I suppose it’s no surprise that the sexual harassment issue has hit the animal welfare world, but it’s sad nonetheless. Last week Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States resigned amid claims of sexual harassment. Pacelle has been the leader of the largest animal welfare organization in the United States since 2004. He is a handsome and charismatic leader that helped bring about many positive changes for animals during his tenure. He was also a bachelor until he married a TV news reporter in 2013. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak a couple of times and was always impressed with his passion for animals.
It’s an interesting dynamic to observe in the animal welfare field where men were typically the directors and officers and women were the kennel workers and office staff. That’s a recipe for abuse of power. On the flip side, it was also interesting to watch the women at conferences where 80 percent of the attendees were women and only a small number were men. Women just swoon over men who care enough about animals to work in this field!
As a powerful bachelor in the animal rights field, Wayne was a target for female attention. And I’m sure he enjoyed it. Which doesn’t make abuse excusable. But one of the accusations is that he invited an employee out to salsa dance! Isn’t that asking someone on a date? Of course, we don’t know the particulars and the whole thing so far is based on allegations. It’s almost scary how the men being hit with these accusations are being forced out of positions of power before they get a fair hearing. And I think it’s hard to hold men’s actions from a couple of decades ago up to the standard we have today. Not that rape is ever acceptable, nor the quid pro quo that was so prevalent in the 50s (and perhaps still is, just kept a better secret), nor the hostile work environments that women had to endure.
The real down side of this whole debacle is the possible repercussions to local humane societies. Many people are unaware that each agency is completely independent. There is a misperception that they are franchises under the umbrella of the national organization and hence they risk getting tarnished in the fray. And ultimately, it’s the animals that will suffer, as donors distance themselves and grants are cut off. CEO’s of local humane societies are scrambling to disassociate themselves from the HSUS and sending out press releases explaining their independence.
It’s really sad that a powerful agency that is supposed to be the voice for the voiceless, that promotes kindness and justice and rights to all, has allowed itself to get caught in this web. If, in fact, the organization’s board of directors allowed this abuse to go on, then shame on them! It is the antithesis of everything that HSUS says it stands for. How can you fight for the rights of animals and ignore the rights of women? Especially the women that work for you, and you have direct control over their work environment? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I do hope that Wayne gets a fair investigation and I hope that HSUS is not damaged beyond repair. The animals need and deserve a strong ally in Washington and although HSUS is not the only voice they had, it was by far the most powerful.
No More Lost Pets – free microchips and pet ID tags for residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati City. Stop by the shelter during our open hours with your pet to get one! The shelter is open Wed 1-6:30 p.m., Thurs.-Fri-Sat 1-5:30 p.m. and Sun 1-4:30 p.m.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.