HSUS: The Pacelle Propaganda Machine Hampers Progress For Animals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) blogged today, lambasting Andrew Wyatt andU.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) for opposing  U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R-FL) animal rights driven House Resolution 511.  HR 511 seeks to amend title 18, United States Code (the “Lacey Act”), to prohibit the importation of nine species of constrictor snakes as injurious species.  These include the Burmese python, the reticulated python, the North African rock python, the South African rock python, the Boa constrictor, and three species of anaconda.

Andrew Wyatt preparing to testify before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs
Andrew Wyatt preparing to testify before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs

Apparently, the reptile community, led by Andrew Wyatt, has struck a nerve with the $200 million plus per year animal rights legal behemoth, HSUS.  Pacelle’s angst at Wyatt is not particularly surprising.  Since co-founding the United States Association of Reptile Keepers in 2008, Wyatt has emerged victorious in more than two dozen state engagements defending the rights of herptile owners as well as multiple federal entanglements.  These victories have come on a shoestring budget and against HSUS’s powerhouse millions.  Wyatt is most certainly a bothersome thorn in Pacelle’s manicured paw, and one that will not go away.

Pacelle said today, “But the reptile lobby—yes, there is such a thing—has been thrashing its collective tail and saying how benign these snakes are and that cold weather will prevent the snakes from going much farther than the Everglades (I guess it’s no matter to these supposed snake “lovers” that the snakes will freeze to death).”

Pacelle’s comment is interesting for two reasons.  First, using HSUS’s own statistics, 17 people have been killed by large constrictors in the US since 1978.  HSUS further claims that there have been 1,111,768 large constrictors imported since 1977.  Using those figures alone, without factoring in the millions of large constrictors bred in captivity this country since 1978, it makes the risk of death from a large constrictor less than 0.01%.  Large constrictors may not be “benign,” but the risk of being killed by a vending machine, a clothes dryer, a sand hole, a shark attack, a dog or a bee are significantly higher than the statistical risk of being killed by a large constrictor.

Second, Pacelle seems to concede that the snakes will freeze to death if they travel north of the most southern tip of Florida.  HSUSclaims on its own web site about reptiles, “Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.”  As great a shock as it may come to HSUS, animals in the wild are not frolicking about making daisy chains and counting stars as they do in Disney movies.  Wild animals die of disease, injury, predation, starvation, and yes, from the elements of nature.

Clearly, Pacelle’s remark is intended only to inure sympathy from animal lovers who don’t truly understand the issue. HSUS has used similar rhetoric about dog breeders, showing a decided recalcitrance to distinguish between responsible breeders and puppy mills.  Responsible reptile owners and breeders do not want to see the suffering of any herptile, and they certainly don’t advocate releasing any captive reptiles into the wild.

Wayne Pacelle and convicted dog fighting felon, Michael Vick, following the Atlanta Falcon’s $50,000 donation to a cause related to HSUS.

Pacelle’s tantrum continues, “Somehow the snake lobby, in the form of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, has hoodwinked a number of Republican House members and apparently convinced them that this is a matter of “economic freedom.”

This is about economic freedom. HSUS does not have the right to deprive American citizens of their property interests and their livelihoods simply because Pacelle doesn’t agree with reptile ownership.  It must be incredibly empowering for one person to believe that his ideology should translate into law for every American citizen, but it is the duty of lawmakers to protect the interests of their constituents, no matter how much it upsets Mr. Pacelle.  The majority of people involved in true herpetoculture, the breeding and ownership of captive bred reptiles, care immensely about the health and welfare of the animals they keep.  (If Pacelle is truly concerned about the welfare of animals, perhaps he should revisit his endorsement of convicted dog fighting felon, Michael Vick, who, for a monetary donation, now receives Pacelle’s endorsement.)

Pacelle speciously condemns U.S. Rep. Southerland for condoning the import of  “dangerous invasive species into the country for use as pets, even if they are creating ecological havoc, injuring and killing private citizens, and costing the nation millions of dollars in terms of containment activities.”  (When he hasn’t got facts, he embellishes.)  Notably, Pacelle provides no back up for his inflammatory and false rhetoric.  HSUS’s fall back plan is to continue to terrify the public about non existent threats in order to feather HSUS’s own legal nest.  (HSUS has conceded in its Motion to Intervene in Ohio that it has an economic interest in winning legislative engagements because doing so attracts more monetary donations.  I will be writing on that topic next.)  If Pacelle needs to succeed in state and federal legislatures in order to attract the hundreds of millions of dollars that pay his six figure salary, perhaps he should set his sights on those more dangerous predators, such as vending machines, clothes dryers and sand holes.

U.S. Representatives Fleming and Southerland, Dr. Brady Barr, Shawn Heflick, Colette Sutherland and Andrew Wyatt should be commended for bringing facts to the table regarding the threat of pythons in the Everglades and the economic impact of arbitrary and capricious government action.  The role of our representatives in Congress is to protect our rights from unnecessary and harmful legislation, not to ensure that Pacelle has enough “wins” to fund HSUS into perpetuity.


9 thoughts on “HSUS: The Pacelle Propaganda Machine Hampers Progress For Animals

  1. Very well written article! As a snake owner, I feel personally under attack every time something like this is brought up. Pacelle has absolutely no right to tell me what I can and cannot own.

  2. Thank you so much for your articulate article! My husband is a disabled veteran and we own a reptile breeding and education business where a good portion of our income comes from our Boa Constrictors. Every time this gets taken back to court, I’m scared that we will have to give up not only our lively hood but our beloved pets as well. We try very hard to educate everyone around us about the situation and hope that our children will continue to be able to share their lives with these amazing animals! =)

  3. I’ll start out by telling it up front – HSUS is a horrible organization that preys upon the ignorance of animal lovers to line their own pockets. They use a deceptive name to basically steal money from animal shelters, and they are a hard-line animal rights organization trying to disguise themselves as an animal welfare group.

    However, on this one issue, they’re right and you’re wrong. I wondered while reading if you were deliberately ignoring the true issue, or if you’re really that naive. When you started talking about them using dishonest rhetoric, then dragged Micheal Vick into a reptile issue, I see there’s little difference in your and their methodology.

    This is, and always has been, about the incredible destruction that invasive introduced species have on our environment. You note that the snakes may not move north of Florida, and quickly discount any ecological impact based on that one flippant remark. That’s nice and all, but what about the Everglades? Is it just a throw-away? What about as-of-now unaffected areas, such as south Texas, Arizona, and southern California? The snakes may not expand there from Florida, but what’s stopping them from being released or escaping in those other locations? Or is it a big ‘who cares about the South’?


    I also noticed that your other commenters are suggesting that HR511 would remove their treasured reptiles that they already own. You don’t mention at all (really didn’t expect you to- this would deflate your hysteria) that this would not affect any captive-bred or existing reptiles, it only stops the further importation of more animals from other countries. If anything, this would be a boon to captive breeders- their market would grow.

    So, on the issue of HSUS being a VeryBadThing, I’m with you. But on the issue of importing more invasive species that will continue to destroy every native Everglades species, I’m far from supportive.

    1. Todd,

      Thanks for taking the time to first read my blog and then to respond, even though I disagree with you on nearly every point (except perhaps the nature of HSUS).

      First, let me address your criticism of my mention of Michael Vick in a reptile issue because you missed the point entirely, I am afraid. The point is that Pacelle’s concern over reptile welfare is a bit like crocodile tears. (Sorry – couldn’t resist.) Pacelle is a hypocrite. He is critical of the “reptile lobby” as not caring about snakes and at the same time, for the right price, he is willing to embrace a convicted dog fighting felon. You may not like my methodology, but you should make more effort to follow the argument before you get so indignant.

      Second, I am very familiar with Dorcas and the research that you cited. Again, you missed my point. Burmese pythons are a problem in Florida. I agree. It is far from conclusive, though, that the pythons are responsible for mammal declines. Florida has a problem with pythons that Florida has had for many years. Florida has enacted state level statutes to deal with its own problem.

      Somehow, the obvious has escaped your hawkish eye and premature tongue: HR511 will not solve the problem in Florida.

      Nothing prevents snakes from escaping or being released in other locations such as Texas, Arizona and southern California. However, the snakes could not survive there. These are tropical animals with very specific temperature and humidity requirements to survive. And the simple truth is that notwithstanding the python issue in Florida, there is no other state in the continental US with a feral population of any non-native wild constrictor. What you suggest and what you are advocating for is more laws in the absence of any problem or threatened problem.

      About the effect on captive bred constrictor businesses, you are completely wrong. Yes, HR511 would ban the importation of nine species. On February 23, 2012, the rule change enacted under the Lacey Act went into effect banning the interstate transport of four species of large constrictors, including Burmese pythons. It is now a federal crime to carry them across state lines without a permit for any reason. If you cannot see how that has quelled commerce, then you are choosing to wear blinders.

  4. As expected, just as HSUS would do, no posts that aren’t fawning support of the subject matter will be approved. Thanks for being the other side of the same coin.

    1. I am a litigator and a single mother. I have dogs, horses and reptiles of my own. I apologize if I do not log into WordPress frequently enough to meet your expectations. Life gets in the way of the internet for me.

      Your level of arrogance must interfere in your personal relationships. Perhaps you should work on that. Just a thought.

  5. What totally amazes me is the immature mentality about the issues at hand. Throwing snakes under the bus (so to speak) will not resolve any issues on hand. It’s the people with the experience that can better help take care of such problems as the Burmese Pythons in the Everglades, not a bunch of loose cannons running around with shotguns.

    I can’t believe all of this strong emphasis hasn’t been placed on the wild boar and feral cats that are destroying a LOT more and are more of a threat than snakes are but they’re not an issue that’s being addressed nearly as wide as the Burmese pythons are.

    As far as taking everything into consideration, if HSUS uses bad public relations and tactics to further their agenda then there is no reason why we don’t have every right to represent our side of these attacks using other people as a reference in our defense. At least none of our facts are fabricated and aren’t backed by double standards !!

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