02/23/2012 1:54PM

Q&A: Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society

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Paul Markow Photography

Wayne Pacelle is the president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, and in that role, he is the very public face of animal-rights issues in the United States. The author of a best-selling book, “The Bond,” Pacelle, 46, was elevated to president in 2004 after serving as the organization’s chief lobbyist and spokesperson for 10 years, a position that made him a familiar face in state and federal legislatures and on a variety of national television broadcasts.

While the Humane Society deals with a raft of issues affecting animal welfare, the racing industry had not been one of the organization’s priorities until the last several years, when the organization threw its support behind legislative efforts to ban horse slaughter in the United States. That effort was successful in 2007, when Congress inserted language in a bill banning the funding of meat inspectors. Late last year, however, the language was removed from the annual funding bill, and the Humane Society is now supporting a larger bill that would explicitly ban slaughter in the United States and the export of horses to Canada and Mexico for the purposes of slaughter.

The Humane Society has also told legislators that it supports a bill that would ban the use of “performance-enhancing” drugs on race day and the establishment of federal regulatory powers over the industry. While supported by some in the racing industry, most major racing organizations oppose the bill, putting the industry at odds with the organization.

What do you think is the racing industry’s most pressing issue with regard to the humane treatment of its animals?
There are several. There’s an ontrack issue, and there’s off-the-track. Off-the-track, it’s the disposition of non-performing horses and what happens to them. Are they going to be sent to slaughter, or are they going to be protected, and whether they are going to be lifetime-care provided. We’re distressed about the idea of horses being sent to Mexico and Canada on small trucks and then the animal is slaughtered because the owner didn’t fulfill his or her responsibility to the animal.

Ontrack, the number one concern is probably raceday medications that are often used for performance enhancement.

Would you say that furosemide, or Lasix, is one of those medications you consider performance-enhancing?
Yes. Certainly, people have different opinions about that, but yes, I would. Certainly that has been the subject of a decades-long debate, but there is a very strong argument that it is a performance-enhancer.

Do you think racing is taking measures to respond to these criticisms?
I’m sure that they’re taking some account of it, but it’s not happening on a national level. There are a few things that are happening on the state level, because of many people, but that leads to a patchwork of different standards with respect to raceday medications. It seems to me when you are dealing with the movement of animals across state lines, and the tracks offering interstate wagering, that there is a very compelling argument for a national regulatory authority. In the NFL, baseball, and so many other sports, they have a national authority to govern the entire industry, to see that there are similar sets or rules, that there is fairness, and that there is someone looking out for the participants. In the case of horses, obviously, they need an advocate so that people are not taking unfair advantage of them.

You have spoken before about retirement and non-performing horses and the responsibility of the owner. Is that something that should be the responsibility or burden of the last owner of the horse, or does there need to be an industry-wide approach to addressing that problem?
The industry does need to address it as a whole. There are a few issues with that. One, the industry is basically silent on the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. The major racing associations are not advocating for enactment of that legislation, and it seems to me that the associations that are built around use of horses and the commerce that results from the use of horses should be advocating for the protection of the subjects of their industry. That’s one. And I think tracks can set up – and a number of tracks have – rules forbidding individuals who participate in racing from hustling horses to kill-buyers and horse-slaughter plants. And I think there needs to be a culture within the horse racing world that not only frowns upon the idea but is aggressively speaking out about people who are not fulfilling their responsibility to provide lifetime care to the animals.

What do you think will be the impact of taking the language out of the agriculture bill? Will horse-slaughter plants re-open in the U.S.?
I’m not sure. There’s not a big global market for horse meat, and with new rules that the European Union is soon to put in place, it’s going to make it very difficult for horse slaughter for human consumption to occur in North America. If the European Union, which is basically 80 percent of the global market, puts standards in place that make it impossible for these horses to be slaughtered, I don’t think it’s going to be a sound business investment, other than by people who have an ideological commitment to horse slaughter, who are committed to viewing them as property or livestock and they want to prove a point. But as a business decision it doesn’t seem like there’s a future. I don’t think a lot of private-equity investors or other investors will be putting their money into horse-slaughter plants. You’ve got the uncertainty with the E.U., looming legislation in Congress, polls that show 80 percent of the American public opposes it, and you would have protests and legal actions if you were to open a slaughter plant. So there’s a lot of bluster and talk from horse-slaughter advocates, but I think as a business proposition it’s very dubious.

The Humane Society doesn’t object to the use of euthanasia in cat and dog shelters. What’s the difference between shelters making the decision to put unwanted cats and dogs down and horse slaughter?
There are very profound differences. The Humane Society doesn’t oppose euthanasia of horses, just like we don’t oppose euthanizing dogs and cats. Euthanasia, typically, is reserved for cases where an animal is ill or in bad shape. In the case of euthanizing healthy and treatable animals, or healthy and adoptable animals, we think it’s tragic that those animals are euthanized, but it’s done by the most humane methods possible, and there are no commercial incentives driving the killing. The notion that horse slaughter equals euthanasia is completely and utterly false on every level. Any animal-welfare group that is deeply immersed in knowing what are the proper standards for euthanasia would say that a commercial, predatory industry that actively gathers up horses, most of whom are perfectly healthy, and then ships them thousands of miles to sell the meat for market, that that has no relationship to euthanasia.

Just to be clear, we’re not suggesting that horses are not going to die. There are 10 million horses in the U.S., and let’s say 700,000 die each year. The vast majority of these horses are not going to slaughter. People are euthanizing them or they are dying of illness or a natural death, and we’re disposing of the carcasses. But 138,000 horses are going to slaughterhouses in America. That means 560,000 are dying by other methods. That means we’re handling those end-of-life decisions in those cases. And I don’t know of a single person who thinks that horse-slaughter plants are equated with euthanasia other than in the horse industry.

On its website, the humane society classifies horses as “pets” rather than “farm animals.” Why that classification?
They’re definitely not farm animals. Those are animals that are bred for meat, or they are raised for milk production or their eggs. So those animals are deliberately brought into the world for slaughter or for capturing their reproductive product. Horses are not raised for meat. . . . Horses are raised for other purposes, and then a predatory opportunistic industry captures them and funnels them into the slaughter pipeline. Or people use horses for riding, or they use them for work animals, and then when they are done with them, they want to make a profit from them, so they sell them to a kill buyer.

Horses have many different uses in society. Their roles evolved in our society, from being used as an implement primarily for work or warfare, to their current status where they are used for pleasure or show or other purposes other than raising the animal for slaughter. The fact that a horse is raised on a farm, outside of a house, does not make the animal any less worthy of protection than pets that are in the house and domesticated. . . . I think we have a real responsibility to horses. I think any animal owner should do his or her best to provide lifetime care for the animal, and to short-circuit that and to use the animal for a short time and allow the animal to be killed for profit, or to thrust the care responsibility on to another, is irresponsible.

As far as the humane society itself, what specific efforts is it undertaking or funding that seek to improve the safety and condition of racehorses?
We don’t have a lot of campaigns in this regard. Our priorities in the equine realm are to pass the federal legislation that would ban the slaughter of American horses throughout North America – that’s what that bill would do, not just stop the slaughter of horses in America, but stop the live export of horses to Canada and Mexico − to clamp down on the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses through the practice of “soring” [applying products or force to a horse’s lower legs to produce an exaggerated gait]; to promote humane and responsible management of wild horse and burro populations; and to promote responsible horsemanship as a general matter. And making sure people recognize animal ownership is a lifetime responsibility and making sure that people understand that these animals should be provided with lifetime care.

We plug into the horse racing issues from time to time. We certainly support the Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011, to deal with the use of performance-enhancing drugs on race day, and to set up a national authority to regulate the sport. We have commented on genetic health of the horses, and we want to see the horses bred in a way that provides for their physical health and sturdiness. We’ve talked about the surfaces, in order to minimize the risk to the animals’ legs and to promote health and to minimize the likelihood of a breakdown. And we’ve talked about the disposition of horses when owners are done with them, making sure that they don’t just discard the horse, that the horse doesn’t become a commodity that goes into the slaughter pipeline.

On catastrophic injuries, there’s a consensus among equine specialists that given the physical attributes of the horse, there is no way to reduce those injuries to zero. Is there an acceptable rate of catastrophic injuries?
I don’t know. There are a lot of different breeds, and there are a lot of track surfaces, and there are a lot of elements to that. I don’t think we’ve come up with a number. We realize that in the sport of horse racing there are risks to the horses and that injuries do occur in sport. The concern is that there are a number of risk factors that are not being sufficiently considered. Length of race, age of the animal, track surface, medication, rest periods – there are all sorts of things that factor in. Our objective at the Humane Society of the United States is to make the horse racing industry, and the owner and the trainers, do their best, including by setting rules that minimize the prospect of catastrophic injuries.

You mentioned genetics. Are there specific aspects of the breeding, bloodstock, and auction industries that the humane society is concerned about?
I would say that we have a general concern that – and this is not just for horses, this is for farm animals and purebred dogs – that we should be breeding the animals for physical health, well-being, and soundness, and not for exterior attributes such as the novelty of design or that, in the case of horses, they are bred only for speed and not for soundness. There’s not one particular part of this, it just means that horses should not be bred just to have champagne-glass legs that are going to be more vulnerable to a catastrophic injury.

The humane society’s official position is that it’s not opposed to horse racing, but it is actively working to end greyhound racing. What’s the difference between the two sports?
Greyhound racing is a very marginal industry, and it has had a real history of discarding the dogs once they’re poor-performing. There’s less of a connection to the dog than there is among many in the horse racing sphere [to horses]. It’s always been such a marginal industry that they haven’t been able to pay a great deal of attention to some of the welfare issues. Now I’ve met a lot of folks in the greyhound industry, and they talk to us about them being humane, but they are churning out a lot of dogs and putting them out into the world for other people to handle. That’s an issue for us.