Reviewed by Caitlin O’Malley 

I was thrilled at the opportunity to read The Bond based on its author alone: Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Since assuming his role at the helm of one of the most respected animal welfare organizations in the world, Pacelle has transformed the Humane Society into one of the most visible agitators for animal welfare in every arena of America. I admire him for bringing mainstream attention to issues such as animal welfare on factory farms, an area once reserved for more “radical” organizations like PETA, as well as more “traditional” issues like the protection of animal companions and wild animals.

During Pacelle’s short time at the helm, he has moved the HSUS from a mild-mannered charity to an aggressive action group on behalf of our animal neighbors. Pacelle says it best himself: “When I became president of HSUS in 2004, I pledged that America’s largest animal-protection group would not fear to confront America’s largest animal-welfare problem. I promised investments in programs to challenge the systematic mistreatment of animals in industrial agriculture” (page 94).

Agribusiness, also known as factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), is the first major animal welfare transgression Pacelle tackles in this book. As discussed in Part I: A Special Bond, we live in an age where animal companions have never been more comfortable, but animals raised for food have never been more abused. The kind of mechanical barbarism scientists once attributed to wild animals is exercised every day by industrial animal agriculture, and is justified using every argument from profit margins and efficiency to misguided religious beliefs. Federal regulation of animal welfare is limited (though growing bit by bit through the efforts of organizations like the HSUS) and enforcement is minimal at best.

And it’s not just an issue of cruelty: it’s also an issue of food safety, as illustrated by the Hallmark slaughter plant investigation, subsequent beef recall, and public outcry over the use of downer cows in our food supply. Books and press exposes detailing endemic cruelty toward animals have been published – like award-winning publications such as Washington Post’s article recounting animals dying “piece by piece” on conveyor belts witnessed by worker Ramon Moreno in Pasco, Washington – and graphic video footage confirming these abuses is not difficult to find on the internet.

Pacelle has worked tirelessly for farm animals, animal companions, and captive and wild animals alike. Since 2005, Pacelle has helped implement federal disaster preparedness standards for protecting our pets, ban the import of dogs bred at puppy mills, and worked with the HSUS to educate the public about spay/neuter programs, as well as safe and ethical breeding practices. The problem of euthanasia in animal shelters is an ongoing question, complicated by overpopulation, reckless breeding and the seriousness required when adopting an animal companion. These are some of the more familiar and “traditional” issues for HSUS. We’ve all heard about them, but they haven’t gone away so Pacelle continues to advocate for them in this book with a striking and compelling voice.

In a particularly compelling instance, Pacelle also writes about his meeting with Michael Vick. While attempting to come to terms with the apparent disparity between admiring animals and forcing them to fight for sport, Pacelle meets Vick in prison. I was surprised to read how many animal fighting trainers speak so affectionately about their animals, feed them special diets, spend hours a day with them, and even speak of their love for the animals… yet the animals are still subjected to fear, injury and torture when forced to fight. After learning the difference between admiring an animal’s strength and blood sport, Vick now stars in a commercial for the HSUS tip line, which can be found on the HSUS website. Personally, it has been difficult to forgive Mr. Vick but I appreciate the steps he’s taken to make amends.

In Part III: Building a Humane World, Pacelle deconstructs the devices used by defenders of animal cruelty to keep us apathetic and calls us to action. In my opinion, in our current climate, much like the fight to bring organic foods to our supermarkets, educating ourselves and voting with our dollars are the most powerful tools in our arsenal. Animal cruelty is not an easy topic to discuss, read, hear or watch, but why should it continue anywhere when it’s obvious we care enough to spend millions each year on our pets and wildlife conservation? Does our cruelty serve any other purpose than to harm them and degrade and dehumanize us in the process? History has proven gorillas, pigs, and dogs can be altruistic, why can’t we? The Bond is an important work that helps us understand why and how our relationship with animals has evolved to the present, and what we can do to improve it for the future.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Caitlin is a fiction writer who also dabbles in poetry, creative nonfiction and acrylic painting. When not reading, she enjoys hiking, cooking and spending time with friends and pets. She earned her B.A. in English from the University of Portland and currently resides in Louisiana.

A review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.