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Forging a way forward

From Animal Sheltering magazine Spring 2017

Wayne Pacelle and his adopted dog, Lily

In November, former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura adopted a puppy from the SPCA of Texas. In a Facebook post announcing the arrival of Freddy Bush, the 43rd president advocated for adoption: “If you could use a little extra joy in your life, consider adopting a pet from an animal shelter or rescue group.”

The inclination of the Bushes to identify themselves with our cause was gratifying, and their compassion was a reminder of how deeply ingrained the love of animals is for countless Americans.

The path for compassionate Americans wasn’t always so clear. It took decades of work to normalize the notion of spay/neuter and adoption as complementary strategies to reduce euthanasia and find homes for every animal in need. The HSUS led the way, but thousands of groups joined in advocating for these notions and made them not only part of the fiber of our movement but of the nation itself. Together, we’ve won the battle of ideas when it comes to the treatment of companion animals. Now it’s a matter of execution, continuing to deliver the message and getting services to the people who can and want to act to affirm the human-animal bond.

Indeed, we still have much to do. The main features in this issue of Animal Sheltering—on the need to see shelter dogs as individuals, the utility of transport programs and the value of building strong relationships with donors—all speak to the humane movement’s sweeping progress in making our shelters and rescues successful in finding homes for healthy and adoptable animals. Our movement has never had a surfeit of resources to advance its mission of helping animals, and this makes innovation and creativity in the management of local organizations and the process of modern sheltering all the more important. We do a lot with a little.

The advent of a new presidential administration in Washington raises questions about the progress we’ve made in pressing our humane agenda, too. We’ll need to redouble our efforts to secure adequate protections and enforcement in relation to puppy mills, one of the few companion animal issues where the federal government has a role. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not done all that it can to support our agenda of bringing the mills to heel; within that agency, there’s considerable room for improvement under new leadership.

We have a way to go in the states when it comes to puppy mills, too. We got a strong boost with the January publication of Paul Solotaroff’s Rolling Stone exposé, “The Dog Factory: Inside the Sickening World of Puppy Mills.” In addition to visiting a dog auction in Missouri with an HSUS staff member, Solotaroff went along on a raid with our animal rescue team as it carried 105 dogs to safety from filthy, dark wire cages surrounded by cobwebs and trash. Altogether, the team rescued 150 animals from this awful place, including numerous cats, kittens and goats. 

This raid occurred in North Carolina—the 25th such action there in recent years led by The HSUS, partnering with wonderful local organizations and dedicated law enforcement throughout the state. But North Carolina is just one of the states in which we need to strengthen our efforts to end the scourge of puppy mills. We all need to do more to engage the animal-loving American public at a new and deeper level, and the new administration and Congress must become allies in the fight against America’s puppy mill problems if we’re going to see a resolution soon. 

Everything we do in the realm of anti-cruelty enforcement, legal regulation of puppy mills, and campaigns to suppress animal fighting contributes to better outcomes for animals waiting for adoption at shelters and with rescue groups. These goals must remain as priorities for our whole movement, including shelters and rescues. A small number of people, intent on exploiting animals for profit, can undermine our welfare objectives, unless we have the political acumen and fortitude to stop them. 

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About the Author

Wayne Pacelle is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. Under Pacelle's leadership, The HSUS has been approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and is ranked in the top 10 for nonprofit brands.