From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2012:
Former HSUS president John Hoyt, 80
John Hoyt, 80, died of the rare brain disorder progressive supranuclear palsy on April 15, 2012 at his home in Fredericksburg, Maryland.
Born in Marietta, Ohio, Hoyt wrote that he was influenced by a vegetarian grandmother who had a farm in West Virginia, knew each of her 40 sheep by name, and lived to age 106. Though Hoyt also kept a hobby farm, he was not a vegetarian.
Following his father into the Baptist ministry in 1957, Hoyt preached in Allen Park, Michigan, until 1960, when he changed denominations and moved to the First Presbyterian Church in Leroy, New York. Hoyt then served as senior minister at the Drayton Avenue Presbyterian Church in Ferndale, Michigan, until 1968, when he earned his doctorate in divinity and assumed a post as senior minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
With little or no visible involvement in humane work, Hoyt was picked in 1970 to succeed Mel Morse as president of the Humane Society of the U.S., after Morse, 65, was pushed into retirement just two years after succeeding founder Fred Myer, following Myer’s death. This was 16 years before Morse died on the job after helping Helen Whittier Woodward (1904-1983) to found and build the San Dieguito Animal Care & Education Center in Rancho Sante Fe, California. Among Morse’s last actions was to rename the organization the Helen Woodward Animal Center.
A longtime executive at first the American Humane Association and then the Marin County Humane Society, Morse soon after becoming HSUS president in 1968 articulated in a book entitled Ordeal of the Animals a humane agenda including opposition to hunting, wearing fur, lethal predator control, and the rise of factory farming. Morse lacked the literary flair of then-HSUS board member Cleveland Amory, who formed the Fund for Animals later in 1968 to try to push HSUS toward adopting the Morse agenda, but Ordeal of the Animals structurally and thematically presaged Amory’s 1974 bestseller Man Kind? On publication of Man Kind?, Amory resigned from the HSUS board, after four years of increasing frustration with the Hoyt regime. Amory by his death in 1998 had built the Fund for Animals into a much larger organization than HSUS had been.
Under Hoyt, HSUS eventually took most of the positions that Morse and Amory had urged, but only after direct mail tests demonstrated that those positions appealed to donors. A late 1980s campaign against factory farming, entitled “The Breakfast of Cruelty,” targeted bacon and eggs, but was rapidly withdrawn. Hoyt meanwhile distanced HSUS from animal rights advocacy in a full-page advertisement published in The New York Times.
But Hoyt started HSUS on a trajectory of explosive growth. HSUS at Hoyt’s arrival had a staff of 10–fewer than the number of former heads of other organizations on the HSUS payroll at his departure–a donor base of 10,000, and a costly string of hands-on affiliates, including the Humane Society of Utah, founded in 1962, and the National Humane Education Center, built and operated by HSUS at Waterford, Virginia, on property acquired by Edith Goode, founder of the Edith J. Goode Residuary Trust for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Myer and Morse had envisioned that HSUS would eventually operate model animal shelters in every state. Hoyt cut loose the affiliates. The National Humane Education Center, after Goode’s death in 1970, became the Loudoin County Animal Control Center.
Rumors that Hoyt hoped to revive the affiliate program through mergers circulated after Hoyt in 1972 recommended protégé David Wills to head the New Hampshire Humane Society. Wills left the organization in financial chaos in 1978. Hoyt then recommended Wills to the Michigan Humane Society, where Wills was executive director, 1979-1989.
Rumors of a possible merger of HSUS and Michigan Humane flew in 1987-1988. In 1989, however, Wills resigned from Michigan Humane when the board began inquiring into the disappearance of $1.6 million. A bookkeeper, Denise Hopkins, was eventually convicted of embezzling $56,000 of the missing sum. Wills next founded the National Society for Animal Protection, only to dissolve it when Hoyt brought him into HSUS as vice president for investigations and legislation. Fired in October 1995, Wills in 1999 pleaded guilty to embezzling $18,900 from HSUS; agreed to pay restitution of $67,800 to HSUS; and accepted a six-month jail sentence. HSUS and the State of Maryland agreeed to drop six other counts of embezzlement, alleging thefts of $84,128.
In 1975 Hoyt brought to HSUS fellow former clergyman Paul Irwin, who built the HSUS fundraising operations. Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson in 1988 published a three-part series detailing how HSUS gave Hoyt a rent-free house, loaned Irwin funds with which to buy beachfront land in Maine, and paid both Hoyt and Irwin salaries in the middle six figures, at a time when six-figure salaries in humane work were still scarce.
When ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton, then news editor for the long defunct Animals’ Agenda magazine, asked Hoyt and Irwin to comment on the Anderson series, Hoyt called ANIMAL PEOPLE president Kim Bartlett, then editor of Animals’ Agenda, and threatened economic retaliation if any article about the Anderson columns appeared. When the article appeared on schedule, Hoyt cancelled an HSUS subsidy to the Animals’ Agenda of $5,000 a year; apparently arranged the termination of funding from the Elinor Patterson Baker Trust, reputedly controlled by HSUS; and later, after follow-ups appeared, cancelled HSUS advertising in Animals’ Agenda. Hoyt also cancelled publication of a 300-page economic study of the fur trade that Clifton produced under contract to HSUS, but Clifton retained the copyright and sent the study to 19 other national and international organizations with anti-fur campaigns.
Hoyt and Irwin meanwhile befriended financial radio talk show host Sonny Bloch, honoring him in 1989 with HSUS’ James Herriot award. An HSUS board member from 1991 to 1995, Bloch was in May 1995 extradited from the Dominican Republic to face federal charges of defrauding more than 280 investors in 33 states of a total of about $24 million. Pleading guilty to seven related charges, Bloch served two years in custody before his death of cancer in 1998 at age 61.
Hoyt, Irwin, and longtime World Society for the Protection of Animals board member Dominique Bellemare in 1993 incorporated the Humane Society of Canada and hired former WSPA representative Michael O’Sullivan to run it. Irwin, born in Canada but living in Maryland, claimed Canadian residence on a passport application in order to get around a Canadian requirement that the majority of board members of Canadian nonprofit organizations be Canadians. His Canadian passport was later revoked, and an Ontario judge ordered HSUS to repay $740,000 that it seized from the Humane Society of Canada after Hoyt and Irwin split with O’Sullivan. Bellemare had previously worked for the Canadian Ministry for External Affairs, which then and now led Canadian governmental efforts to prevent the European Union from banning imports of seal pelts and trapped fur. A multi-time political candidate, Bellemare has refused to specifically and individual endorse longstanding WSPA policies in opposition to seal hunting and wearing fur.
Hoyt was more successful in forming Humane Society International in 1991 and the HSUS Wildlife Land Trust in 1994. The latter was headed from 1994 until his death in 2003 by John Kullberg, president of the American SPCA from 1978 to 1991.
Succeeded as HSUS president by Irwin in 1996, Hoyt shortly before retirement published Animals In Peril: How “Sustainable Use” Is Wiping Out The World’s Wildlife.
Current HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, hired away from the Fund for Animals in 1994, succeeded Irwin in 2004. Steering HSUS in the directions advocated by Morse and Amory before the Hoyt regime, Pacelle in early 2005 brokered the merger of the Fund with HSUS. The HSUS donor base and annual revenues have subsequently tripled.
One of Hoyt’s four daughters, Florida attorney Peggy R. Hoyt, in 2002 published All My Children Wear Fur Coats: How to leave a legacy for your pet.
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