transitional period in the early 1960s when Fred Myers stepped down from his role as Executive Director, a position he had held since the organization’s founding in 1954. He assumed the role of vice president of the newly-created department of education. Declining health also factored into Myers’s transition. In 1963 The HSUS board moved to make the position of president a full-time, paid office. Previously, it had been a volunteer position. With the president now the principal executive, the position of executive director previously held by Myers was eliminated.
The organization would have two presidents serve in rather quick succession, Oliver Evans from 1963 to 1967 and Mel Morse from 1968 to 1970. Patrick Parkes briefly left his VP position to serve as interim president after Oliver Evans stepped down to focus on family and business matters. Morse stepped down for similar reasons. Despite their short stints at the helm of The HSUS, both Evan and Morse made noteworthy contributions during their tenures and continued to serve The HSUS in different capacities afterwards. Board member Robert Chenoweth, who had held the position of president since 1954, continued to serve under the newly created title of chairman of the board.
The search for a new president began anew and culminated in the hiring of John Hoyt on April 1, 1970. Hoyt had no experience in the animal welfare movement and prior to accepting the position of president of The HSUS, was serving as a Presbyterian minister at a church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hoyt mentioned during his interview that he always loved animals, mainly because of the influence of his grandmother, a vegetarian who lived to be 106. He was reported to have said “My grandmother had 40 pet sheep and each one had a name.”
It was Hoyt’s charisma and theological experience that made him an ideal president to lead The HSUS through the 1970s, a time when the political climate was indifferent and at times openly hostile to the plights of animals and the environment. It was also a period when The HSUS was experiencing growing pains, in particular, grappling with the organizational structure of its regional affiliates. In order to define strategies with a national scope, Hoyt created the Program and Policy Review Committee within The HSUS consisting of both board and staff members.
Hoyt eliminated the five state branches of The HSUS , as they were a long-standing source of frustration among many within the organization. The independent nature of these local chapters made them in essence, competitors to the national organization. In place of the local branches, The HSUS established five regional offices, covering the entire continental United States. The restructuring was completed by the end of 1972 and served as the template for The HSUS’s work in the states until the early twenty first century when the organization moved to hire a director for every state.
Other notable accomplishments during John Hoyt’s term were the purchase of a permanent headquarters in downtown Washington, DC and establishment of an annual budget process to facilitate growth and expansion. Hoyt also initiated the recruitment of outstanding talent in a wide range of fields such as science, zoology, psychology, ethology, technology and veterinary medicine. Specialists in direct mail, marketing and publishing were also brought on board to extend the messaging on animal welfare issues that The HSUS was championing at the time. By 1979, membership had swelled to 115,000 and the annual budget of the organization was approaching $2 million.
The 1980s saw the rise of the animal rights movement along with groups that advocated extralegal activities in furtherance of their cause. Some of these activities were violent in nature, consisting of activities like theft and property destruction. Hoyt came out against violence in service to animal welfare and asserted that the mission of the HSUS would be guided by principles and policy founded on scientific insights, as well as strategic determination focusing on socio-political and cultural opportunities. Hoyt summed things up eloquently by stressing the need to ““do battle in ways that will not only serve the wellbeing of animals, but at the same time preserve and advance our own dignity and decency.”
John Hoyt retired in 1996, but remained in an advisory role for The HSUS and its affiliated groups. He passed away on April 15, 2012 at the age of 80 and was the longest-serving president of The HSUS. John Hoyt’s contribution to leading the organization into national and international prominence as well as laying the foundation for an organization of professionals dedicated to advancing the cause of animal welfare cannot be overstated.
Rapid Growth under Paul Irwin
In 1992 Treasurer and CFO Paul Irwin was promoted to president. Irwin was named CEO in 1997 after John Hoyt’s retirement. The organization, experiencing rapid growth both in staff and the scope of its work, purchased an office building in Gaithersburg, MD in 1991. The DC office was retained to house key executives, legal, legislative and other staff members.
This period witnessed tremendous growth in member acquisition and fundraising. Irwin set an ambitious goal of having five million constituents within five years. This goal was achieved ahead of schedule. Between 1994 and 1997, the membership rolls of The HSUS grew from 2.2 to 5.7 million supporters. Its annual budget grew from $3.5 million to $70 million between 1983 and 2003 and the number of full-time staff increased from around 60 to 280 employees. Paul Irwin also directed the transition from direct mail marketing to online channels such as a website, eCommerce and web video. Under Irwin’s leadership, The HSUS also expanded several program areas with a number of senior vice presidents overseeing policy.
Wayne Pacelle and The Humane Economy
In 1994, Wayne Pacelle, then Executive Director of the Fund for Animals, joined the staff of The HSUS. In his new role, Pacelle worked to revitalize The HSUS’s Government Affairs department and to expand the organization’s public relations and communications work. He focused on securing funding for existing federal animal protection programs, such as enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (which the organization helped pass in 1958) and the Animal Welfare Act (which the group backed in 1966), but also looked to close gaping holes in the legal framework for animals. Pacelle championed the need to effect legislative change via ballot measures at the state level. Resistance to such an approach lingered from defeats the animal protection movement had suffered during prior initiatives, but that resistance faded as Pacelle guided The HSUS through two successful ballot initiatives in 1994. This resulted in a proliferation of ballot measures ahead of the 1996 election cycle which led the Los Angeles Times to declare 1996 the “Year of the Animal.”
In 2004, Pacelle was named President and CEO of The HSUS. He picked up the mantle put in place by his predecessors and pursued an aggressive agenda of legislative reform. Among his first targets were the cruel bloodsports of cockfighting, dogfighting and bear baiting. Pacelle has played a pivotal role in the passage of dozens of state ballot measures during his tenure — from outlawing cockfighting in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma to cracking down on puppy mills in Missouri to banning extreme confinement on factory farms in Arizona, California, Florida, and Massachusetts. Since 1999, Pacelle and his team have enacted more than 125 federal animal protection laws and provisions and defeated dozens of adverse measures.
The merger in 2005 of The Fund For Animals and the Doris Day Animal League into The HSUS greatly expanded the size and capabilities of the organization. It also added several animal sanctuaries with the acquisition of the Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison,TX, the Duchess Sanctuary in Oakland,OR and the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The organization began playing a more active role in animal rescue operations during natural disasters as well as conducting raids in cooperation with law enforcement on puppy mills, dog fighting operations and hoarding situations.
Pacelle’s leadership in challenging animal cruelty provoked the reaction of critics associated with groups that opposed the work of The HSUS and the animal welfare movement such as the NRA, hunting organizations, and lobbying groups for industrialized agriculture.
Critics have sometimes complained that The HSUS doesn’t provide funding for shelters operated by local humane societies, but the history of The HSUS makes clear that this was never its purpose or mission, and as Pacelle once observed, “we don’t run shelters, we help them run better.” This takes the form of providing material support and training to local societies and shelters as well as publishing shelter magazines, evaluating shelters, and acting as their voice on animal protection issues.
Issues concerning the treatment of animals on factory farms, in circuses and other entertainment venues and in the wild became renewed priorities at The HSUS in the early years of the twenty-first century. At the core of these campaigns were state-level referendums and ballot initiatives, but a new strategy was emerging based on a more pragmatic and cooperative approach to working with groups involved with cruelty.
By informing the public about industrial animal abuse — including the extreme confinement of farm animals and the cruelties to which performing animals were subjected — Pacelle and his colleagues directed more pressure to bear upon the corporate executives responsible. In doing so, they elicited significant concessions from a number of large corporations, resulting in meaningful change for animals.
In February 2012, McDonald’s agreed to phase out the purchase of pig meat from producers using gestation crates for sows. Other companies eventually followed suit including Burger King, Wendy’s, Safeway, Kroger, Costco, Target and Walmart. Addressing the extreme confinement of laying hens in battery cages where it’s not possible for them to spread their wings also began with a breakthrough in conversations with McDonald’s and its CEO.
In September 2015 McDonald’s announced that it would begin to phase out purchasing eggs from hens in cages. These sourcing changes by McDonald’s had a catalytic effect across the industry causing other major brands to go cage-free. By the end of 2016, more than 200 food retail brands — almost every major name known to consumers — had pledged to reform their supply chain practices for farm animals. Pacelle notes in his book, “The Humane Economy,” that attending to the welfare of animals is simply good business as consumers are now making conscious purchasing decisions that favor cage-free eggs and meat from humanely raised animals.
Sustained campaigns against the mistreatment of animals used for entertainment resulted in a succession of victories during 2016, with the outlawing of the use of elephant bullhooks in California and the announcement that Ringling Bros would end its long-standing elephant performances. Perhaps most significant was the announcement from SeaWorld saying that the company would move to sunset its orca whale act and end its captive orca breeding program.
As part of his commitment to extending the legacy of his predecessors at The HSUS, Wayne Pacelle maintains an extremely active schedule of public speaking, writing, testifying and making TV and radio appearances advocating on behalf of animals across the globe. Although the breadth and reach of The HSUS today would probably astound its founders, the core mission they put in place continues to burn at the organization’s heart more than sixty years later.