Caring about the well being of animals comes naturally to Wayne Pacelle; it always has. As a young man growing up in Connecticut, he would get lost in the pages of National Geographic, soaking in everything he could about the majestic animals who populated the publication’s pages. All the encyclopedias in his childhood home were dog-eared to pages with wild animals.
“I had a deep sympathy and empathy for animals from a very young age,” Wayne explains. “It’s in my genes!”
And certainly Wayne’s early fascination with, and passion for, animals may have led him to ultimately become the president of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), but Wayne contends the bond he shares with animals is not unique to him. In fact it is actually something we all have in common.
Indeed, since the days of Homer — and perhaps even earlier — artists and writers have been documenting the bond between people and their pets. And with the publication of The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them earlier this spring, Wayne is one of them. The Bond, which rose to number 11 on the New York Times bestseller list just days after it was released, takes readers on an exploration of the bond we share with animals. Wayne shows us, through a host of characters and stories he has gathered from across the world, evidence of that bond. And how the bond is sometimes blurred, and then brought sharply back into focus.
Unsurprisingly, for the predominance of pet parents, the human-animal bond is ever present. After all, more than 98% of us consider our pets to be members of our family. And not just on paper. When push comes to shove — like it did so powerfully in the days following Hurricane Katrina — protecting our pets is just as important to us as saving every other member of our family. Including ourselves.
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“Throughout history, there have been transformative events which have catapulted the power of the bond we share with animals into mainstream consciousness. Hurricane Katrina was one of those events,” Wayne explains. “In the days following the disaster, and despite the extent of the devastation, people of all social, cultural and economic backgrounds chose to stay and take their chances rather than abandon their pets.
When pet parents, knowing their animals could not accompany them, chose to stay in their homes with their pets, it further complicated human rescue efforts.
“The whole world saw, in vivid color, the strength of the bond we have with animals,” Wayne remembers. “It was undeniably clear to everyone: helping pets helps people.”
And while there were many incredible stories of resolve and triumph (many recounted in the book) from this time, Wayne admits that Katrina was one of the “most stressful times of my life. It was heartbreaking, deeply exhausting and enormously frustrating. But sometimes in frustration we see a pathway to make a real difference.”
Almost immediately, The HSUS, along with several other pet rescue and animal advocacy organizations, began working tirelessly to make critical changes on the federal level. And by October, 2006, the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act – and act which helps ensure a similar situation of does not repeat itself if another major disaster, natural or otherwise, strikes — was signed into law.
Wayne maintains that while Katrina may have brought issues of disaster preparedness for humans and animals into sharp focus, the lessons we learned can be applied more broadly. “The idea of kindness to animals is part of citizenship building. When we do good works for others — pets included — it is good for us, individually. Altruistic behavior builds personal character and makes you a better member of civil society.”
For Wayne, being true to our “other-centered” ethic is the key to honoring and elevating the bond. But perhaps our aspirations need only be as simple as the musings of an unknown author, who famously said: “My goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am.” It can’t hurt to try.