Cristobel “Kitty” Block became the acting CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in February 2018. Her ascension follows the departure of longtime President and CEO Wayne Pacelle, who stepped down following multiple credible sexual harassment allegations against him and his former deputy, Paul Shapiro, who also resigned.
A former employee of the extremist animal liberation group PETA, Kitty Block began working at HSUS in the 1990s and eventually found herself as the head of Humane Society International, the affiliate of HSUS that focuses on efforts outside the United States. Block had a quiet role lobbying to end the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States. She also worked on issues related to the conservation of whales and dolphins.
Her promotion to acting CEO was certainly the right P.R. move for a board of directors, led by Eric Bernthal, under heavy criticism for initially voting to keep “Predator” Pacelle. Years before, Kitty Block had experienced sexual harassment at HSUS. As documented in a 1996 Washington Post article, she, along with a female colleague, alleged that David Wills, the former head of the animal cruelty investigations division at HSUS had sexually harassed and assaulted his female colleagues at HSUS. According to the Post:
Washington lawyer Lynne Bernabei delivered a 21-page letter to Hoyt and Irwin on behalf of Virginia Bollinger, an animal cruelty investigator, and Cristobel Block, a legal investigator. The letter, included in court files, paints a lurid picture of unwanted sexual overtures that Wills allegedly made over a two-year period starting in 1993, from kissing and offensive comments to, in Bollinger’s case, nonconsensual sex while she and Wills were traveling on assignment.
David Wills is no longer at HSUS. These days, he’s preparing for a November 2018 trial where he faces the charge of allegedly trafficking a 9 year old child for sexual purposes.
However, one major stumbling block in her tenure has been how to make amends for Pacelle’s alleged misdeeds. On this count, Block has utterly failed.
As the Washington Post reported one month into her tenure, “The Humane Society’s sexual harassment scandal just won’t end.” It took weeks for the organization to issue a statement publicly apologizing to the alleged victims of Pacelle.
And it took eight months for HSUS to publicly announce that it was making changes to its governance and creating a vague “reconciliation process” for victims of harassment.
HSUS remains plagued by other problems. Wasteful spending of donor money, misleading advertising, and nearly $50 million stowed away in the Caribbean are but a small sample of the controversies HSUS—and Kitty Block—faces.
Under Block’s leadership, HSUS remains committed not to taking care of animals, but to the pursuit of an agenda designed to force people to go vegan. The organization expends its energy on ballot measures which will restrict the sale of meat, eggs, and dairy. While HSUS doesn’t run a single shelter, the organization constantly uses photos of dogs and cats in its advertisements and fundraising campaigns.
Block has kept a much lower profile than her predecessor Wayne Pacelle, who once remarked, “I don’t want to see another cat or dog born.” Given that Block comes to HSUS from PETA—which is notorious for being against pet ownership and for killing cats and dogs by the thousands—it’s fair to assume she is cut from the same cloth.
Kitty Block received a bachelor’s degree in communications and philosophy from the University of New Hampshire in 1986. She went on to receive a law degree from George Washington University in 1990. Block is married to Henry Ferland, an employee at the Environmental Protection Agency where he works as the International Coordinator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Previously, Ferland worked for the EPA on the Global Methane Initiative.
The resignation of an accused predator would seem to pave the way for reform and ethical behavior by an organization that claims to stand for “humane” values. But so far, HSUS has been more of the same under Kitty Block’s leadership.