Wayne Pacelle, Humane Bully?

A firestorm erupted in the animal welfare community several weeks ago when the State Humane Association of California (SHAC, which represents over 140 humane societies, SPCAs and animal control agencies) filed a complaint with the state Attorney General against the ASPCA. With a bombshell letter from HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle, the firestorm just got a lot hotter.

SHAC’s problem is the name confusion between the ASPCA and individual SPCAs located in California (which are not affiliated with the ASPCA). SHAC says many California donors give to the ASPCA thinking—in part based on ASPCA’s fundraising messages—that their contributions will trickle down to California SPCAs. (The money largely doesn’t.)

The same argument can be applied to HSUS, of course, which isn’t affiliated with any “humane society” pet shelters anywhere in California. Surely HSUS feels threatened by the action against the ASPCA, since it could find itself on the hot seat next.

This is where Pacelle’s letter comes in. He sent it to Steve McNall, a member of SHAC’s board of directors. (McNall is also president of the Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA.)  We received a copy of the letter in the HumaneWatch post office box this week.

(Note: It’s important to distinguish this “SHAC” from a violent animal rights group with the same initials, whose leaders were convicted in 2006 on federal terrorism charges. We’re not talking about that “SHAC.” More after the jump.)

In his April 29 letter, Pacelle complains about handouts that SHAC board member Madeline Bernstein and SHAC executive director Erica Hughes circulated recently in the California legislature. (Both SHAC and HSUS have active lobbyists in place there.)

What’s dogging him is that the SHAC handout dares to point out the plain truth about HSUS. Here’s a quote from the pamphlet (which we’ve added to the HumaneWatch document library):

How is SHAC different from HSUS and the ASPCA?…

ASPCA and HSUS are not umbrella, parent or sister organizations to local humane societies and SPCAs, contrary to the conclusion many reach based on the inclusion of “United States” in HSUS’s name and “American” in ASPCA’s name.

While ASPCA and HSUS may give individual shelters funding from time to time for particular projects, ASPCA and HSUS do not regularly fund California’s shelters and are not involved in their management or operations. [Emphasis in original.]

The truth certainly seems to hurt Pacelle. He lashes out against Bernstein and Hughes in his letter:

I have instructed every one of our state directors to maintain a focus on establishing, growing, and nurturing collaborative relationships with other humane leaders. This is in fact the natural predilection of our California state director, so keeping focused on this goal has not been terribly difficult—in spite of the challenges associated with dealing with the confrontational posture manifested by Erica and Madeline.

It’s not helpful for our broader cause to have a few individuals acting on the Association’s behalf conducting themselves in this way. We don’t believe these actions reflect well on the Association, and where HSUS is concerned, they seem incongruous with our sense of the broader views held of the Association. I do think it’s time for corrective action, because the absence of it sends a signal to us that this behavior is not of concern to you. And if there are concerns that the Association board has with regard to HSUS activities in California, we would like to hear, discuss, and sort through them. [Emphasis added.]

Reading between the lines, here’s what Pacelle seems to be saying: Throw these two troublemakers under the bus. Or else.

Apparently Pacelle is asserting some self-important moral authority as the head of a group with a $121-million budget, to badger a smaller organization (which brings in just $80,000 a year) for daring to speak truth to power.

This is politics at its lowest. More and more pet shelter directors are fed up with the name confusion stemming from the words “Humane Society” on HSUS’s letterhead. And when someone stands up and tries to educate lawmakers, HSUS wants to slap them down.

In Pacelle’s mind, telling the truth is “confrontational.” (We can only imagine what he thinks of HumaneWatch.)

Here’s hoping the good guys stand up to the schoolyard bully. Take it from us: It’s well worth the effort.