The Dream


I am often asked when the vision of PAWS first emerged as a reality, and how we decided to start a sanctuary for captive wildlife. I wish there were a quick and romantic response, but that is not the case.

Ed and I never really planned to operate a non-profit organization, and certainly not a sanctuary. And, by the way, “sanctuary” was my descriptive designation of our attempt to properly house and provide care for the hundreds of exotic animals who were in need of refuge in the early 1980s.

At that time, animal shelters were often as bad as roadside zoos, with handlers walking young lions and tigers on leashes and breeding animals to provide more homeless cubs for display and photo ops. I chose “sanctuary” to exemplify our mission which we hoped was different.

But I digress, and this is a long explanation, so stay with me. Time did not fly, it slowly crawled across years of depressing experiences observing sick, dying, malnourished and helpless young and old animals who were part of the exotic animal industry.

My enlightening experiences with captive wildlife resulted in the publication of my first book, The Lady & Her Tiger, in 1976. It was a Book of the Month Club selection and won several awards; it was also the first exposé of the use of exotic animals in films. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was an animal activist before the term was conceived.

I had stumbled upon the exotic animal world while working as an actress, dancer and singer. Working on a television show with animals literally changed the course of my life and I found myself desperately trying to make life better for an eclectic array of exotic animal species working in the animal shows and movies which were popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I kept a journal of my harrowing experiences which became The Lady & Her Tiger.

And then I met Ed Stewart, my partner in life and work, a soul mate, although neither of us knew it at the time. It was not love at first sight.

I was the trainer for Lincoln Mercury’s “Sign of the Cat” car commercials and mother/protector of the popular cougars, Chauncey and Christopher, the animal stars of the television advertisements. Known among the advertising executives, and Lincoln Mercury’s directors, as a temperamental virago who demanded impossible luxuries for the feline performers, I was often the precursor to headaches and heartburn.

Ed’s brother, Jim Stewart, was a successful young merchandising manager for the car company, known for his skills in administration and decisive action. When the cougar was scheduled for an appearance in his district, Cleveland, Ohio, he immediately assigned his younger brother, Ed, to “take care of the cat woman.”

Ed often says he will never forgive his brother, and he has been taking care of me since that memorable day in 1976. He followed me to Detroit for a car show, and then to California. My friends did not expect him to last longer than three months; to my surprise (and his) we have survived 35 years of tenacious determination to educate the world about the injustice of captivity for wildlife. Neither of us would change a minute of the times we have spent blundering through challenges, too stubborn to quit.

We traveled across the country promoting the book and working in films with the animals I had acquired, and would never relinquish, until the publicity from the book sounded a death knell to my career as an animal trainer. I was persona non grata in Hollywood.

We purchased a resort in the redwoods of northern California in 1978, retiring our animals to the peaceful surroundings of the big trees. The animals loved it, and Ed and I, cheerfully at first, launched our new career as proprietors, cooks, dishwashers, bartenders and cabin cleaners at Howling Wolf Lodge in Mendocino County.
 

This is the postcard Ed and I made in 1978, to promote our new business, Howling Wolf Lodge in Leggett, CA.

The recession of that time seems worse to us than that of today — perhaps because we became resort owners at a time when gas prices soared and few could afford a vacation in the redwoods. We worked long hours supporting our small group of precious animals who loved life in the forest.

In 1980, an animal trainer who read my book and recognized the villain of the piece, appeared at the lodge and enlisted our advice in exposing more cruelty in the Hollywood film industry. We launched a full scale investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and a four-part television disclosure from our resort, which led to the revocation of the license of the largest supplier of animals to films and television.

In 1984, we met our hero, then Assemblyman Sam Farr, who agreed to introduce legislation in California that would set standards for the care and handling of captive wildlife. AB 1620, now part of California’s Department of Fish & Game Code, was passed into law in 1985.

We moved our group of retired performing animals to Galt, California, in 1984, renting a rural, defunct dairy and dog kennel. We expected to return to the redwoods once the legislation was passed and we had remedied the cruelties involved in the use of captive wildlife in films and television.

WRONG!

Naive as we were in those days, we had little understanding of the vast financial empire of the exotic animal world and its ties to drugs, guns and criminal activities. Our bill awakened a hornet’s nest of powerful enemies and political opponents.

Meanwhile, our arrival in rural Galt triggered a constant stream of animal control officers bringing confiscated lions, wolves and other exotic animals to our door. We were the only permitted exotic animal facility in the area, and they desperately needed places to keep confiscated animals until they were reclaimed by their owners.

This photo appeared in the Sacramento Bee shortly after we moved to Galt, CA.

Ed and I had lost our visible means of support and were facing a growing number of mouths to feed beyond Christopher, J.C., Lucifer, Lucretia, Sweet William, Harriet, Stanley, Seymour and Gwendolyn, our own beloved, and dependent, brood. We decided to seek employment with one of the national animal welfare groups who had offices in the area, and began making rounds feeling confident that one of them would surely want to delve into the cruelties involved in the use of animals in entertainment.

WRONG AGAIN.

Several groups invited us to speak, and everyone was interested, but none wanted to spend time on the issue. They advised us to form our own group, the unwelcome suggestion that we had avoided assiduously in the past.

Elsa, a four-month-old lion cub, had just arrived, brought by animal control officers to spend a weekend with us until her loving owners reclaimed her the following Monday. The adorable lioness lived with us until her death at age 15. Her doting owners did not return to court and never contacted us to see how she was faring. Welcome to the world of exotic pets, Pat & Ed.

The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) was formed out of necessity, with former loyal patrons of Howling Wolf Lodge assisting with the legal paperwork and becoming our first donors. Most of them are still with us, and we are eternally grateful.

With hiccups and lurches we staggered through those first years convinced that, once we had educated the public and all concerned, the problem would be solved and there would be no need for refuge for the victims of the captive wildlife trade. The shelter in Galt would serve as a temporary solution.

You guessed it. WRONG AGAIN.

Stay tuned for more. . .

 

 

Pat Derby is president and co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

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16 thoughts on “The Dream

  1. I have been proud to know you and Ed now for a several years–beginning with my guest- status at your events, and progressing to my volunteerism at PAWS. I don’t know anyone more dedicated to the welfare of animals than both of you. I am heartfelt about letting others become aware of the great works you accomplish and the gargantuan tasks you perform to safe-keep animals, while vigorously advocating for humane legislation. You know no boundaries. Blog on…

  2. I always enjoy reading about how far you have grown from the early days! I belong to Ohlone Humane Society and many years ago soon after you had received “71”, several of us visited you in your original house and enjoyed meeting Christopher, “71”, and Sweet William. I also attended your first fund raising event in Sacramento with Bob Barker present! Congratulations to you and Ed for all the work you have accompished for the animals!
    Sandy Chetty, Fremont, Ca

  3. I am old enough to remember those Mercury Car commercials, and my 3 son’s and I did so enjoy them.

    When I download my emails, I always open PAWs first. I do so agree with Lois Munch regarding Maggie – the elephant Bob and PAWs, and don’t forget the USAF who loaded her on a plane at Anchorage, Alaska and brought her safely to the GALT Santuary. I hated to see her all by herself in the Ancorage Zoo in the cold winters. Now she can roam the green grass hills of the Sanctuary and have her adventures with the other elephants who she has become attached to.

    Great job to all of you!

    Julie K – just a fan from
    Sterling, Alaska

  4. Hello Pat and THANK YOU!! I’m a new comer to your site. You and Ed are an inspiration to us all. I hope to fly across the country and spend a Weekend Getaway with the Elephants. I’ve worked with animals all my life and there truely are no words to describe the joy I get when I see all “your Babies” safe and sound and living free from abuse in your videos. The work you do is important and nobody does it better!! God Bless and stay well.
    Dianne Tucker Berlin, NJ

    • Thank you Dianne, and welcome! Keep checking our calendar of events — we’re currently working on selecting dates for 2012 “Seeing the Elephant” weekends. Hope to have them posted around the first of November.

  5. Dear Pat,

    Your book, _The Lady & Her Tiger_, although difficult to read because of the substance, was an absolute joy to read because of your vivacious, honest and literary prose. Reading your blog is like having you in the room. You are a delight! A gutsy, serious, beautiful, absolute delight. Thank you for giving us a window into your fascinating world. Thanks to you, Ed, and everyone at PAWS for your courageous defense of exotic animals.

    My grandfather used to say: “The darned fool didn’t know it couldn’t be done, so he went ahead and did it!” I have lived by that expression. It sounds to me as though you have too.

    Roars, rumblings, trumpeting and purrs to you all.

    Patricia

  6. I was in my 1st year of humane law enforcement when you came to Peninsula Humane Society in 1986 and gave your presentation on “Animals in Entertainment” to the officers and staff. There was no doubt after that the direction my path would lead me. So honored to be with you both again. …Michele Franko

  7. My favorite sentence is “…this is a long explanation, so stay with me.” As IF I would not hang onto every word. There cannot be enough news from PAWS, except there isn’t the time with animals to care for, and care for well y’all do. We passionate animal-loving, habitat-respecting, tree-hugging, environment-protecting folks cannot get enough of people who are doing it right.. This progressive and true sanctuary is our beacon and our point of reference, especially when needing to point out deficiencies in other less appropriate venues that actually hurt animals. PAWS not only gives the animals a real home, but is politically active to go out and get those animals in need while remaining diplomatic enough to score some real coups. I can say all of us have the utmost respect for every aspect you, Ed, your caretakers and supporters have worked so very hard to have one of the best, if not the best, sanctuaries in the world. It is only my privilege to brag on y’all.

  8. Thank you for sharing your poignant story complete with struggles & victories. You & Ed are the pioneers & inspiration for so many others. Keep strong & healthy, we need you!
    With much respect,
    Carol Tremblay

  9. I am delighted, Pat, to learn that you are writing a blog. Your first entry was the best way to start, and it satisfied my curiosity about how you, Ed and the animals came together. I am so grateful that you both followed your dream and that you are willing to share it with critters needing a sanctuary AND with us humans who love them. Thank you for your generous, loving spirits. Thank you for opening your home on monthly special Saturdays. Thank you for the opportunity to observe happy little Maggie and her friends. Maggie is just where she belongs: out of the cold and into a warm family. I look forward to seeing all of you again.

  10. What a wonderful and trying begging of what has become one of the most spectacular sanctuaries I have heard about. it is so amazing to find people creating safe havens for animals to truly live their lives in peace. As soon as I begin to loose hope in humanity I hear about other people who like myself are making a difference for wildlife. You guys are truly an inspiration and I hope to get the pleasure of meeting you someday!!! I just received you book, Everything you should know about elephants. I can wait to read it!!!

    Thanks so much
    Sandy

  11. It is most interesting to read of the beginning of PAWS. Our admiration is boundless for the work and heartache you have both experienced, yet come through with a sanctuary that really functions as a sanctuary should. We have been supporters for a number of years, and visited you once, and would like to thank you and Ed for what you have done and are doing for these animals.

    • This was my first blog and you are my first comment. Exciting! Ed and I would like to thank you for your kind words and for the support you have shown us over the years. I means a great deal. Sincerely, Pat

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