Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact


Wayne Pacelle, in happier times. Photo credit: TedX Manhattan

Well, that didn’t take long.

Less than six months after stepping down as CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle is returning to the animal welfare movement, this time as a part of a political action committee called Animal Wellness Action.

Pacelle left the Humane Society (HSUS) in February under a cloud, as a flurry of accusations of sexual harassment led to revolts among donors and staff–although he retained the support of a majority of the HSUS board until the very end.

The new political action committee, which was registered in May by David Harvilicz, a lawyer and entrepreneur, is affiliated with a small nonprofit called the Animal Wellness Foundation, whose president is his wife sister, Dr. Annie Harvilicz. Dr. Harvilicz is the founder and chief medical officer of a veterinary clinic and pet care company called Animal Wellness Centers, based in Los Angeles. Marty Irby, a former executive at the Humane Society who oversaw its equine protection and rural outreach departments, is the PAC’s executive director.

What Pacelle will do at the PAC could not be determined. Efforts to reach David and Annie Harvilicz and Marty Irby via email, text and Twitter proved fruitless. The Humane Society, in a memo to its staff, said it had confirmed Pacelle’s involvement with Animal Wellness Action.

Before and after leaving HSUS, Pacelle said he did not harass women at the nonprofit. He has declined to address any allegations in detail.

“I absolutely deny any suggestion that I did anything untoward,” Pacelle told The Washington Post, days before stepping down.

His comeback is resurfacing old questions about how the board of HSUS handled the charges against him, while raising new ones about how HSUS intends to work with Pacelle in the future. With revenues of $230m last year, HSUS is the US’s leading advocacy group for animals.

In talking points distributed to staff [see below], HSUS said it would decide on a “case by case basis” whether to work with Pacelle. By email, Anna West, an HSUS spokeswoman, added: “We will never require any individual staff members to work with Mr. Pacelle or his new organization.”

Last week, Alison S.*, a lawyer who has worked at HSUS since 2010, and one of the women who accused Pacelle of misconduct, resigned from HSUS, citing the board’s reluctance to distance itself from Pacelle. In her resignation email, Alison wrote that the board’s handling of the situation has “made it impossible for me to stay at HSUS and be in good health.”

Alison told me she is grateful for the support she has received from by her supervisors at HSUS and from Kitty Block, the acting executive director. By email, she said: “I have passionately defended HSUS for 16 years and will continue to decry attacks by its opposition and help the organization in whatever way I am able. I just want young women to know that these things really happened. I wish they didn’t.”

A non-compete clause

By joining a PAC to work on animal welfare issues, Pacelle could be violating a non-compete clause in his contract with HSUS, which operates its own political action committee. The two PACs are likely to compete for donations. By email, West said: “There is a non-compete in his (Pacelle’s) employment contract and the board leadership is aware of the situation and will be considering our options.”

Board chair Eric Bernthal declined to be interviewed, as he ever since #metoo allegations against Pacelle became public in January.

This is a mess, and it’s mostly the fault of the HSUS board.

“There was never enough transparency or accountability,” says Rachel Perman, the director of charitable giving at Tofurky, who has been pressing HSUS to reform its governance.

To sum up the board’s actions, briefly:

On Feb. 1, the board abruptly ended an investigation by the law firm Morgan Lewis into Pacelle’s conduct and voted to keep him on the job. In an email to the staff, Bernthal said the board had not found “credible evidence” to support the allegations against Pacelle. Hours later, facing a revolt from donors and staff, Pacelle stepped down.

On Feb. 28, the board took a different tack. Without naming Pacelle, it released a statement condemning violations of HSUS’s policy on sexual harassment. It said: “We thank the courageous women who came forward and reported their experiences of harassment through our investigation process. We apologize to them. We believe them, and we support them.” Some insiders interpreted the decision not to name Pacelle as a sign that he retains the support of some board members, if not of a board majority.

The accusations against Pacelle come from multiple women, some of whom have accused him of behavior that, if proven, would warrant criminal charges. Again, to recap, because the specifics matter:

-Alison S said she had a consensual relationship with Pacelle when she was a college intern at HSUS, and that when she returned to work there years later, he made repeated, unwanted advances. On one occasion, she said, he pushed her over his desk, rubbed his genitals against her and stopped only after she threatened to elbow him.

-Reasa H, who now works at the Humane Society International, said Pacelle invited her to coffee when she was an intern at HSUS and grabbed her, pulled her close to him and kissed her.

-Ashley R, who worked at HSUS from 2012 to 2017, said Pacelle repeatedly asked her to meet him in his office alone, and once tried to salsa dance with her. His behavior drove her out of the organization, she said.

-Finally, The Washington Post reported that Tulsa S, the daughter of a Humane Society donor, met Pacelle at a black-tie fundraiser, where he told her he’d left something in his room and invited her to return with him. “Once we were inside his room, he grabbed my arm and began to forcefully kiss me,” she told The Post. “I was really scared and really surprised. I did not reciprocate.”

At least one other woman, who does not want to be identified, tells a similar story. Kelly Dermody, a Los Angeles attorney who has been retained by a group of HSUS employees, told me by email: “I am continuing to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct within HSUS over the course of many years.” The threat of legal action may be one reason why the board has kept mum.

Nasty pushback

All of this has left space for Pacelle’s allies to push back hard against his accusers. Pacelle set the tone when he told The Post that the accusations were “a coordinated attempt to attack me and the organization.”

Coordinated? By who? Pacelle didn’t say. On Facebook, David Harvilicz, who registered the Animal Wellness Action PAC, charged that women going after Pacelle had become “pawns of Richard Berman and the CCF.” Berman runs an industry-funded organization called Citizens for Consumer Freedom that has attacked the animal welfare movement for years.

The claim that women who devoted years of their lives to animal-welfare causes are pawns of its enemies is both ludicrous and scurrilous. In a long essay in The American Spectator, Matthew Scully piled on by calling the allegations against Pacelle “manufactured” and “hyped up.”

Harvilicz also took to Facebook to attack Andrew Weinstein, one of the seven HSUS board members who resigned in protest when the board declined to act against Pacelle. On Weinstein’s page, Harvilicz wrote: “You are a hypocrite and a traitor to the animal liberation movement….Good riddance. Bye bye.”

All of this, alas, can be traced back to the HSUS board’s unwillingness to fully investigate and adjudicate the charges against Pacelle, and then to make its findings public. It’s far from the only example of a nonprofit board failing to provide oversight, but it’s surely among the worst. Unfortunately, there are few checks and balances on nonprofit boards, other than the voices of donors. Let’s hope someone at HSUS is listening to those voices.

Here’s what HSUS distributed to staff about Pacelle’s comeback:

JuCUvhNz*At the request of one woman who accused Pacelle of harassing her, I’ve removed the last names of the women who previously went public. She expressed concern – a concern that I’ve heard from other victims of sexual harassment – that going public could hamper a future job search or bring retaliation.

UPDATE NO. 1: Marty Irby, the executive director of Animal Wellness Action PAC, emailed me today [July 20] to say (correctly) that I did not call or email him. I did reach out to him on Twitter, but he said: “I don’t consider Twitter messages to be a professional avenue for media inquiries.” Wayne Pacelle, he said, is a volunteer with the PAC:

Wayne Pacelle is a friend to Animal Wellness Action, myself, and other supporters of our organization and has volunteered to help us, and a number of other organizations within the animal protection world. Why would we not accept the unpaid advice and assistance of the country’s leading authority on animal protection issues? He is unpaid, does not have any title, and is not a member of the board or an employee.

The animal protection movement doesn’t have enough support as it is, and as the leader of the organization, I personally welcome knowledgeable volunteers who deeply feel the calling to protect animals. Someone has to be their voice, and we can’t allow obstructionists of animal protection reforms to divide us and hinder our cause. In addition, according to our legal counsel, who has reviewed Mr. Pacelle’s non-compete, as a volunteer, it does not appear that he has violated the agreement.

UPDATE NO. 2: Animal Wellness Action filed a list of contributors with the FEC that includes Josh Balk, a vice president at the Humane Society. That prompted Carol Adams, the activist and writer, to respond on Facebook:

So Josh Balk of HSUS gives $5,000 to a PAC that will be led by former HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle, who left HSUS after several very serious accusations of sexual harassment, exploitation, and assault, and who, rather than accept accountability, accused his victims of lying. Besides the fact that there is a non-compete clause with HSUS, what person would support a PAC that puts a man accused of sexual assault of interns into a lobbying position that may place him near Congressional interns? What does it mean to all of your peers that you would betray the women at HSUS, women you work with every day? And why is another PAC needed if HSUS already has one? Check a dictionary: Allyship and betrayal are antonyms not synonyms. Your assertion earlier this year of being “an ally” apparently did not come with a $5,000 check to help the survivors; that kind of support you reserve to enable an accused abuser to get back into the game. Josh, how will you defend this tomorrow with your colleagues at HSUS?

Carol’s claim that the PAC will be “led by” Pacelle is wrong, as best as I can tell. Marty Irby says, above, that Pacelle is a volunteer with the group. We’ll have to wait to see just how active Pacelle will be as a volunteer. But his decision not to address the allegations against him in a substantive way is one reason why his comeback, if that’s what this is, has some people angry and upset.

By email, Josh Balk writes that he was merely supporting a friend and colleague with whom he had worked at HSUS for years: “Marty Irby told me he was launching a new animal protection organization and I offered to make a personal donation to support his effort to help animals.”


We’ll have to wait and see just how active Pacelle will be as a volunteer. But his decision not to address the allegations against him in a substantive way is one reason why his comeback, if that’s what this is, has some people angry and upset.


28 thoughts on “The return of Wayne Pacelle

  1. poetryeditor says:

    It’s impossible to know what really happened. None of us were there. I’m not aware that asking someone to salsa dance is a crime. I would personally never go to a man’s hotel room (unless I wanted to have sex with him). I’m a feminist but we are all aware that corporate interests have been actively trying to smear Pacelle for years. Anyway, he has now left HSUS, and I wish him well in future endeavors. The idea of a “non-compete” clause in advocacy non-profits is contemptible. We are all supposed to be working for the same cause.


  2. Susan LaPage says:

    Sam Lobo is a liar. And, worse, he seems to not know a wolf from a coyote. All that he wrote about wolves are facts about Brother Coyote. Wolves were very efficiently extirpated from the lower 48 by the 1940s. I would write where the last wolf was shot in the late 40s but I’ve forgotten and, unlike Sam, I’m not going to lie to make my point. Get the facts before spewing Predator Hate all over your screen, Sam. And you really have a helluva of a nerve, using the wolf as your “name.”


    1. Susan LaPage says:

      Went back to my grad wildlife biology notes (Colo State). Most wolves were gone, not by the ‘40s, as I stated, but instead by the early 1930s, except for small populations near the Canadian border in Minnesota and Montana. Why people hate predators I do not know. They are absolutely necessary to a healthy functioning ecosystem. Cows, goats, and sheep are not, and I’ve raised all three.


  3. rydercoyote says:

    Oh now I get it Marc Gunther This site is being funded by Rick Berman- a huge opponent of HSUS. You aren’t pro-animal or pro environment. You allow people to spout information without asking them for citations because you want the hatred of animals to ooze. You are just as driven to screw the animals as your orange friend who is currently in office. Shame on you. Your karma shall come for you. In spades and in time.


    1. rydercoyote says:

      Why didn’t you allow my post that rebuked Adam’s about my rape Marc? Don’t want to upset your narrative? You are a right wing fraud, just like your god. Funded by a corporation. Feel shame much? Probably not. Who is the sociopath now?


  4. rydercoyote says:

    Wayne Pacelle has done more for HSUS than any other president in the history of the organization. What a pity he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. The man might be weak, but he’s thoughtful, smart as hell, and is most likely receiving therapy. Everyone deserves a second chance. So give him that. The animals need him. Desperately.


    1. Adam says:

      Therapy doesn’t work for sociopaths in their fifties. Pacelle is lucky he isn’t facing criminal charges. If you believe that “everyone deserves a second chance,” that must include Harvey Weinstein, who is also receiving “therapy.”
      Thanks to Marc Gunther for brilliant investigative work and great writing on Pacelle and other abusive “leaders” in the animal protection field.


      1. rydercoyote says:

        Sociopaths don’t care about animals, ya buffoon. You obviously never met Wayne. He’s a good guy.


    2. A Person says:

      The animals deserve better than sexual harassers. If you want to help the cause, take his place instead of letting him take it back up.
      He didn’t even receive the consequences for his actions yet, so how can we talk about him receiving a second chance? You have to understand that what you did is wrong first.


  5. Lisa Shinn says:

    All animals deserve protection from the virus called human. From wolves to whales, the only unnatural threats to their existence comes from humans. We have over populated, intentionally polluted the air and water and abused the only home we all actually NEED called earth. Unfortunately for the other earthlings they are stuck with us. Organizations, like the humane society, have been entrusted to take the lead and set the example of how to better care for the non human species. Their leadership has failed. Huge salaries, inappropriate behavior, etc….takes away from the hard work the people in the field are doing. I am sick to death of all the human bull/ego that takes away from the work which is to educate about, prevent cruelty, rescue, and conserve the non human species. Once again we have failed because of greed and ego…..what a waste.


  6. Marc Gunther says:

    A reader asks me to post this comment: In follow up to your recent blog, The Return of Wayne Pacelle–Wayne Pacelle is absolutely able to volunteer with a nonprofit organization of his choice. He can dedidate his time and energy toward a number of different avenues to be of great help to animals without impacting a standard non-compete.

    But what he should not be able to do is use privileged and confidential political contact and donor information from his former organization(s) to aid other organizations–brand new PAC or not– in the animal protection movement, even as a volunteer for a set period of time.

    Most non-competes are limited to a year or two in scope so it is in Wayne’s best interest to drag out any agreement given six months has already passed. The time for the organization to strike was in the very first days following his “resignation” to insure the organization proprietary info was secured and they had control of the future impact. Most large organizations and companies do that immediately. This latest kerfuffle is clear they did not. My question is why?

    I’m with Rachel Perman–the HSUS Board still seems compromised by their relationship and affection for Wayne himself. His intent now may be to harm the organization and that brand in order to build up his own coalition and brand. Josh’s donation sends a clear message of support to Wayne, intentional or not. The lawyers need to sort it out and quickly.


    1. wendy says:

      Wow! Most of the people commenting are doing a lot more harm to AR than Wayne has. Their main focus has become “trashing Wayne.” Animal abusers are loving it! Wayne made some mistakes, but he has accomplished much more for animals than anyone here has or ever will.


      1. Susan LaPage says:

        Wayne Pacelle was a huge factor in getting two ballot initiatives passed in Colorado: the ban on spring, bait, and hound hunting of bears and the constitutional ban on recreational and commercial trapping. Those were huge victories for animal welfare and changed Colorado wildlife management forever, so you can see why I don’t condemn him for asking someone to salsa dance. We have all fallen short. After all, it IS about the animals, right?


  7. Patty Shenker says:

    I stopped supporting HSUS several years ago- after Pacelle’s leadership to join alliance w Michael Vick, Meatopia, Hoofin’ It, Prop 2 & his comment that veganism is a ”fanciful idea’! I had ideally thought he’d do great things for animals but these alliances proved me wrong! As for Matthew Scully, he’s a Republican so, of course, the women are lying! I trust the women, not these two users/abusers! HSUS & Animal Wellness Care will never get my support.


    1. rydercoyote says:

      “His comment that veganism is a fanciful idea”….You do realize that Pacelle is a committed vegan.


  8. I think there is a bit of context for this in the animal movement.

    Firstly, I would say it seems a lot like the foot in the door approach that is favoured by some in the welfare movement. Though it seems to me that Pacelle’s foot has probably never been outside the door it just so happens it’s opening a bit wider for him once more.

    Further to this some of the language that Irby uses is based on some common tropes in the movement which are often used by people in positions of power to try and encourage people to speak off the same page.

    So obstructionists who divide and hinder our cause is a reference to how dissent or criticism is often marginalised for unity.

    Someone has to be their voice is just another way of saying that we need all hands on deck “for the animals”, in particular it seems the “leading voice” in the animal protection movement.

    I also find the idea that Josh Balk didn’t know Pacelle was involved in the new PAC to be unlikely, and he doesn’t say he didn’t know. If he gives $5,000 donations based on the fact one person is involved without a fairly detailed discussion I would find that surprising.

    I also think that if Pacelle was merely a volunteer then would we have found out about it? Who else is volunteering? It seems to me his presence could have been used to help secure funding from supporters otherwise why is he even mentioned? Like Irby says Pacelle continues to volunteer advice to organisations (though perhaps individuals within organisations) but seemingly without broadcasting the fact.


  9. Jan says:

    They’ve let the Fox in the hen house! It will be their demise in reputation wait and see.


  10. jan dykema says:

    , Harvilicz wrote: “You are a hypocrite and a traitor to the animal liberation movement….Good riddance. Bye bye.”This is very telling animal liberation is very different than animal welfare or even animal protection… this slip by this man tells the truth about what this organization ( and Pacelle) want total animal liberation. think about it


  11. Disaster Rescue says:

    Plan to file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney General for
    Theft by Conversion.

    Pacelle- is a sexual predator a murderer of millions of animals and has defrauded the public of donations.


    1. rydercoyote says:

      Citations please? If you are going to make claims such as these, then please provide the source of these claims.


  12. Pacelle has never been about animal welfare. He’s all about 1) money to be raised and stashed in offshore accounts…raised from gullible, kind hearted people who think those sad late night commercials mean HSUS actually gives a damn and saves animals and 2) the extinction of animal ownership by anyone for any reason….using “animal rights” (making animals legally equal to humans) as his tool.


    1. Laurella Desborough says:

      I find it disheartening that the HSUS is labeled an animal welfare organization. The fact of the matter is that HSUS is an animal rights organization, with all that entails. When an organization is working to END the keeping of animals for any reason, that is a radical agenda. Furthermore, the HSUS is notorious for their lack of providing proper care to animals IN their care. Knowledgeable individuals and organizations who do care about animal welfare find HSUS to be an outlier and a scam to raise funds from compassionate animal owners, when the primary recipients of those funds are not the animals.


      1. Timothy says:

        Very well said Laurella Desborough! Also I encourage folks to look up the difference between Animal Welfare and Animal rights.Also look up retail rescue.


      2. Sam Lobo says:

        Wayne Pacelle, has been a leader in abusing the Endangered Species Act. Wolves are not an “Endangered” species in any meaningful way YET him and his welfare lawyers abuse our EAJA laws with animals like the wolf and grizzly……. You see, ,delisting can be stopped with sudo science by using the ESA’s “into the majority of their former range” to get liberal judges to side with them after “judge shopping” Sound state wolf management plans that keep wolves in good to marginal habitat (which are developed by science) are ignored. These welfare lawyers get 250,000 EAJA dollars a crack every time they stop delistting every step of the way. Its a sad day when congress has to override their filth! and the sound science coming out of the states. It got so bad that the governor of MT told his ranchers to start shooing wolves and said ANY state employee that helps a federal agent in regards to dead wolves no longer had a job!

        Wolves are not endangered or threatened! With all the unlimited trapping, shooting, poisoning, gassing, bounties, den digging and direct persecution of the 19th and 20th century this animal (wolves) COULD NOT even be eliminated from the lower 48 states. They EVEN tried aerial hunting in the 1940/1950’s combined with bounties and guess what …. when we (our ancestors) were trying our hardest we couldn’t even come close to eliminating them. Wolves, considered to be the most adaptable animal on the planet, along with the Grizzly bear are considered a species of “least concern” by the renowned international environmental organization IUCN. YET, our fine Federal Government 18 trillion in debt is spending 75 to 80 percent of its resources on JUST wolves and grizzlies (outside of plants and aquatic species). Again, both animals listed as a species of “least concern”. Disgusting!


      3. rydercoyote says:

        This is a lie. HSUS is one of the most benevolent organizations out there for the welfare of animals. STOP SPREADING LIES.


      4. rydercoyote says:

        Please provide citations on this…”scam to raise funds”, “working to end the keeping of animal for any reason”.


    2. rydercoyote says:

      Citations, please. Offshore accounts? Gosh, CCH…these are quite the accusations. I’m starting to believe that this whole website is filled with people who hate animals. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be throwing out crap that denigrates people who really do care about animals.


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