Performer turned sanctuarian
Pat Derby, 69, founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, died from throat cancer on February 15, 2013 at her home on the ARK 2000 sanctuary she built near San Andreas, California.
“Ed Stewart, her partner of 37 years, was by her side,” said the PAWS death announcement.
Derby’s 1976 memoir The Lady & Her Tiger, co-authored with Peter Beagle, appeared six months after Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, 20 months after Cleveland Amory’s Man Kind?, for several years outsold both combined, and ensured that the treatment of performing animals was prominent on the animal rights movement agenda.
Derby remained a Hollywood animal trainer, however, for another eight years. Merging animal training businesses in 1980, Derby and Stewart quit training animals and cofounded PAWS in 1984.
Derby had already taken in animals who were retired by other trainers or were given to her by people who could no longer handle exotic pets for at least 20 years, and had already tried twice before to operate nonprofit sanctuaries, funded by paid admissions, gift shops, and traveling animal acts.
Eventually Derby recognized that trying to “retire” performing animals while keeping them on exhibit was a self-defeating contradiction in terms. PAWS has been sustained from the start almost entirely by donations, raised mainly through direct mail.
Born Patricia Shelley, in Sussex, England, Derby was a direct descendant of Percy and Mary Shelley. Percy Shelley, remembered mainly as a poet, also wrote at least two tracts against eating animals, A Vindication of Natural Diet and On the Vegetable System of Diet.
Mary Shelley at age 19 authored Frankenstein. “My food is not that of man,” declared her tragic hero, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. “I do not destroy the lamb and kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment.”
Percy and Mary Shelley remained vegetarians and anti-vivisectionists throughout their short lives, whose beliefs endured within their family. Born more than 90 years after Mary Shelley died, Patricia Shelley was raised a vegetarian and detested hunting from her first memories. Her mother was a bird rehabilitator.
Patricia Shelley debuted as an actress, starring as Juliet in a production of Romeo & Juliet, soon after her father died.
Emigrating to New York at age 15, she sang as well, and enjoyed some early theatrical success. Touring nightclubs two years later as star of The Gimmicks, a retro jazz band, Patricia Shelley might have been positioned to be part of the “British Invasion” that transformed U.S. music culture.
But her career took an abrupt turn when she met former animal trainer Ted Derby, nine years her elder. Attracted by his background in working with animals, she encouraged Ted Derby to return to animal training, and accompanied him as his training career resumed.
Though Patricia Shelley continued to act and sing at times, including after she married Ted Derby in 1964 and became known as Pat Derby, her life refocused on animal care.
For several years they worked chiefly for Walt Disney Studios. Discovering by trial and error the then little-understood principles of positive reinforcement training, Pat Derby came into frequent conflict with colleagues, directors, and producers who persisted in using traditional coercivie methods. The Derbys later briefly operated a couple of roadside zoos, and produced an animal show for the San Diego Zoo. Their one consistent success was training Chauncey, the puma who for more than a decade promoted the Ford-Mercury Cougar line of automobiles.
Both Derbys were repeatedly bitten by animals. Pat suffered several broken noses and a painful chronic back injury.
Eventually the collapse of their first nonprofit ventures obliged the Derbys to raise $50,000 to redeem their animals from creditors. Having seen a bankruptcy sale at which a taxidermist bought and shot a friendly tame female grizzly bear as she sat waving to visitors from her cage, Pat Derby after the second collapse of a Derby-and-Derby nonprofit reluctantly arranged for the euthanasia of all the animals she could not afford to keep.
Meanwhile Pat and Ted Derby split largely because Ted Derby continued to use electroshock to control animals.
In the mid-1960s Pat Derby spent three weeks on the set of the Flipper television series working alongside then-dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, who formed The Dolphin Project to oppose dolphin captivity in 1970.
“Pat trained a baby elephant for two episodes. We became instant friends and remained friends for life,” O’Barry told ANIMALS 24-7. “Later, whenever Pat introduced me to one of her Hollywood friends, she would say ‘This is my old friend Ric. We have the same story.’ We both eventually rebelled against our utilitarian relationship with animals. They say elephants never forget. I’m sure those elephants who were lucky enough to meet Pat will never forget her.”
Derby did not mention O’Barry in The Lady & Her Tiger, but criticized the American Humane Association for ineptitude in monitoring animal use on film sets; transiently mentioned the Humane Society of the U.S., as employer of Sue Pressman, an early advocate for captive wildlife; and wrote of Fund for Animals founder Cleveland Amory that he was “a charming, clever, genuinely dedicated man,” who unfortunately tended “to preach to the converted and scream damnation at the rest.”
The Berosini case
Derby appears to have been quoted just once by major mainstream media after game show host Bob Barker and United Activists for Animal Rights drew national attention to the alleged off-set abuse of chimpanzees in the 1987 Matthew Broderick film Project X––even though Barker’s allegations centered on the weaknesses in AHA screen production supervision that Derby had identified eleven years earlier. And Derby appears to have been quoted only twice after video emerged in 1988 showing the beating of a San Diego Zoo elephant named Dunda.
But Derby emerged as an animal rights movement superstar in July 1989, after she sent to Entertainment Tonight an undercover video made by dancer Ottavio Gesmundo, showing entertainer Bobby Berosini beating his performing orangutans.
Then-Circus Circus employee Linda Faso had tried to expose and stop Berosini as early as 1972, but without success until the Gesmundo video was broadcast. PETA sought to prosecute Berosini; Berosini sued PETA and PAWS.
A Las Vegas jury in August 1990 awarded Berosini $4.2 million for libel and invasion of privacy, but the Supreme Court of Nevada overturned the verdict in 1995.
After paying PETA a $350,000 judgment, Berosini was ordered to pay PETA an additional $256,000 in legal fees in 2004. Losing his last appeal in February 2007, Berosini has in recent years reportedly lived in Costa Rica and Brazil.
Derby built on the recognition she developed in connection with the Berosini case by hosting workshops and conferences on animal use in entertainment that inspired and informed a generation of activism. She cofounded the Association of Sanctuaries, an influential forerunner to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
But Derby may have become best known for her campaigns to retire elephants from circuses and zoos, and to replace hands-on elephant care with the “protected contact” method that in 2014 is to become required at American Zoo Association-accredited zoos.
“Since PAWS’ inception, we have advocated eliminating the use of bullhooks and other weapons in the care and handling of all captive elephants,” Derby said when the AZA policy was adopted. “PAWS’ elephants have been managed with no punishment since the arrival of our first elephant in 1986.”
Feld Entertainment, owner of the Ringling Bros. Circus, from 1988 to 1998 spent $8.8 million to employ a small army of spies to try to disable PAWS and PETA. The operation was directed, according to court filings, by Clair E. George, deputy director of operations for the Central Intelligence Agency from July 1984 through December 1987. Derby sued Feld Entertainment in June 2000. Feld reportedly settled the case by agreeing to retire several circus elephants to PAWS and to fund their upkeep.
PAWS elephant advocacy gained momentum after the Hawthorn Corporation, a firm that rented elephants to circuses, exhibited an elephant named Tyke at a circus in Honolulu, Hawaii.
While waiting to perform, Tyke injured his handler, killed trainer Allen Campbell, 37, when Campbell tried to intervene, bolted from the circus arena, and was shot dead by police.
Tyke had history
Derby’s partner, Ed Stewart, recalled a similar incident involving Tyke that occurred a year earlier. Derby and Stewart discovered, Derby summarized in 1997, that “Tyke was an elephant with a history of problems,” who “had been disciplined in public as early as 1988. Complaints had been lodged with the USDA about her treatment. No action was taken, and the elephant continued to travel and perform, creating problems in other cities.
“Since 1983, at least 20 people have been killed by captive elephants performing in zoos and circuses around the world,” Derby continued. “At least 60 others have been seriously injured, including 42 members of the general public who have been visitors or spectators at zoos, circus, and other animal exhibits; six children have been injured, mostly during elephant ride incidents; and at least six elephants have been killed in retaliation for the injuries they have inflicted.”
While researching elephant attacks, Derby and Stewart also learned and warned about the spread of tuberculosis among the U.S. captive elephant herd. The USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service did not become visibly responsive to their concerns until after another Cuneo elephant, named Joyce, collapsed and died from TB during dental treatment in August 1996 shortly after performing for the Circus Vargas in Los Angeles.
Joyce died 10 weeks after the USDA rejected a PAWS request that she be taken out of performances because she had lost about 1,000 pounds during the preceding year.
Recalled Derby, “The USDA retained a consultant [to investigate], Alan Roocroft of the San Diego Wild Animal Park, who had previously been cited by the USDA for violating the Animal Welfare Act [in 1988] when he and other trainers under his direction repeatedly beat the elephant Dunda with an ax handle. “
Roocroft reported that Joyce appeared to be healthy, but Los Angeles County director of disease control Shirley Fannin discovered that at death, Joyce’s lungs were 80% destroyed by tubercular scar tissue. Joyce’s companion elephant, Hattie, died of TB a week later.
TB continued to spread among the Hawthorn elephants, leading eventually to the dissolution of the Hawthorn Corporation and the retirement of the elephants to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.
TB also developed among the Los Angeles Zoo elephants. Whether transmission somehow occurred when Joyce was weighed on Los Angeles Zoo equipment was not determined. A tubercular elephant had been sent from the Los Angeles Zoo to the San Francisco Zoo. Soon identified there, too, TB is now known to afflict at least 12% of all the elephants in the U.S.
Zoo elephant retirements
The last San Francisco Zoo elephants were retired to PAWS in 2004, over the opposition of the AZA. The lone Alaska Zoo elephant was retired to PAWS in 2007. The last African elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo was retired to PAWS in 2010. The Los Angeles Zoo still exhibits Asian elephants. The Toronto City Council in December 2011 voted 31-4 to send the last three African elephants at the Toronto Zoo to PAWS, with Bob Barker funding the transfer, and reaffirmed the decision in November 2012, 32-8, but Derby did not live to see the move accomplished.
Currently home to eight elephants, the $3.7 million, 2,300-acre ARK 2000 sanctuary opened in 2002. The last of the animals were transferred to ARK 2000 from the original PAWS sanctuary in Galt, California in 2011.
In addition to the elephant facilities, ARK 2000 includes a 10-acre tiger habitat built to house 39 of the 54 tigers who were seized in November 2002 from Tiger Rescue, operated for 30 years by John Weinhart at sites in Glen Avon and Colton, California. Thirty dead adult tigers and 58 dead cubs were also found at the Tiger Rescue premises. Weinhart was in February 2005 convicted of multiple related felonies.