Inspiring Greatness in Others
By Edith Wallace
Animal advocates are eternally passionate, but we face moments of disillusion brought on by the seemingly endless misfortunes that fall upon the world's helpless creatures. Wouldn't it be comforting to have a human embodiment of inspiration, a ceaseless warrior for the animals, a true role model we could all look to on a national (or international) level? Well if the thousands of people who follow Scotlund Haisley's animal rescue work are any indication; he has all of the qualities to be this role model.
As a prolific animal protection leader Haisley has always been known for his commanding presence and unparalleled compassion for all sentient beings. Haisley has been a major player in the field for more than two decades. He started out as a humane officer in Washington, DC and worked as a shelter director in New York City and a captain of humane law enforcement in the San Francisco Bay area. He then went on to become executive director of a large nationally recognized shelter and leading the country's largest animal rescue team. During this time he rescued hundreds of thousands of animals, and most recently worked as the President of In Defense of Animals. Pinning Scotlund Haisley down for a few hours is not an easy task. The man zips across the country more than some commercial airline pilots. One day he's in Jersey leading the rescue of 55 monkeys from a research laboratory, then he's off to Texas to usher them into their new homes, only to return to Virginia days later to headline a national animal rights conference. I finally met Haisley for dinner at an Indian restaurant in Washington, DC. I was already seated when he weaved his way into the dining room, pecking out an email on his iPhone the whole way to the table. He wore a relaxed button-down, jeans and a surprisingly GQ pair of vegan loafers. As soon as he sat down I realized that the man was perpetually in motion - zipping off emails, cracking his knuckles impatiently, sketching out an idea for his latest painting. Yes, along with everything else on his plate, Haisley is an accomplished artist who often focuses his haunting paintings on the animals he has rescued over the years. Some paintings are meant to stand as a testament to that animal's suffering, and some help Haisley get the nightmarish images out of his head.
In his twenty years in animal protection, Haisley has witnessed some acts of cruelty so viscous they would destroy individuals with less resolve. Whether pulling an emaciated dog from a feces-encrusted cage at a puppy mill or liberating a terrified monkey from a life of painful testing - Haisley gets through it all by focusing on a promise to lift these animals out of the darkness of misery and usher them into the light and hope of compassion.
This is an oath he steadfastly delivered on during his time at The Humane Society of the United States - where his animal rescue team saved an unprecedented number of animals from puppy mills and a myriad of cruelty situations. Each year Haisley was at HSUS marked a record-breaking year for the nation's largest animal welfare organization. If his track record is any indication, Haisley's life-saving trajectory will only grow as the years pass.
As we talked over our naan and steaming curried dishes there was something in Haisley's brooding, fidgety manner that made me realize this soft-spoken man holds a dark past. After learning a few details of his difficult childhood I understood why he holds feelings of abandonment and abuse in common with the animals he has made his life's mission to save. I can also see why raising his own children as humane animal advocates is important to this father of three. Haisley has been a dedicated vegan for many years, and he and his wife are raising their young children as conscious vegans. This may seem a daunting task, but poke your head into the Haisley kitchen any given day and you will hear six-year-old Olivia chanting her favorite motto: "animals are our friends, and we don't eat our friends."
Haisley's mission to end animal suffering gained national attention while he was the Executive Director of the Washington Animal Rescue League. At WARL Haisley conceptualized, designed and raised the funds to build the world's first completely cageless animal shelter, revolutionizing animal sheltering and setting global humane standards. He pulled innovative ideas from international shelters, prisons and holistic veterinarians and combined them all in one unparalleled facility. I visited WARL recently to see what all the fuss was about, and I wasn't disappointed. Zen-like music whispered in the background, running water trickled over the tops of clear glass enclosures, and clean air circulated through individual filtration systems.
It took a minute to realize what was missing; the incessant barking of a typical shelter was gone. These animals were remarkably well-adjusted; benefitting from Haisley's lifelong disgust with the traditional concept of caged animals. Haisley's novel approach even drew the attention of the prosecuting attorney in the Michael Vick case, who asked Haisley to care for and begin the rehabilitation process for 11 of the most abused dogs confiscated from Vick.
Through all of Haisley's endeavors; the grueling rescue missions, the poignant artwork and the encouraging mantras, thousands have been watching. People tuning into their local news see Haisley cradling a dog recently liberated from the horrors of a puppy mill. As they watch him caress the filthy, matted dog they question the origins of the puppies in the window of the local pet store.
A light goes on. Thousands of people see his play-by-play rescue updates on their favorite social networking sight. A collective sigh of relief is expelled, knowing that these animals will have a second chance thanks to Haisley and his crew. They surf photos of the grateful animals he has rescued, read his gut-wrenching personal accounts, and feel as if they were almost there alongside the rescue team. Then they ask; what can I do to help?
Haisley's goal, like any truly effective role model, is to inspire those of us on the couches and in the offices to sign up, get educated and become involved. So keep your eye on this man, but don't simply follow along on the TV or computer screen. Get inspired, take action and join him in his battle against all the inhumanity this world dishes out to its most defenseless creatures. I guarantee you he will be coming to a town near you before too long - so be ready to join him.