Another Man Believed Over Women: The Resignation of HSUS CEO Pacelle

I guess by now you’ve heard that Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) CEO Wayne Pacelle has resigned after having been accused of sexual harassment.

Portraits of Wayne Pacelle
Wayne Pacelle (photo from the Humane Society website)

No? You can read all about it here, here, and here. You can also read the HSUS press release statements here and here.

Several years ago I complained that even though animal welfare is an issue overwhelmingly supported by women, it’s men who run the show. And now here we are, watching and wondering if HSUS can survive after its board chose to support a male CEO over the welfare of animals.

What? Too much? I think not.


The Washington Post reported that women had complained for years and were ignored, or, even worse, demoted or fired.

Last November Rachel Perman, Tofurkey’s director of charitable giving, emailed each of the 31 board members and informed them she had been made aware of allegations of systemic sexual harassment at HSUS. Only board member Erika Brunson responded, and her response wasn’t pretty: “Are you out of your mind? Don’t you have anything better to do in life than air your repressed sexual fantasies in public?” Yes, a board member wrote that to a corporate donor.

At a December 4th staff meeting Pacelle said he wanted to fight sexual harassment in the workplace. Then on January 25th the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Pacelle was under investigation by a law firm hired by the non-profit’s board of directors.

Last Thursday we learned the board of directors voted to retain Pacelle despite the complaints against him, and voted to offer settlements to women who claimed to have been demoted or fired for making complaints. Seven board members who disagreed with the decision resigned.

The House Panthers are NOT happy about these developments!

In a Friday morning article, Pacelle reportedly blamed animal agriculture activists for making false complaints against him, and board member Brunson, when interviewed by the New York Times, said Pacelle had “done nothing wrong,” and “Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody?” She later resigned as well.

And in this weekend’s Washington Post, conservative opinion writer Kathleen Parker wrote a piece in defense of Pacelle, saying the #MeToo movement had gone too far and was turning into a witch hunt.

By the end of the day Friday HSUS saw the writing on the wall. Major donors said publicly they could no longer support HSUS and at least one of their lobbyist firms stated they would not renew their contract. Pacelle submitted his resignation effective immediately,

For now Kitty Block, president of Human Society International, is acting President and Chief Executive of HSUS.

But the damage has been done. The organization is divided and weak, a sitting duck for Humane Watch (who’s running an ad against HSUS during the Super Bowl) and other fake non-profits to swoop in and wage a campaign to destroy the group. People will hesitate to donate because they want their money to go toward the welfare of animals, not to pay off victims of sexual harassment.

The worst part is this is all so unnecessary. If only this multi-million dollar organization had a truly independent and transparent board of directors (as is recommended), these complaints would have been investigated when they were first made and not sat on until after their donor base became aware of them. How many animals will suffer needlessly because the organization that was SUPPOSED to help them was too busy focusing on its own drama?

And why, once again, are we reluctant to believe that a man we like could be abusive toward women?


What are your thoughts about the Pacelle scandal?

14 thoughts on “Another Man Believed Over Women: The Resignation of HSUS CEO Pacelle

  1. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but it is 50+ years too late for that. What I am surprised about is that he HAS resigned. Women undermining other women to curry favor with a male ? 50 years too late to be surprised about THAT too.

  2. After hearing about this story, I thought it’s just a question of time before he has to go. Glad it was sooner. Having someone like this in charge at the HSUS would have resulted in them taking an even worse beating that just the well deserved criticism/backlash for leaving this douchebag in charge after initial reports. Goodbye and good riddance.

      1. Yes it did. But in all fairness, they are not a rescue organization so much as a lobbying organization. They are the folks working behind the scenes to convince corporations to become more animal-friendly and work with local and state governments to change laws affecting animals.

      2. So they do, and they have been on the scene during major disasters, investigating animal cruelty cases and helping care for animals rescued from such cases. Taking on the care of 100 animals removed from a hoarding situation ain’t easy. Those animals need extensive vet care, food, water, socialization, and yet they are still technically the property of the hoarder until either the hoarder voluntarily surrenders them or the court says the hoarder can’t have them back. That takes a LOT of time, people and money- none of which most local rescues have.

  3. The HSUS is overdue for a housecleaning. If this organization is about animal welfare, then someone needed to pull the carpeting up years ago. The only thing that surprises me is that it has held on to its donors in light of the balance book–the book that keeps track of dollars in and where they go. If HSI is willing to get onboard? then maybe it’s salvageable. The writing has been on the wall for years for ALL genders to read.

    1. Actually HSUS under Pacelle’s leadership has done lots of good things. It didn’t always get lots of attention, but he was instrumental in convincing McDonald’s to move toward cage-free eggs and pork producers to move away from gestation crates. But I do agree it’s time for a housecleaning… and for more women to be put in positions of leadership. I’m available; they should hire me.

  4. It’s so sad. I’m glad you noted some of the good things that happened through HSUS. You made it more balanced for the organization. I hope they get good leadership in there. They are more of a lobbying group like AARP is for seniors. Sometimes people think all charities are the “nuts and bolts” kind rescuing puppies and kittens. We need groups that lobby the bigwigs because the legislature is what makes the big changes. We can’t ‘not support’ because of one person. This was a big disappointment to me especially the women protecting him (what’s that all about?). Great post.

    1. And yet that’s not surprising either. I’m sure some social scientist has studied it. To me, it’s usually women who have benefited from the patriarchal system and don’t want to see their good thing changed or destroyed. Women who fought their way up the ladder. Women who choose marriage and family because it’s a safe choice don’t especially like women who make different choices. And of course there are those women who bought into the patriarchal religious teachings that see women who don’t submit to men as sinful.

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