Dantzler: Big Man, Big Heart, Big Legacy
Frantz Dantzler (1938-2005)
Years at HSUS: 1962-2005
Major Accomplishments: Ran two affiliates and three regional offices, director of Field Services and Investigations. Investigated and broke national stories on the cruelties of wild horse roundups and greyhound racing. Testified before state and federal legislatures on cruelty to animals. Skilled photographer and innovator who transformed The HSUS's investigation capacities.
By Bernard Unti
Effective humane investigators can't be faint of heart, it's been said, but they must be kind-hearted. For more than four decades, no HSUS staff member better exemplified this essential character symmetry than Frantz Dantzler. In Dantzler's 43-year career with The HSUS, he confronted the stark cruelties of animal fighting, seal hunting, puppy mills, wild horse roundups, predator control, animal auctions, the exotic bird trade, and more. No matter what he witnessed, however, Dantzler retained a fundamental optimism about human nature that matched his deep regard for animals.
To an unparalleled degree, Dantzler's professional progress mirrored the evolution of The HSUS itself. He worked at two HSUS state branch affiliates, in Colorado and Utah, served as a regional director in three different locations, spent almost ten years in Washington D.C. as the head of The HSUS's Field Services and Investigations division, and, in the last stage of his career, supported ongoing investigations by managing videotape evidence and maintaining equipment used by colleagues all over the United States.
In particular, Dantzler's investigative work in the 1970s helped to solidify The HSUS's reputation as the nation's leading humane organization. As its chief investigator, he spearheaded efforts to expose the mismanagement of the Bureau of Land Management’s Adopt-a-Horse program, to compel the National Greyhound Association to prohibit the use of live rabbits as lures in meets, and to criminalize dog theft as a felony offense. In short, Dantzler's reputation as an investigator was as large as his own physical frame; he was a man who stood six feet, six inches tall and had a long list of accomplishments to match his size.
Dantzler, who died in a South Bend, Indiana hospital on June 18, 2005 after an accidental fall at his home, was the longest-serving employee in The HSUS's history, and the only one to have worked under all six HSUS chief executives. From Fred Myers to Wayne Pacelle, Dantzler knew them all.
"Frantz dedicated his life to humane work long before animal protection concerns gained mainstream status. Whether it was wild horses, animal fighting, seal slaughter, greyhound racing or puppy mills—you name the issue—those of us who act on these concerns today are standing on his broad shoulders," Pacelle said shortly after Dantzler's passing. "His legacy to The HSUS and the world is that of a true friend and champion of animals."
Our Man in Transition
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1938, Dantzler traced his epiphany concerning animals to an incident that occurred at age 14, when he shot a squirrel out of a tree. Forty years later, he could still recall the moment with crystalline clarity. "This was dumb," he remembered thinking, "Why did I do this? I realized then that it would be the last time I'd shoot squirrels, and it was. There was no lightning bolt or anything. It just suddenly seemed senseless."
In the early 1960s, Dantzler, an aerospace electronics technician, was living in Colorado. His neighbor happened to be Belton P. Mouras, head of The HSUS's livestock department and Rocky Mountain branch. It was Mouras who recruited Dantzler to work at the Boulder County Humane Society, then a special affiliate of The HSUS, and it was there, in a small-scale shelter, that Dantzler first learned the techniques of animal care and cruelty investigation that he would later bring to bear on a national level. It was also at Boulder County Humane that Dantzler met HSUS founder Myers, who paid a visit to the shelter in spring 1963, soon after Dantzler began working there.
In July 1964, Dantzler left Colorado to take the position of supervisor at the Salt Lake City shelter operated by The HSUS's Utah State Branch. Led by longtime HSUS board member Hal Gardiner, the Utah shelter was a model for its time, handling an average of 35,000 animals annually, adopting no animals out unless spayed or neutered, and using sodium pentobarbital as a means of euthanasia.
In addition to managing the shelter, Dantzler conducted cruelty investigations throughout the state, and became a deputy officer for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department. He first received mention as a staff member of The HSUS in the May 1965 issue of HSUS News, attended his first annual conference later that year, and by 1967 was on the program as a presenter.
Dantzler was appointed director of the HSUS Utah State Branch in 1970, the same year that John Hoyt came to The HSUS as president. In 1972, when The HSUS shifted to a regional office system, Dantzler, like Gardiner, supported the decision. The branch's shelter operation became the Utah Humane Society, while Dantzler became director of The HSUS's Rocky Mountain Regional Office. A year later, he moved to Sacramento, California, to head the HSUS West Coast Regional Office.
Our Man in the Saddle
For humane workers in the western states in the early 1970s, the fate of America's wild horses was a flashpoint issue, and, after passage of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971, Dantzler became The HSUS's point man in the fight to protect mustangs. Together with field representative Hal Perry, he brought to light one of the most haunting cruelty cases of the era, the so-called "Howe Massacre" of 1973, an incident in which ranchers, acting without authority, rounded up and slaughtered a herd of wild horses in the rugged territory of southeastern Idaho.
Acting on a tip from Joseph Wood Krutch Medalist Velma "Wild Horse Annie" Johnston, Dantzler and Perry found a scene of unprecedented carnage: Ranchers had forced hog rings into horses' noses, slit the throats and cut off the legs of horses whose hooves got caught among the rocks, and had driven uncooperative animals over a cliff. At the foot of the cliff, Dantzler and Perry came across the cadavers of seven horses, five of whom had been "choked down" through the insertion of C-shaped hog rings into their nostrils, which reduced their breathing capacity by 80% to 90%.
The 29 horses who survived the Howe Massacre were sold for dog food. The HSUS traced them to a cannery in North Platte, Nebraska, where they remained during the course of a government investigation initiated under pressure from HSUS Chief Investigator Frank McMahon. The HSUS and the American Horse Protection Association also filed suit against the Department of the Interior for allowing illegal roundups that violated the 1971 Act.
Dantzler was able to visit and care for the animals during the course of the investigation and legal proceedings, but the case took a bad turn. Despite The HSUS's efforts, the horses were returned to the very ranchers responsible for the grisly roundup. Even so, for several years, the furious protests that followed prevented further roundups.
His experience at Howe made Dantzler a determined critic of the roundup and slaughter of wild horses. His efforts to develop evidence concerning the Bureau of Land Management's poor management of the roundups and the Adopt-a-Horse program continued throughout the 1970s. As an expert fact witness, he played an essential role in several lawsuits filed by The HSUS in support of the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, and in 1977, he testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Resources in efforts to protect the gains embodied in the act.
In January 1979 he provided information to ABC-TV's 20/20 news magazine for a feature segment on the BLM's mismanagement of the Adopt-a-Horse program. Geraldo Rivera's reporting gave the wild horse issue unprecedented coverage, and Senate oversight hearings to explore the BLM's ineptitude followed.
Our Man in Washington
In November 1975, a few months after McMahon's death, Dantzler came to Washington to serve as director of Field Services and Investigations, a role in which he said he hoped to reinforce The HSUS's position as "the conscience of the American people with respect to animal cruelty." By every indication, he hit the ground running. With his first-hand knowledge of cruelty investigations, and his talent for documenting evidence through photography and other techniques, Dantzler was a man in demand, frequently representing The HSUS in media and other public appearances.
HSUS President Emeritus Hoyt, who brought Dantzler to Washington, recalled that "Frantz was a reliable and innovative investigator, who dared to go where no one else would go. His use of instrumentation and professional techniques allowed us to document cruelty in ways that had eluded us before he came on board."
To a great extent, the emergent cruelties of the decade determined the course of Dantzler's investigative agenda. In the mid-1970s, he went into the field with other staff to document the deplorable conditions of Midwestern puppy mills, just as America's heartland was being transformed into the center of a miserable industry. The work he did with Ann Gonnerman provided the background for Roger Caras's 1976 ABC-TV news feature report on this nascent cruelty.
At a time when prospects for a federal ban on dogfighting seemed good, Dantzler testified before a congressional committee in 1976, pushing for enforcement of animal fighting provisions in the Animal Welfare Act. Dantzler and his colleagues made The HSUS the nation's foremost authority on the nationwide network of illegal animal fighting enterprises.
Dantzler was also very active on the greyhound racing issue during a decade of aggressive expansion by that industry. In 1978 Frantz took Rivera to Kansas to film a greyhound racing meet. The footage they procured appeared on the premiere episode of 20/20, and underpinned a drive for proposed federal legislation, which, though unsuccessful, led the National Greyhound Association to outlaw the use of live rabbits at coursing events.
In the mid-1980s, Dantzler worked with other HSUS investigators in a complex surveillance operation that targeted a notorious high-volume animal dealer who carried dogs across state lines—without the required vaccination certificates—to deliver them to major laboratories in his home state. Although the dealer was tipped off by someone in law enforcement, Dantzler and Bob Baker were able to procure some damaging footage of sick and crowded animals in the dealer's transport vehicle. This video footage later was crucial to the designation of dog theft as a felony in Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
Dantzler was also known to lend a hand when disasters struck. In 1976, when the Teton Dam collapsed, he went to southeastern Idaho to support regional agencies in their efforts to safeguard animals. And in 1980, he joined colleague Eric Sakach in Washington State after the eruption at Mount St. Helens, working with humane society personnel to rescue and shelter shocked and injured animals within the devastated zone.
Our Man, The Mentor
In 1984, Dantzler left his position as director of investigations to open The HSUS's new North Central Office in the Chicago area. He would later assume the role of senior investigator, operating from his home in Indiana, where he put his considerable technical talents to use in the support of other HSUS staff members' work.
Dantzler continued to participate in HSUS investigations into the mid-1990s, helping to extend the organization's undercover work abroad. He went several times to Honduras to document the miseries of the illegal trade in imperiled wildlife, checking out suspected poaching operations and finding more than 1,000 illegally captured parrots and macaws destined for the pet trade.
Dantzler was an award-winning photographer whose photo credits were a fixture in HSUS publications. In 2002, he did the digital photography for The Humane Society of the United States Complete Guide to Cat Care, his own cat posing as a model. His dogs, Hercules and Apollo, provided inspiration and examples for his monthly column, "For Pet's Sake," in the South Bend Tribune.
The news of Dantzler's passing fell hard on the many HSUS staff members, past and current, who loved and admired him. "In 1975, before I came to The HSUS, Frantz Dantzler came to Massachusetts to brief me on the organization’s activity," recalled Paul Irwin, who retired as HSUS president and CEO in 2004. "That meeting solidified my decision to join The HSUS, and it was the start of a warm and cordial relationship that profoundly influenced my life and my understanding of humane work once we became colleagues."
"He was a man's man, yet he had a very gentle, kind side," said Sakach, director of the HSUS West Coast Regional Office, who worked alongside Dantzler in a number of investigations and considered him a mentor. "He was a giant of man, physically and figuratively."
Bernard Unti received his doctorate in U.S. history in 2002 from American University. His book, Protecting All Animals: A Fifty-Year History of The Humane Society of the United States, is available from Humane Society Press.