Animal Protection

Wiebers has served on the Boards of eight national and international charitable organizations, including serving for nine years as Chair of the Board of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  During his tenure as Chair (1999-2008) he led the organization across 2 CEOs and numerous major changes in structure and leadership through a period of unprecedented growth, including an expansion of its membership/constituent base from 1.5 million to over 10 million and a tripling of its assets making it one of the fastest growing charities of any kind in North America.  He also oversaw and helped orchestrate numerous major mergers and acquisitions during his tenure, including corporate combinations with The Fund for Animals (FFA) in 2005 and The Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) in 2006.  In 2004, he helped create a new 501(c)(4) entity, The Humane Society Legislative Fund, a social welfare organization that lobbies for animal welfare legislation and works to elect humane-minded candidates to public office, which he continues to chair.  In 2012, he was the recipient of the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, the Humane Society of the United States' highest honor.

In addition to participation in board leadership with the HSUS, HSLF, FFA, DDAL, Humane Society International, EarthKind, EarthVoice and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Wiebers has played a substantial role in animal advocacy. Over the course of his career, Wiebers has been a consistent and outspoken advocate for the protection of animals within the medical community and has played a pivotal role in helping to bring the communities together.

In 1988, when Wiebers became involved with organized animal protection, the animal protection and medical communities were at odds with one another, largely over the issue of animal research. In a recent interview, Wiebers expressed the following:  “The rather strident discord between these communities seemed particularly ironic since the primary goal of the medical profession is to decrease the amount of unnecessary death and suffering in human beings—and the animal protection community simply wishes to extend this same goal to beings other than humans.  Over the years, however, I can tell you that I’ve spent a lot of time in both fields and that some of the most beautiful, caring and compassionate individuals you’ll ever meet come out of both of them. There is a great deal of similarity in the spirit of giving and caring, and the enormous fulfillment from helping others.  For these reasons, I have always viewed my work in animal protection as an extension of the work I do in medicine. The key to bridging the two fields is to focus on the common elements and the uniting force of compassion that runs through both of them.  Happily, the discord between these two fields has lessened considerably over the years”.  In 1991, Wiebers published an article, Healing Society’s Relationship with Animals: A Physcians View, which also spoke to the connections between caring for nonhuman and human beings and cited other physicians and scientists such as Albert Schweitzer and Albert Einstein who had recognized this in earlier years.

In the 1990s, Wiebers was involved in numerous precedent-setting initiatives that helped change the paradigm between academic medicine and animal protection.  In 1990, Wiebers, along with Drs. Harold Adams and Jack Whisnant, authored the first full-length publication in a medical peer review journal challenging the value and relevance of animal research. The editorial appeared as the lead article in the journal Stroke and started a wave of discussions within the medical community about the value of such research in the field of stroke medicine as well as in other fields.  In 1994, Wiebers, along with Drs. Jennifer Leaning and Roger White published the first full length manuscript in a major peer review journal with a central theme of animal advocacy, challenging the medical community to recognize “the animal protection community as an extension of itself—allowing the alleviation of unnecessary suffering and death to extend to beings other than humans”.  The article, which appeared in the journal Lancet produced considerable discussion about the relationship of the animal protection and medical communities worldwide, drawing considerable criticism from some circles, but also bringing out numerous academic physicians in support of animal protection who had previously not expressed their views publicly on the topic.  In another publication that same year in the journal Medical Education, Wiebers, along with Drs. Ruth Barron, Jennifer Leaning and Frank Ascione questioned the ethics of utilizing animals in the education of medical students and made the case for the use of alternatives, not only for the benefit of animals, but also for the benefit of the physicians in training as it related to their future ability to feel empathy and compassion for their human patients.

In 1992, Wiebers presented the Keynote Lecture entitled “Animals in Medical Research:  Vision of a New Era” at the annual conference of the Humane Society of the United States in Washington D.C.  This speech was later published and reproduced in many print magazine formats.  In 2006, the article was published in a book entitled Medicine, Health and Bioethics delineating 170 articles that the editors considered primary source articles for understanding the major developments in medicine, health and bioethics over the past two centuries.  This was the only article of the 170 relating to animal protection. 

Part of the narrative associated with the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal that Wiebers received in 2012 from the Humane Society of the United States recognized  his efforts to bridge the medical and animal protection communities as follows: 

For more than twenty years, David has carried the cause of animal protection throughout the world as a writer, speaker and public figure.  Today, the success of his effort to promote a rapprochement between the humane movement and the medical community and to promote an integrated vision of caring and respect for all creatures, regardless of species boundaries, has had an enormous impact and is evident to all.

Wiebers has opined that compassion for all life is the pinnacle of humanitarianism and has strongly advocated for humanity to recognize the imperative of extending its compassion not only to all human and nonhuman beings, but also to the earth itself.  He has noted that ultimately, the survival of our own species will depend upon it.