It’s hard to believe that Cleveland Amory, who was without question one of the most important and influential animal advocates of the 20th century, would be 100 today. When it came to animal protection, he was a man of resolve and action. With the whipping winds and pelting rains of Harvey approaching the Texas land mass, he would have been first on the scene to shake his fist at the weather gods, to help with animal rescue, and to call upon his legions of followers to pitch in. He reinforced that instinct in me, and our team members on the ground are today acting as his proxies in a state where he left such a kindhearted footprint, by founding Black Beauty Ranch, the nation’s biggest large-animal sanctuary located southeast of Dallas.
Cleveland was a trailblazing advocate for animals from the 1950s until his death in 1998. His sharp wit and gift for the spoken word were his sharpest weapons. As the founder of the Fund for Animals (The Fund), which marks its own 50th anniversary in 2017, Cleveland was an unfaltering and fearless champion of animals, especially wildlife. If animals were at risk because of human greed or malice, and he could do something about it, he never hesitated to stand in the breach.
Somewhere along life’s pathway, this scion of New England wealth and privilege caught the same fever that so many of us have: the burning desire to secure a measure of justice for animals, and a determination to make the case for them in the public arena. It was my remarkably good fortune to be able to learn from Cleveland, and to work for him, and it is the rarest of days when I do not reflect back upon his example of courage, poise, and toughness in the face of searing cruelties and stacked odds. His unwarranted confidence in hiring me as a 23-year-old and his mentoring of me in subsequent years, along with his soulmate Marian Probst (who took over The Fund after Cleveland passed in 1998), set me on a definite trajectory as a full-time advocate and strategist for the cause. I’ll be forever grateful to them both.
Cleveland was an early board member of The HSUS, but he’s better known for founding the Fund for Animals in 1967 with Marian and others, with the goal of producing more and better and harder-edged advocacy for animals. His 1974 work, Man Kind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife, was a full-throttle denunciation of American wildlife management’s numerous cruelties, reflecting Cleveland’s knack for picking the right kinds of fights, the ones that would make public the practices that hunters, trappers, ranchers, wildlife managers, and others preferred to keep private. That book earned a remarkable and unprecedented editorial in The New York Times – unheard of before or since in the world of publishing.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cleveland tapped into the thinking of the silent majority of animal lovers with a best-selling series of books – which turned into a memorable trilogy — about his cat Polar Bear. But these works too were really about promoting awareness and advocacy on behalf of animals, reaching people who might not otherwise open up a polemical book concerning humane work. Later, his account of Black Beauty Ranch, Ranch of Dreams, told the story of the plight of all animals through the animal ambassadors at his beloved animal sanctuary. Today, the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, at 1,400 acres, is the crown jewel of the Fund’s sanctuary and direct care programs, and with the Fund itself, a part of the HSUS family.
It’s hard not to think of Cleveland’s grit and determination in the current moment, when many vital gains for wildlife are in serious jeopardy across the nation. Wild horse and burro roundups, ruthless predator control programs, land-and-shoot hunting of grizzly bears, captive hunts — it’s an extraordinary array of threats. Federal and state governments are colluding with private special interests to put wild animals in the crosshairs. The war against predator species is once again in full swing, along with an effort to roll back Endangered Species Act protections. Not since the days of the zealous cabinet secretary James G. Watt in the 1980s have we seen a more alarming set of policies issuing forth from the U.S. Department of the Interior and from key lawmakers in Congress. In the background, pushing all out for these renewed assaults, the Safari Club and other groups are determined to eliminate any sort of restraint on their ability to kill rare species, for trophy heads, for body parts, or just for fun.
Cleveland, of course, would have had plenty to say about it, and he would have done something about it, too. He was an immensely witty and gifted writer, never at a loss for a clever turn of phrase. I have always cherished his wonderful parallelism, “we’re building a kind of army, an army of the kind,” because it showed his comprehension of a fundamental fact: the cause of animal protection can only succeed — and can advance its core mission — with a base large enough to overcome the tremendous forces of malice and hostility arrayed against them in so many walks of life.
In Cleveland’s day, the Fund had a gallant group of field representatives — feisty, intelligent, tough, and genuine foot soldiers in the organization’s campaigns. Today, we’re trying to populate the field with a massive volunteer force ready to make the case for animals every day, everywhere, and in every way. Everyone who does something to help animals is a part of that army, with millions of others whose commitment to animal protection keeps them actively engaged. It’s been said that an army marches on its stomach. But the one that Cleveland inspired, the one of which we are all a part, marches to the beat of its heart.
Happy birthday, Cleveland. Your work endures with so many of us whom you inspired.