Wayne Pacelle Biography

Animal Rights Activist (1965–)
Lifelong animal advocate Wayne Pacelle is the current president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.


Over the course of 23 years, including 12 at its helm, Wayne Pacelle has played a central role in making the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) a force and voice for animals. Placing special emphasis on transforming public policies and corporate behavior, he has been at the forefront of efforts to secure dozens of statewide ballot measures and federal laws and more than 1,000 other state laws to protect animals. During his tenure Pacelle has also negotiated agreements with some of the nation’s biggest corporations and trade associations—from the United Egg Producers to McDonald’s to SeaWorld. 

Early Life

Born on August 4, 1965, Wayne Pacelle grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, with a Greek-American mother, an Italian-American father and three older siblings. As a youth, Pacelle showed an early fascination with animals, as well as a protective instinct toward them. His childhood dogs—Pericles, Brandy and Randy—were among his best friends. All the family’s encyclopedias were dog-eared to the animal pages, and Pacelle would anxiously await the arrival of new issues of National Geographic. Despite a lack of drawing skill, he regularly filled sketchbooks with drawings of animals. 

Pacelle graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1983 and went on to attend Yale University, where his advisor was noted environmental historian William Cronon. He earned a bachelor's degree in history and environmental studies in 1987.

Career With The Humane Society of the United States     

In 1988 Wayne Pacelle became executive director of the Fund for Animals, hired by the legendary advocate and author Cleveland Amory. In 1994 he took over the political and communications operations at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and in April 2004 its board of directors elected him president.

Under Pacelle’s leadership, The HSUS has more than doubled in size, with nearly 1,000 staff and a current-day budget approaching $200 million. He engineered a merger with the Fund for Animals in 2005 and with the Doris Day Animal League in 2006. Pacelle helped to form the Humane Society Legislative Fund in 2006, and soon after that, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. He has also worked to expand the footprint of Humane Society International to more than 50 nations.

Along with bringing the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch into the HSUS fold in 2004, Pacelle also arranged a corporate combination with the SPCA Wildlife Care Center, now the South Florida Wildlife Center and the largest wildlife care facility in the nation. In 2008, under his leadership, the HSUS created Duchess Sanctuary, a safe haven for horses in Oregon. The HSUS is now the single largest direct-care provider to animals in the United States.

Legislative Achievements and Reforms

Since becoming the HSUS’s President and CEO, Pacelle has engineered the passage of more than 1,000 state and federal laws. He pioneered the use of the state-level ballot initiative to enact new protections by direct action of the electorate—succeeding in passing (to date) more than 30 successful ballot measures outlawing cockfighting, factory farming methods, bear baiting and a host of other inhumane practices. In 2008, he led the effort to pass Proposition 2 in California, which mandated better standards for the treatment of farm animals. In 2010, he led efforts to pass Proposition B in Missouri, the first statewide ballot measure to address puppy mills.

On the federal level, Pacelle has played a leading role in the passage of more than 40 statutes, including a ban on the interstate trafficking of fighting animals, a law to protect great apes in their native habitats, a ban on cruel animal “crush” videos and a law to establish federal standards for pets in disaster planning and response.

Wayne Pacelle Photo by Paul Markow for the HSUS

Wayne Pacelle is the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. (Photo: Paul Markow/For The HSUS)

Throughout Pacelle’s tenure, the HSUS has been a central player in many of the largest national animal-welfare stories and advances: In 2007, NFL star Michael Vick was convicted of illegal dogfighting under a law that the HSUS drove to enactment; in 2008, an HSUS investigation into allegations of cruelty at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company resulted in the largest beef recall in American history and public calls for slaughterhouse reform; in 2011, the HSUS partnered with the United Egg Producers to work toward the enactment of comprehensive new standards for the 280 million hens involved in U.S. egg production; and in 2016, Pacelle and the HSUS negotiated a widely acclaimed partnership with SeaWorld that saw the company commit to ending its orca breeding program and transition to a rescue and rehabilitation model for marine-animal entertainment.

Pacelle’s leadership in the 2008 passage of Proposition 2 in California kick-started a wave of corporate animal welfare reforms, as companies began phasing out cruel confinement mechanisms such as gestation crates and battery cages. Since 2012, the HSUS has worked with more than 150 of the biggest brand names in food retail—to secure pledges to stop procuring pork or eggs from factory farms that keep animals in immobilizing cages. The HSUS secured pledges from the dairy industry to phase out tail docking by 2017, and secured a commitment from the veal industry to phase out confinement crates by 2017. The HSUS has also helped hundreds of food-service institutions introduce meatless options to reduce the number of animals suffering in factory farms.


Wayne Pacelle is the author of the 2011 New York Times best seller The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, which discusses the unique biological and historical underpinnings of the human-animal bond and society’s newfound understanding of the emotional and cognitive capacities of animals, calling for a new level of responsibility in society’s dealings with all animals. Pacelle is also the author of 2016’s The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals. In the book, Pacelle describes how technology is becoming a force for good in the treatment of animals, replacing the machinery of cruelty and rewarding businesses aligned with the humane interests and values of their customers.

"Pacelle has retooled a venerable organization seen as a mild-mannered protector of dogs and cats into an aggressive interest group flexing muscle in state legislatures and courtrooms." - Los Angeles Times (2008)

Pacelle has made countless television appearances, including on 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Ellen and Oprah, among many others. He regularly blogs at A Humane Nation, covering the latest news and insights into our relationship with animals. In addition to this, Pacelle has also written for a number of prominent publications, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He regularly blogs at A Humane Nation, covering the latest news and insights into our relationship with animals.

Accomplishments and Recognition

Pacelle was named an Executive of the Year by the NonProfit Times for his leadership in response to the Hurricane Katrina crisis. From 2008 to 2015 he was named five times to the NonProfit Times’ annual “Power and Influence Top 50” nonprofit executives. In 2008 the National Italian American Foundation honored Pacelle with the Special Achievement Award in Humanitarian Science. In 2010 he received the Knight of Honor Award from Notre Dame High School. 

Family Life

Wayne Pacelle is married to television broadcast journalist Lisa Fletcher. They live in Washington, DC, with their dog Lily and cat Zoe.

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