The Humane Society of the United States is no stranger to the political stage. For example, the organization aggressively pushes state ballot measures on animal welfare and has called for a boycott of Canadian seafood until the fishing industry agrees to give up its annual seal hunt. But weighing in on natural disasters is a little different, especially if it's a natural disaster in a country that doesn't exactly embrace animal welfare on a large scale. And why weigh in at all when that country is struggling with a devastating human toll?
But Humane Society Chief Executive Wayne Pacelle managed to tread delicately on that ground onstage during the organization’s annual Genesis Awards gala Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. He talked about the devastation in Japan, and something he had observed about the aftermath.
"Japan has a terrible animal welfare record," he said, noting its commercial whaling interests and disregard for dolphins. But the individual survivors are obviously connected to their pets, he said. "It provides a reminder of the bond between animals and people."
The Humane Society International -- the global arm of the group -- has already provided $170,000 for supplies and temporary shelters for animals in Japan. And the organization is helping Japanese animal welfare groups as well.
"Amidst the catastrophe there’s an opportunity to have a Katrina moment," Pacelle said after the awards show. For animal welfare advocates, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans underscored the loyalty that went both ways between people and pets: Many residents clung to their pets, reluctantly evacuating without them or, in some cases, refusing to leave without them.
"I do think pet-keeping is on the rise in Japan," Pacelle said. "We want to nourish that." He details his organization’s efforts in Japan on his blog.