Coming of Age for Animals

By on November 13, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

My work is a world of contrasts. I see the worst cruelty and the people who perpetrate it. And I also see the best people, who use their talents to do good. Tracie Hotchner is one of the best people. She’s assembled tremendous information for the public in two wonderful books, "The Dog Bible" and "The Cat Bible," and she hosts the weekly radio shows Dog Talk and Cat Chat, which I’ve been lucky enough to appear on. Today, I cede space to this stellar animal advocate.

This honor of stepping into Wayne’s blog for a day has given me a rare opportunity to reflect on the long and twisting journey to where I find myself today, with two weekly national radio shows each devoted to dogs and cats. How did I get here? How did the place of dogs and cats in our culture become the center of my life?

Author and radio host Tracie Hotchner with her three dogs
I grew up moving schools and cultural influences in three locations—Westport, Conn., where we had a veritable Noah’s Ark of farm animals; New York City, where our dogs walked on leashes, wore plaid jackets and traveled everywhere with us; and Rome, Italy, where the streets were filled with alley cats and household dogs were a rarity. My upbringing was filled with loved animals of every stripe at home, a family where animals inside and outside the house were shown tenderness to the point that every wild mouse or bird—as well as pet rodent or fish who expired—were given little funerals in cotton-lined boxes with a few words of farewell as we interred them in the garden graveyard.

But there was a paradox.

My passion for all creatures great and small is a road filled with contradictions. We would get out of horse-drawn carriages in Europe if the horses were not well cared for and admonish the driver; I would get off the skin-and-bones donkeys that were supposed to carry us up hillsides on Greek islands and walk alongside them (even when I weighed all of 35 pounds!). We lamented and cried when we saw bony cats and dogs slinking around garbage all over the world. But there was also the contradiction of a father who shot game with Hemingway to great social approval, an entire summer in Malaga, Spain, where my little sister and I cheered at bullfights and applauded our father who went into a bull ring with Antonio Ordonez on a dare—as well as family friends with proud trophies from African safaris lining their walls and floors in a social milieu where women had a closet of fur coats.

My own coming of age is a reflection of changing social mores and how dramatically attitudes and habits can be transformed in a matter of years. I have become a champion of everything HSUS stands for. Both because of and in spite of my unusual upbringing it explains how I’ve found myself in the privileged position of being an advocate and spokesperson for dogs and cats.

There is hope for animals in our society and often HSUS is that messenger of hope. Our uniquely American ability to evolve and change is what we need to focus on when things look bleak for animals in our towns, the farmyard or the wild. We need to appreciate how HSUS can take despair about the plight of animals and turn individual anger and frustration into collective, peaceful, effective social change.

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