It is an axiom that people once involved in practices or industries that cause harm to animals, and who then see the light and join the humane movement, have emerged as some of the most influential of advocates. It’s by that route that Pat Derby, first a former trainer of big cats and other large animals for use in TV commercials and movies and then the founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, became one of the great leaders of the effort to help captive wildlife. Pat passed away this past Friday, after a long, painful battle with cancer.
Nicole Paquette/The HSUS
Pat and her partner Ed Stewart founded PAWS in 1984 and over the last quarter century, they helped to reshape the debate over performing animals and captive wildlife – reminding people of the many problems with training animals for entertainment, keeping wild animals as pets, placing exotic animals in fenced enclosures to be shot, and putting animals on display in circuses and roadside zoos. They’ve also cared for a wide array of creatures in need, including elephants relinquished by the Detroit Zoo and then Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (in a closely kept legal settlement between the corporations), as well as dozens of tigers rescued from a cruelty case by our affiliate The Fund For Animals, at PAWS’ California-based animal sanctuaries.
One of the great features of our movement is its pluralism and the fact that there is an advocate for just about every kind of animal. Pat Derby was a remarkable champion for captive wildlife, and she and Ed always impressed me not only with their ability to take in the cast-offs and care for them, but also to advocate for policy changes and shifts in attitudes to get at the root causes of problems. Pat knew that our movement simply cannot rescue its way out of these problems. That’s why she worked in support of a bill, authored by then Assemblyman Sam Farr, setting humane standards for the care and handling of captive wildlife in California. That effort eventually led to a ban on private ownership of all manner of wild animals as pets. She also helped lead the way to restrict captive shoots of exotic mammals on private ranches in the state.
Pat Derby was never afraid to expose the cruelty behind the abuses that occur in entertainment – taking on Bobby Berosini and his mistreatment of orangutans in his Las Vegas act; Ringling Bros. and other entities involved in systematic mistreatment of animals in the circus industry; and the deprivation and poor care received by so many animals at roadside zoos and even some accredited zoos. She has inspired so many to take on this cause and stand up for captive wild animals in all settings.
We will miss her fierce advocacy for all animals, but we are heartened that Ed Stewart and the rest of the team at PAWS will continue her legacy. RIP.