Governor Jay Nixon yesterday announced new measures (and $1.1 million in funding) to monitor dog-breeding operations here, in light of the "Missouri Compromise" that he signed into law earlier this year. The compromise gutted key parts of Prop B, a voter-approved crackdown on puppy mills -- even while promising more money for enforcement and inspection.
Nixon's announcement quickly drew a rebuttal from the man who, more than just about anyone, was the architect of the Prop B puppy mill initiative: Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States. Pacelle just happens to be in St. Louis today -- he's giving a reading for his new book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, tonight at the Ethical Society of St. Louis.
Pacelle says that he's pleased with the increased enforcement dollars. But he criticized the fact that the funding is being offered as a trade-off for the tougher restrictions: "None of that is a substitute for retaining the good solid core protections voters approved in Prop B."
In direct response to Prop B's dismantling, the Humane Society is pushing a constitutional amendment for the November 2012 ballot -- the Your Vote Counts Act. If approved, the amendment would bar the Legislature from overturning voter initiatives unless it can summon a 3/4 majority. (Today in Missouri, unlike many other states, only a simple majority is required.)
"We don't want this kind of miscarriage of the democratic process to go unnoticed," Pacelle says, explaining that, if the new amendment is approved by voters, "there would have to be some level of bipartisan agreement to undo initiatives. It can't just be because one side disagrees with it."
The Humane Society spent approximately $2.5 million pushing Prop B. When it comes to Your Vote Counts, Pacelle says, the organization is again willing to spend. "We will put resources into it," he vows. "We really believe in the right of citizens to make law directly. And we believe that elected officials should respect the judgment of voters."
And despite the setback over the puppy mill legislation, Pacelle made it clear that his organization's not going away. The Humane Society intends to monitor the Missouri Department of Agriculture as it writes the regulations called for by Nixon's "Compromise."
"They can't get rid of us that easily," he says.
As former RFT staff writer Kristen Hinman detailed in a April 2010 feature, "Down on the Farm," with Pacelle at the head, the Humane Society has focused on a state-by-state push to end factory farming, one new restriction (and one new state) at a time.
At the time of Hinman's piece, the campaign was still relatively stealth -- the Humane Society had achieved a series of victories at the state level that forced big agriculture to make major changes to the way it treated animals, without too much blowback outside the farming community.
But, as Hinman detailed, that began to change by 2010. "For a long time, the ag industry didn't seem to see a way to slap away the Humane Society's whip hand. But within the past year, through social media, influence peddling and, most recently, preemptive political maneuvering, farmers big and small have begun to circle the wagons to protect their livelihood," she wrote.
And what happened in Missouri this year showed that even disorganized, badly funded agriculture interests could score a victory in a pro-agriculture state. Even though the Humane Society was able to eek out a win at the ballot box for Prop B, it was not to stand: The Missouri Legislature swiftly moved to gut the new law, and Governor Nixon ultimately signed into law a measure that stripped out many key components -- including the ban on any breeding operation with more than 50 dogs. That provision would have automatically put most of the state's big dog breeders out of business.
Pacelle tells Daily RFT that it was the first time the Humane Society has been thwarted in such an initiative. (That it came after a hard-fought victory at the ballot box surely made it even more galling.)
In the late-90s, Missouri voters approved a Humane Society-backed initiative outlawing cockfighting. Opponents fought back in the Legislature, Pacelle recalls.
"They had a similar argument in 1999," he says. "They said this would be the first stop to banning all hunting, or agriculture, or dog breeding." But in1999, enough legislators remained unconvinced; the cockfighting ban was signed into law.
St. Louis is now the 45th city Pacelle has visited on his book tour. He tells Daily RFT, somewhat surprisingly, that his critics haven't been showing up at stops along the way.
"It's been amazing," he says. "It's been uniformly positive. The critics have been silent on the book.
"I think part of it is that they've developed this caricature of the Humane Society, and when the complexity and the nuance are reflected in the narrative, it doesn't conform to their crazy false portrait," he adds. "We're not against agricultural -- we're for humane and sustainable agriculture. We're not against animal research -- we're for innovation as a way to make it obsolete through the development of new testing tools and mechanism. I'm not an orthodox person, and the Humane Society of the United States is not an orthodox group. It doesn't fit their stereotype, and they don't want to confront that."
Wayne Pacelle reads from his book tonight at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road, beginning at 7 p.m. Reservations are recommended.