Around the Water Cooler With The Humane Society's CEO

US News

Wayne Pacelle grew up with dogs and always had an empathy for animals, but it wasn't until college when he started learning about factory farming, animal testing and the fur trade that he decided he didn't want to be a bystander on animal rights issues.

"I saw there were problems, and I didn't think that I should stand aside and leave the solutions to other people," he says.

During his sophomore year at Yale University he formed an advocacy group called the Student Animal Rights Coalition, and his career spiraled up from there.

The 48-year-old Washington, D.C. resident has served as the CEO and president of The Humane Society of the United States the past nine years, and as the chief lobbyist and spokesman 10 years prior. As head of the largest animal protection organization in the country, Pacelle not only oversees The Humane Society's adoption programs, but also initiatives to decrease euthanasia, wipe out puppy mills and end poaching.

With HSUS offices in each state and as distant as London and India, Pacelle says he "steers the ship" - though he often joins the crew. He recently worked with the FBI and county sheriffs to raid 13 dog-fighting sites in Alabama, which led to a rescue of 367 animals.

Pacelle himself adopted a rescue dog - a hound and beagle mix named Lily - who patters with him to work every day. U.S. News talked with Pacelle about pets in the workplace and how busy working people can balance a career with taking care of a furry friend. His responses have been edited.

Is it a bad idea to have a pet if you're away at work for at least eight hours of the day?

There are certainly ways to have a major work life and also have pets, but you need to be thoughtful about it and make sure that you're being a responsible pet owner.

Obviously cats and dogs are different. Cats can generally be fine for an eight-hour period, but they need human contact and stimulation. Dogs can go eight hours without going out, but it's tough, and that's why there's been a boom in the dog-walking and pet-sitting industries. This is a major new part of our economy, and it employs tens of thousands of people who provide pet care services for people who work.

[See: 20 Work-Life Balance Hacks.]

What pet would you recommend for someone with crazy work hours?

The only pets we don't recommend for people with a frantic schedule are puppies and kittens; young animals need a lot more care and frequent attention to thrive. If you're the sort of person who is rarely home, it may be best to hold off on getting a pet until your schedule changes. And keep in mind that someone trying to sell you on a no- or low-maintenance pet likely doesn't have that animal's best interests at heart.

If people can't run home during the workday to let a dog outside, do you have any suggestions for low-cost ways to tend to the pet?

If the dog is well socialized, you might leave your dog with a neighbor. More workplaces than ever now have dogs in the workplace policies. We do at The Humane Society of the United States, so I bring my dog to work everyday. She really loves it, and I get to see her. I take her out for walks, and I often run through some of my calls when I'm outside walking her.

Do you think more workplaces should allow pets?

Definitely. It's a great workplace benefit that companies can provide to their workers. You save on pet-sitting costs or dog-walking services, you don't have to rush right home after work to let the dog out and it's calming. When we think of workplace benefits we think of things like health care; this is just another valuable benefit that an employer can provide. And frankly, if more employers did it, more people would choose to have pets in their lives and that would solve this societal problem of euthanasia and not enough adoptions.

[Read: Around the Water Cooler With Whole Foods' CEO.]

So how does this work? Are dogs running around the building?

My dog stays in my office, and we have cubicles at HSUS so a dog will stay right next to a person at their desk. We have little signs with the colors green, yellow and red. Green means the dog is really friendly, loves interaction and you don't need to worry. Yellow is pay attention to how you approach. And red means the dog may be very nervous or skittish or may have some other reason that you want to be more cautious in dealing with him or her.

Then there's a "three strikes and you're out" policy. Pet owners and their pets have responsibilities, and they can't be involved in more than three incidents, like the release of fluids or solids, or if they're barking in a way that's disruptive in the workplace. We have a committee that looks at these issues and sets the rules. The rules have to be followed for this to work, but it's amazing so many of the animals know what's expected of them and you hardly notice there are so many animals in the workplace. I mean, you notice when someone goes out for a walk so the dog can tinkle, but oftentimes you walk right by and you don't see or hear the animal.

How can pet-friendly workplaces maintain a healthy workspace for employees who are allergic?

The HSUS published a book titled "Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces" that recommends having a formal policy to address issues such as allergies. Public areas such as conference and break rooms can be dog-free, and most employees value this work benefit enough to be considerate of officemates who are allergic to or fearful of dogs. If an employee is highly allergic, it's not practical for someone sitting in the next cubicle to have a dog. But it may be possible to reorganize workspaces.

[Read: Around the Water Cooler With a CVS Caremark Executive.]

How can someone tell if he or she is suited to work for a nonprofit?

Anyone who wants to make a difference in the world and is prepared to work hard can thrive with the right nonprofit organization. You won't get rich, but you can have an impact, and with some organizations like The HSUS, you can help drive transformational change. As in any career, a solid education and skills in a particular field are essential for success at a nonprofit organization. It also helps to be well-rounded in your interests and have a firm understanding of how change comes about, both for individuals or in society.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

One of my former board members said, "Don't try to do everything because that's an impossible task, and no one will notice anything that you do because you're spread too thin." So he said to concentrate on a few big things, make an impact and people will notice that impact.

Editor's Note: Around the Water Cooler is an ongoing series, in which U.S. News talks with company executives to get their career advice for employees and managers.



More From US News & World Report
View Comments