An open letter – looking back, and charging ahead in 2017

By on January 5, 2017 with 7 Comments

Dear Friends:

Let’s start the New Year with thanks. Thanks to all of us. Whatever you did as part of the movement to help animals in the year just past, be proud. It was a challenging year. And so many, many people did so much, providing so much support and encouragement. For some, the compassionate treatment of animals was a devotion, a career. It all added up to progress. So much of it — from halting confinement of animals on factory farms, to phasing out the use of captive wildlife for display and silly shows, to reducing animal testing, to blocking the trophy hunting of so many species who deserved more from us.

Beyond that, let’s turn our thoughts to the purpose and focus that will be required of us all in the demanding months ahead.

Given the political divide in our country, a new administration in the White House, and the increasing counter-maneuvers by animal abuse industries, many of you will face challenges more significant than ever. You will be called upon. You know that. You will answer. I know that.

I first shared these sentiments with my colleagues on the staff at The HSUS and our affiliated organizations. My loyalties begin with them, naturally enough. But ours is a bigger movement, and getting bigger all the time. And like never before, we must resolve to persevere together.

For much of my life, I’ve traveled, met, spoken with, and listened to my friends and partners in this movement. One thing I know beyond a doubt: We undertake our commitment to animal welfare from the heart. From deep in the heart, and with all our heart. Because if we don’t, who will?

If the wind blows in our faces with great force, we will bend, not break. The work of social reform was never meant to be easy. But it’s always involved human agency and resolve. When it comes to the work of social change for animals, we’re called to the front lines of the battle for mercy. That’s exactly where I want to be, and I’m sure that’s true for you, too.

At the start of this important year, I ask you to pause and join me in reflecting on our purpose. To consider afresh what it means to say, “Be Humane.” And to stand up for it.

It is classic human conceit to believe that we live in vital times. Yet, who can fault us for feeling that 2017 will be especially consequential?

We need to count on each other. Our millions of active supporters, our hundreds of thousands of active members, our field staff and animal care workers, and our policy experts – we have to count on each other. Our thousands of volunteers depend on it. Our friends in government, within institutions of higher learning and schools, within the business and not-for-profit sectors, and elsewhere, they too rely on us. And no one has to tell you the stakes for those whose lives depend on our speaking up when others are silent, on our standing in the breach where others are seated on the sidelines, and on our rushing in to help in a crisis when others are rushing out.

At the start of this important year, I ask you to pause and join me in reflecting on our purpose. To consider afresh what it means to say, “Be Humane.” And to stand up for it.

It means that our great nation should never tolerate cruelty. Not in the name of business, nor for sport, nor for entertainment. Nor for any reason.

Our purpose in 2017 will be to lead, to push and pull, to coax and cajole, to celebrate, and, where necessary, to confront, and to keep unflagging faith as we have for decades in the certain knowledge that kindness is a virtue and cruelty a sin.

Some of our shared priorities in the coming year will be defensive. We will no doubt have to protect the gains we’re made for pets, for wild animals, for farm animals, for animals in testing and research, and for animals in entertainment. These battles will surely distract us from other goals, but we cannot turn away, or lose our way, or let our spirits flag, even in the face of disappointment and imperfect outcomes. Progress for any cause is never linear, and setbacks are certain for any cause worth fighting for. Yet, we have a combination on our side that our opponents will never have. We have right and resolve.

And we won’t stop at defense. When opportunities for progress present themselves, and they will, we will seize them. Make no mistake about that. Our work is bipartisan. Our work is not blue-state or red-state regional. Our work is urgent and it is everywhere.

Take a look in the mirror. Yes, I mean those of you who carry the flag of The HSUS and our affiliates, but I also mean those of you engaged in animal protection efforts through some 20,000 other animal welfare organizations. Take a good look.

I’ll tell you what I see: that much of humankind’s collective wisdom about meaningful lives is embodied in you and what you do. You are inspiration itself.

Our purpose in 2017 will be to lead, to push and pull, to coax and cajole, to celebrate, and, where necessary, to confront, and to keep unflagging faith as we have for decades in the certain knowledge that kindness is a virtue and cruelty a sin.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius put it this way. I paraphrase: Waste no more time arguing about what a good person should be. Be one.

The women and men of our organization and of our larger movement are a step ahead. They know exactly what a good person should be. Because that’s what you are.

And it’s a worthwhile reminder to note that you’re not alone. Just think of the many good people in our society who will devote themselves in 2017 to doing good in a multitude of ways – caring for the sick, educating the young, protecting the environment, feeding the needy and hungry, standing against injustice, and so on. Yes, we are many.

Our purpose in the humane movement is rooted in a basic value. Harming animals, contributing to their suffering in any way, runs counter to the very notion of civilization, to fundamental religious and spiritual beliefs, to noble legal and cultural traditions, to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

The converse is also true: Standing by while others inflict harm is dishonorable.

Yes, honor is a word we can claim. And dignity and compassion. Good words. Our words. Look at the National Mall that connects Congress to the agencies of government and to the White House. The monuments standing on this ground are tributes to people of wisdom, fortitude, vision, and purpose.

Let’s remember that very few statues are erected to honor the cruel, the heartless, the self-aggrandizers, and the purveyors of greed. And if one happens to be built, history shows that, one by one, they’ll be pulled to the ground and sent off to be dismantled and never again seen intact.

The road in 2017 may be steeper. But we are not the first to find ourselves in such a moment. In the year 1859, Charles Dickens opened a story with these memorable lines:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The age of wisdom, the age of foolishness. How apropos for our current circumstance.

Our purpose in 2017, notwithstanding all of the Dickensian villains who might arise, will be to pursue the season of light and the spring of hope. We’ll do it together.

All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food. And wild animals. And the animals who share our lives as pets. And those who serve us and inspire us in so many different ways.

Our purpose is not to say “no,” but to say “yes” – “of course, yes!” – to the celebration of animals and to the affirmation of our bond with them, and to the beauty of our relations.

We also say “yes” to the many alternatives to animal exploitation. There are new pathways to compassion opening up all of the time. Technology being just one. Our shared purpose must be to encourage, enable, and normalize these alternatives.

Our purpose is to help animals. But our purpose is larger, too. There is no longer any doubt, even the moral flat-earthers must concede that cruelty to animals is a precursor to violence against humans. When we create a better life for animals, we make better lives for all people, and all communities, everywhere.

That is our purpose.

Wayne Pacelle

The Humane Society of the United States

Categories
Animal Rescue and Care, Animal Research and Testing, Companion Animals, Equine, Farm Animals, Humane Society International, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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7 Comments

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  1. Joyce Sexton says:

    Wayne I so enjoyed today’s blog. Sometimes I feel that I haven’t done enough for our environment even though I have rescued many domestic animals, as well as volunteering at a Wildlife rehab center throughout my life. I’m sure I’m not alone with my feelings. Reading your blog made me feel that I am worthy in all I do for the creatures we share our planet with. Thank you, Joyce Sexton proud to be a member of the HSUS❤️

  2. Julie Herman says:

    I will do everything in my power to continue to improve and protect Animals in need of a good quality of life in 2017. I can promise you that for sure.

  3. Annoula Wylderich says:

    So inspiring, so timely, and so well said. These are words we all need to keep in mind as we go forward; and thank you for exemplifying what it means to be a great leader, Wayne.

  4. Deedee Dillingham says:

    Very timely, very true, and very inspirational … mixed with great foresight.

  5. Robert McCormick says:

    Humankind has been climbing that steep hill for thousands of years now, and it seems we are just hitting a bit more slippery patch right now. It only requires a bit more determination and we will go on, and if we get pushed down, we will pick ourselves up and keep going on, and at the end of the day, we will outlast and change all those ignorant and selfish human practices. As you say, there is no alternative, there is a moral imperative. And we are many. And not least, we have you to lead the way, to point to the horizon, and to general the battles. Thank you!

  6. AVIS HOLT says:

    Thank you and your staff for working tirelessly for the animals.

    I pray that you will have a good relationship with the President-Elect and that he will see how inhumane it is to condone/encourage his sons to trophy hunt. Surely he will listen to the voices that are behind you 100%. We will continue to fight the good fight and pray that he will too.

  7. Jayne Fawcett says:

    Thank-you for ALL you do for animals worldwide! Thank-you for inspiring us and keeping our hope alive and our fortitude strong. Blessings in perseverance in 2017! always, for the animals we revere and love..

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