The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them

Wow, what a great book. To be honest, I was expecting The Bond to be something along the lines of the book Why Animals Matter–an “Animal Protection 101” primer on the issues that wouldn’t be as useful to seasoned advocates. I’m pleased to report that my first impression was wrong, and longtime animal advocates will find as much valuable material in The Bond as newcomers to the issues.

Pacelle begins with an overview of the history of the human-animal bond, a connection that stretches back to the dawn of humanity. And while early humans relied on animals for food, clothing, and other necessities, the practice of pet-keeping dates back nearly as far. Pacelle writes:

Critics of today’s animal-protection movement often argue that animal welfare is ultimately a trivial matter—the product of effete modern sensibilities. But the truth is that our relationship with animals has always been profoundly important.

And while organized activism for animals may be somewhat newer, it too has a long pedigree that didn’t begin with a PETA member in a bunny suit:

[Henry] Bergh and [George] Angell , in particular, focused on all cruelties, from inhumane transportation and slaughter of livestock, to pigeon shoots, animal fighting, and vivisection. Congress’s first animal protection law, enacted in 1873, actually protected farm animals.

And Pacelle gives us historical insight on how we got into the current mess we’re in regards to animal welfare:

In the United Kingdom, Parliament regulated vivisection in 1876, but despite parallel efforts by American advocates, the US Congress did not follow, and animal experimentation went largely unregulated until Congress enacted the federal Animal Welfare Act nearly a century later. The result of these long-ago failures by Congress was to leave a free-for-all in animal experimentation and agriculture…So many of the animal-welfare controversies of our day could have been avoided had there only been some basic moral framework for the conduct of these industries, put in place before new and ever more severe cruelties were allowed to become the norm.

Pacelle’s working relationship with infamous former dogfighter Michael Vick has sparked confusion and controversy among HSUS supporters, as well as cynical, manufactured outrage from anti-animal propaganda groups. Pacelle’s well thought-out chapter on this subject will give readers insight into this choice, even if they ultimately disagree with it.

At one point in their prison visiting-room discussion, Vick inconceivably states he loved his fighting dogs. Pacelle responds:

“Mike, I think that’s admiration, in some narrow sense. But that’s not love. You don’t hurt somebody or some animal you love. You may be drawn to animals and you may have an interest in them. But love’s more than admiration and fascination. It’s about care and affection.”

Thankfully, Pacelle has the guts to take his reasoning beyond Vick’s seemingly bizarre statement. It’s a common thing for dog fighters and cockfighters to profess themselves animal lovers and talk of their admiration for their animals’ strength and courage in the pit. And guess what? Sport hunters, too, share this same mindset. Hunters decorate their homes and vehicles with images of whitetail bucks, turkeys, and ducks. They speak of their sincere love for the animals they pierce with bullets and arrows.

The way of thinking among animal fighters reminded me of the same mindset I’ve come across elsewhere. …[Vick] was one of many people who abused animals while telling themselves they loved them.

Animal fighting has long been a focal point of the HSUS, and we need to be reminded just how much work it took for this cruelty to become part of the national agenda. In comparing the situation between today and the year 1975:

Dogfighting was banned in all fifty states back in 1975…but it was not a felony anywhere. There were no felony cockfighting laws, either, and cockfighting was legal in more than a half-dozen states. Very few humane organizations focused on animal fighting, and law enforcement generally did not consider this misdemeanor offense worthy of their attention.

We learn that the cockfighting subset has far more lobbying power than one might imagine. As with any animal industry, even illegal ones, there’s quite a bit of money behind it. Cockfighters have their own magazines and mail order services where they can buy things such as a stimulant called “Pure Aggression” for fighting roosters.

Puppy mills are another major issue for HSUS. We learn that one of the major blockers of puppy mill reform (and this will be a surprise for some) is the American Kennel Club, the organization that bills itself as “the dog’s champion.” Once you close this book, you’ll realize what a farce that motto truly is.

Pacelle profiles an esteemed dog breeder and show judge, Ted Paul, who came out publicly in support of an Oregon bill to reform puppy mills, the often hideously neglectful large scale commercial breeding facilities.

After [Paul] testified, citing his nearly fifty years in the world of purebred dogs, he was deemed a “traitor,” with many fellow breeders calling for his “suspension” from the show judge world…The bill was enacted, and Ted’s offense was that he was, as a dog breeder, actively supporting HSUS-backed legislation to crack down on puppy mills. Since the hearing he’s basically been blackballed as a judge, and members of the dog fancy promised they would not show their dogs if Ted was in the chair.

And what honorable practices was this evil bill curtailing?

The measure stipulated that dogs used for commercial breeding purposes not be kept in cages to small for them, that the cages not be stacked, and that they have solid flooring rather than wire. The dogs had to be let out for exercise for one hour a day, and they had to be out of the cage when their waste was cleaned, which also had to happen once a day.

One of the AKC’s favorite arguments is that puppy mills are “USDA inspected,” so they don’t need any further legal reforms. There’s just one problem:

Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, the USDA is supposed to conduct inspections of large, licensed commercial breeders. It turns out that more than half of the ten thousand mills are not required to get a license and thus are not inspected by USDA at all. A loophole in the regulations exempts breeders if they sell dogs directly to consumers right from the farm or through a website, rather than selling them through a pet store, and thousands of operators have been quick to exploit this loophole.

Pacelle concludes:

If you think the NRA has mastered the “slippery slope” argument, you ought to hear the executives and lobbyists at the AKC.

So much for the “dog’s champion.”

Speaking of the NRA, Pacelle devotes another chapter to the practices of sport and trophy hunting. He clarifies the policies of his organization:

At HSUS, we have not campaigned against all forms of sport hunting in Alaska or any other part of the country. Despite the overblown claims of the NRA and other prohunting organizations that we are working to ban it all, we’ve largely asked hunters to hold themselves, at the very least, to their own professed standards of conduct….These are standards that no politically influential hunting organization advocates today—indeed, none of these groups asks its members to abide by any serious ethical code of conduct. On the contrary, the politically active hunting groups are the ones who promote the worst practices and resist any restraints at all.

So, while Pacelle himself may personally oppose sport hunting, the HSUS does not work against all hunting, but rather the most egregious practices such as canned hunting. (This actually may be a disappointment for some AR advocates.) Yet trying to reform even canned hunting (hunters use the more benign term “high-fence hunting”) is tough enough:

Operators provide a price list of native and exotic species, and hunters shoot the animals in a “no kill, no pay” arrangement, with the outcome certain. Somehow this doesn’t offend the hunting lobby’s “sportsmanship” sensibilities. The Safari Club International even bestows “hunting achievement” awards and “Grand Slam” prizes on hunters who shoot animals trapped inside fences. In fact, one such hunting award, “Introduced Trophy Game Animals of North America,” is designed to send customers a-runnin’ to these fenced-in hunting ranches.

Not to be outdone, the NRA backed the infamous Hegins Pigeon Shoot:

[T]he NRA treated any limitation on shooting sports or hunting as a first step toward banning them all. “Pigeon shooting is an historic and legitimate activity steeped in tradition with many participants throughout the Commonwealth and around the world,” read an NRA alert to its members. “For over one hundred years, shoots have been held in Pennsylvania by law-abiding, ethical shooting enthusiasts, hunters, and sportsmen who would not tolerate an activity that would constitute cruelty to animals.

If you have the stomach for it, read about these ethical shooting enthusiasts, hunters, and sportsmen who do not tolerate cruelty to animals.

If you were to take a survey of NRA members, most would probably favor an end to pigeon shoots. The group’s leaders, though, rally members by playing the antigun, antihunting card. “National ‘animal rights’ extremist groups, led by the Humane Society of the United States, have organized and funded efforts in Pennsylvania and around the country to ban this longstanding traditional shooting sport,” wrote the NRA to it’s members. “Make no mistake, this isn’t just about banning pigeon shooting, but banning all hunting species by species.”

(Gotta love it when the NRA calls some other group “extremist.” Perhaps it should rename itself the National Pot & Kettle Association.) In other adventures:

[NRA] fought off an effort in Congress to crack down on the trade in bear gallbladders, which poachers sell into the traditional Chinese medicine market for thousands of dollars apiece—a truly vile practice that has nothing to do with hunting.

(They’ve also, in various states, blocked measures related to cockfighting and puppy mills.) I will say thank you, Mr. Pacelle, for keeping your look at sport hunting and the NRA on-issue and not turning it into a gun control debate, which I’ve unfortunately seen in other works of animal advocacy. The widespread popularity of firearms and shooting is growing by leaps and bounds in all segments of American society—including individuals who oppose hunting–so there’s no need to alienate people.

If the AKC’s anti-animal positions came as a surprise, some readers may be even more shocked to know that the American Veterinary Medical Association is also an opponent of animal welfare reforms. In the chapter on factory farming, we learn of the AVMA’s reaction to the prestigious Pew Commission’s report on industrial agriculture:

In particular, the AVMA attacked the [Pew] commission’s recommendations to phase out nontherapeutic use of antibiotics on farm animals and slammed the recommendation that the intensive confinement of laying hens, breeding sows, and other animals be phased out. … The best-known public health organizations in the country—including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the American Public Health Association—have urged the Congress to act before it’s too late by banning non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics on farms. Only one major medical group opposes this public health reform, and that’s the AVMA.

Pacelle explains the method behind the madness:

When there is no large, organized industry with a professional veterinary presence, as on the issue of animal fighting, the AVMA often takes the proanimal position. But if vets are in the employ of a legal and established animal-use industry, they can usually be counted on to endorse the corporate line. …This unnatural alignment of interests helps explain the long list of positions shared by the AVMA and agribusiness, and why the veterinary association is so deeply estranged from widely accepted animal-welfare principles.

Ah, it all makes sense now.
In addition to familiar faces like the NRA, AKC, and AVMA, the animal use industries have also formed countless splinter groups to promote their interests. Pacelle notes that today’s anti-animal PR folks are more sophisticated than in years past:

But as the years passed and the momentum for reform increased, the dismissive tone gave way to a more nuanced rebuttal, and brusque denials gave way to comforting euphemisms. Realizing the general public believed animals should be treated humanely, the savvier spokesmen for industry began arguing that any business using animals had an interest in their welfare…They drew a distinction between “animal welfare,” which they professed to support, and “animal rights.” Giving their rhetoric a makeover, factory farmers suddenly became advocates of “science-based animal production,” hunters suddenly did less killing and more “harvesting,” and trappers and sealers were now the exemplars of the “sustainable use” of wildlife.

He also observes:

It used to be [opponents] formed groups with unambiguous names like Putting People First, which really meant putting people first, second, and third, and relegating animals to the absolute bottom of the heap after people had their way with them. But names like that went out with the blunt, aggressive rhetoric we used to hear. Nowadays, the casual observer of animal-welfare controversies has a little more trouble figuring out just who the opponents of reform are. … When the whole mission of you group is to trap, bait, shoot, fight, confine, or otherwise torment animals, it’s hard to find a name with just the right ring. … [W]hen your opponents’ strategy is to look and sound as much like you as possible, and wrap themselves in the language of animal protection, you know you’re making progress.

I just wish Pacelle would have spent more time exposing the shadiness behind the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is currently the main architect behind attacks on the HSUS and the author himself.

Although it may seem odd, I tend not to like the “looking to the future” final chapter of most animal advocacy books. I think they tend to be over-optimistic and unrealistic. However, Pacelle excels in this arena too. He outlines suggestions for building a humane economy within the framework we already have. Take a look at his sharp-witted rebuttal to factory farming interests:

And last of all are corporate farmers in any position to complain about things changing too fast. They talk as if their own production practices are static, as if they cannot adjust to changing circumstances in the marketplace and adopt more humane practices. What they overlook is the incredible speed with which they changed to new and harsher ways of industrialized production—to the “new agriculture” with mass confinement and all of its other merciless innovations. The changes in that sector would have been almost unthinkable to farmers fifty years ago, but now they are the standard. If the industry can demonstrate that kind of movement in one direction is so little time, they can turn in the other direction too. Factory farming is the creation of human resourcefulness detached from conscience. What innovations in agriculture might come about by human resourcefulness guided by conscience?

Animal advocates will also learn about hopeful developments they may have missed:

The most hopeful sign came with a 2007 report by the US National Academy of Sciences…That report laid out a long-term proposal for shifting largely, if not entirely, to nonanimal testing methods for chemicals, drugs, and consumer products. The new approach, drawn from the deliberations of an expert committee, relies on modern advances in biology and technology and emphasizes human—rather than animal—biology.

(Review originally appeared at

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Margurite Noblett
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 10:21:22

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    Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:35:23

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  3. Joaquin Doemelt
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 16:27:11

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