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Book Review: The Bond

by Patty Donmoyer | Nov 01, 2012

Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them

Few would deny that a bond exists between human beings and animals. And for most, the word bond holds mostly positive associations – “an agreement; a connection based on affection; a joining together to increase strength; a promise.” Yet by definition, the word also contains a dark side. To bond also means “to restrain, imprison, tie with ropes or chains, or forcibly attach.” Such is the contradictory nature of the human/ animal bond author Wayne Pacelle describes in his book, The Bond; Our Kinship with Animals and Our Call to Defend Them. 

Pacelle, the current president and CEO of the nation’s largest animal protection organization, The Humane Society of the United States, tracks the ways man has depended upon, cared for, admired, worshipped and loved animals over hundreds of years – and the ways man has exploited, abused and in some cases, nearly extinguished them. 

The Bond’s story is not new – animal advocates and their fierce opponents battled long before the humane movement gained momentum in the 19th century. Pacelle walks the reader along a fascinating timeline beginning with the first interactions between prehistoric man and wolves, showing both the mutual benefits of the human/animal bond and the ways man has betrayed this bond in the quest for power, profit, “sport” and even science.

Pacelle opens the book with the obvious, stating that “When it comes to people and animals, power is asymmetrical, and all advantages belong to us.” One would expect a detailed laundry list of the countless ways man has harmed his greatest allies. Yet the book is anything but the expected and unbearable account of humanity’s cruel transgressions against animals and depressing forecast for the future of human/ animal bond. From every horrendous crime man has committed against these voiceless creatures, Pacelle pulls not only the positive change that occurred as a result, but a strong sense of hope in humanity’s proven and evident capacity for repentance and reform. 

In his many years immersed in animal welfare, Pacelle has seen all types of atrocities committed against animals, and The Bond leaves no sordid stone unturned. Faint-hearted readers, be warned; Pacelle covers the major hotbeds of animal welfare including dog fighting, hunting, factory farming, whaling, culling, puppy mills, laboratory testing, failed natural disaster response and more with hard facts and honesty. One need only flip through the 44 pages of footnotes to confirm that he has done his homework and not relied on dramatic propaganda to showcase the issues. 

Yet, from page one, Pacelle’s own heart is exposed through the personal anecdotes he infuses in each area he covers, hyper conscious of the fact that merely shaming humanity’s misdeeds hinders real reform. His outrage and sorrow are evident throughout The Bond, but he does not forget to report the progress the world has made and the individual triumphs of people who have taken a stand for animals.

In short, Pacelle’s book is about hope. Hope for change, hope for humane alternatives to worn out practices that cause pain and suffering, and hope in the power of “human resourcefulness guided by conscience.” The book is about the restoration of the human/animal bond, despite man’s failings. 

Most controversial is Pacelle’s encounters with convicted dog fighter and NFL quarterback, Michael Vick, as he offers his perspective on how sometimes even the most egregious betrayal of the human/animal bond can ultimately lead to reform. His interview with Vick epitomizes this controversy – a Q&A in which the athlete and owner of Bad Newz Kennels describes how he drowned dogs who “didn’t perform” by holding their heads in a bucket of water. “Did he struggle?” Pacelle asks, and Vick replies, “Yeah, he was struggling.”

Pacelle’s rage is tangible in this interview as he struggles to understand how the man sounding penitent to him is the same man who with his own hands drowned a dog struggling for his own life, and taken pleasure in watching dogs tear each other up. This man had been up close and personal. I had to decide whether HSUS should have anything whatsoever to do with him. 

Pacelle chose hope – not in Vick’s change of heart, toward which he maintains a healthy skepticism, but in the light Vick’s case might shed on this specific and growing form of animal cruelty, and in the supportive fuel it could lend to the campaigns HSUS undertook to change the law and end the suffering of these dogs. Others in animal welfare question whether this choice was wise, pointing that capitulation to Vick’s public relations arm gave Vick the absolution and redemption he sought through an embrace from HSUS. 

Pacelle’s retelling of the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina exposes a government that was not only ill-prepared to handle a natural disaster, but one that failed to recognize just how much companion animals mean to those facing the loss of everything they hold dear. One need only read the story of the little boy whose family left home for the safety of the Superdome during Katrina, and cried hysterically as government officials who were there “to help” confiscated his only comfort – his small dog, Snoball. The author writes, “The government’s plan presumed that when things got really bad citizens would be willing to leave pets behind. As it turned out, when they were put to the test, most people had more character than that, more loyalty. They weren’t about to turn their backs on dogs, cats and other animals they considered family. Official policies sold people short. Pet owners were prepared to leave behind everything they had cherished – but, by God, they were not going to forsake their pets.” 

Yet as Pacelle lambasts the government’s failures, he is quick to point out the heroism of local and national animal organizations and their rescue efforts, and end with the ultimate good that can came from one of the worst natural tragedies in American history. “Out of an awful situation came a new awareness, and then new policies and a new determination… Never again would (the U.S.) be so ill equipped. Never again, when it came to disaster preparedness, would animals be overlooked and left behind.” And this, in a nutshell, is the beauty of The Bond. Despite a long history of infractions, the suffering and the lessons humanity has learned and has yet to learn, the human/animal bond endures. And if it is honored, there is hope. The Bond educates and inspires.