President: Wayne Pacelle
Headquarters: Chevy Chase, MD
Budget: $730,000 (2020)
Animal Wellness Action is an animal rights lobbying group that has a number of corporate and legislative campaigns. AWA was founded in 2018 by disgraced lobbyist Wayne Pacelle, who months earlier had departed his role as CEO of the Humane Society of the United States after being accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. (For more information on HSUS, read our profile.) The same year, Pacelle also founded the so-called Center for a Humane Economy.
Legislatively, AWA supports political candidates and lobbies for new laws. AWA’s legislative agenda includes banning common ammunition in hunting, which would make it more difficult to hunt; passing the “SOY Act” to put more soy milk in schools; and banning the use of sow maternity pens nationally. Maternity pens are supported by veterinarians and most pork farms use them. (See Issue Brief: Sow Housing for more details.)
Founder Accused of Sexual Harassment
Multiple women accused Wayne Pacelle of sexual harassment spanning years.
The Washington Post revealed details of an internal investigation into Pacelle, including the allegations of one woman: “On one such work trip in 2006, she told investigators Pacelle asked her to stop by his hotel room after an event. He asked if he could masturbate in front of her, requested that she take off her clothes and offered to perform oral sex on her, according to two people briefed on the matter and the memo. When the woman refused, Pacelle told her not to tell anyone or she would destroy the Humane Society and lose her job, according to the memo.”
Continued the Post, “The investigation also found that Pacelle had maintained a sexual relationship with a female subordinate and exchanged more than 100 emails with her. The woman told the investigation that she became afraid of Pacelle after the relationship ended, describing him as abusive and controlling, according to the memo.”
The New York Times reported on the allegations of another woman: “On more than one occasion after 2010, she said, Mr. Pacelle summoned her to his office and pressured her for sex. She said she refused and once tried to placate him with a hug. After hugging her goodbye, he turned her around, pushed her over his desk and rubbed his genitals against her, she said.”
News of the accusations broke in early 2018. At first, the Humane Society stood by Pacelle, closing an internal investigation into the allegations. One board member told the media, “We didn’t hire him to be a choir boy.” But Pacelle then resigned following donor pressure.
Pacelle’s successor at HSUS wrote in 2020, “as far as we know, Pacelle has not atoned at all. Society gets into trouble when we welcome individuals back into the fold when they have not owned up to their misdeeds or otherwise attempted to address the harm they caused.”
AWA Founder: “I Don’t Want to See Another Cat or Dog Born”
Wayne Pacelle has been an animal liberation activist for nearly 40 years. Along the way, Pacelle has revealed the extreme ideology that drives him. While Pacelle these days is much more polished, as a younger man he gave an interview in which he admitted:
Interviewer: “How about pets, Wayne? Would you envision a future with no pets in the world?”
Pacelle: ”I wouldn’t say that I envision that, no. If I had my personal view perhaps that might take hold. In fact, I don’t want to see another cat or dog born.”
Pacelle also said, “I don’t have a hands-on fondness for animals. I did not grow up bonded to any particular nonhuman animal. I like them and I pet them and I’m kind to them, but there’s no special bond between me and other animals.”