Belton Paul Mouras, 90, died on May 14, 2014 at his home in Sacramento, California. The son of a disabled sharecropper from the Louisiana bayou country, Belton Mouras spoke only Cajun French until he started school at age eight. While other boys of the time and place trapped and hunted, Mouras successfully raised raccoons who had been orphaned by trappers and hunters. In his teens, Mouras built a local ice cream sales empire, and tried to advance the ideas that later built the Dairy Queen chain, but lacked the capital and credit he needed to put them into effect.
Enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1939, at age 16, two years before the U.S. entered World War II, Mouras rose to the rank of master sergeant. The Sacramento Bee recalled that Mouras “served with the 503rd regimental combat team, parachute infantry in World War II,” making multiple multiple combat jumps, including during the 1945 recapture of Corregidor, one of the most storied episodes in the history of military parachuting. Mouras was among 1,000 paratroopers who managed to land in one of two accessible areas on the western slope of the mountain called Topside, then storm the Japanese fortifications from behind. Twice wounded, Mouras received a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and the combat infantrymen’s badge.
Mouras retired from Army in 1959, after 20 years in service, and found his real calling in 1960 as national director of livestock programs for the Humane Society of the U.S., founded only six years earlier.
Starting with admittedly almost no relevant knowledge whatever, Mouras rapidly absorbed everything he could learn about every phase of humane work, bringing to it the perspective of an experienced outsider, and an entrepreneurial spirit that both rapidly increased the revenue of every organization he worked with, and attracted considerable suspicion from observers on all sides of the issues.
Splitting with HSUS after the death of founder Fred Myers, Mouras in 1968 started the Animal Protection Institute with $5,000 borrowed from National Catholic Animal Welfare Society founder Helen Jones. API under Mouras pioneered direct mail fundraising, made aggressive use of newspaper ads to boost campaigns and attract new donors, and weathered lawsuits from HSUS and several other established organizations.
An internal coup d’etat eventually ousted Mouras and effectively disabled API. After 20-odd relatively undistinguished years under other leaders, API in 2008 merged into Born Free USA. Mouras meanwhile founded United Animal Nations in 1987, which became Red Rover in 2012. Behind the scenes, Mouras was also instrumental in facilitating the growth of the Primarily Primates sanctuary, near San Antonio, Texas.
Mouras authored several autobiographical books about various aspects of animal advocacy, the most extensive and most successful of which was I Care About Animals (1977). The first handbook for animal rights activists that actually used the term “animal rights,” I Care About Animals appeared just one year after protests led by Henry Spira (1927-1998) caused the National Institutes of Health to stop funding experiments on cats that had been performed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This campaign is generally recognized as marking the emergence of animal rights activism as a new theme in animal advocacy. The animal rights theme, though divisive at first, proved eventually to be a wide enough umbrella to reunite the traditional concerns of the mainstream humane movement with those of antivivisectionists and vegetarians, after the humane, antivivisection, and vegetarian causes had for a century mostly taken separate paths.
I Care About Animals mixed Mouras’ memoirs with summaries of major animal issues as Mouras perceived them, some overview of animal advocacy history, and a great deal of tactical advice, split into three categories: strategic advice about organizational relationships, technical advice about building organizations and running campaigns, and general advice about persuading the public.
Mouras also included profiles of three of his favorite allies: actress Kim Novak, Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnson (1912-1977), and the candy heiress Helen Brach (1911-1977), who bankrolled many of Mouras’ campaigns, but disappeared shortly before I Care About Animals went to press.
Mouras discussed Brach’s disappearance, wondering if she might have been murdered by representatives of animal use industries, but did not anticipate that the perpetrators would more than 20 years later turn out to be a ring who killed expensive race horses and show horses to collect insurance money.
When Mouras wrote, there was still hope that Brach had for some reason vanished of her own volition. Mouras wrote of her as if still alive, and made no mention of her estate, which was meant to benefit animals but because of a badly written will ended up benefiting many other causes that seem to have been of little interest to Brach during her lifetime.
Succinctly explaining the differences between “animal rights” and “animal welfare,” Mouras seemed to take as a given that authentic animal advocates would welcome the advent of “animal rights” advocacy, as a more dynamic descendant of the “humane” and “animal welfare” causes. Mouras acknowledged that some aspects of animal rights would challenge conventional and complacent “humane” and “animal welfare” thinking, but believed that accepting and responding positively to the challenge would help to demonstrate sincerity to the public.
Mouras was about half right. Helen Jones in 1977 changed the name of the National Catholic Animal Welfare Society to the International Society for Animal Rights. Fund for Animals founder Cleveland Amory and Friends of Animals founder Alice Herrington were also both quick to endorse “animal rights” in theory, albeit with somewhat varied nuances of interpretation. But the American SPCA and Humane Society of the U.S. vigorously differentiated themselves from “animal rights” organizations until well into the 21st century, while the American Humane Association never has embraced the concept.
Leadership of the “animal rights” phase of the cause passed mostly to newer organizations, including Mobilization for Animals, Trans-Species Unlimited (later called Animal Rights Mobilization), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, all founded in 1981. By the early 1990s, when a consolidation phase began, as many as 60 national organizations identified themselves with “animal rights” philosophies.
Mouras in 1985 founded the Summit for the Animals, an annual two-day conference of organization leaders, to try to harmonize the upstart animal rights groups’ campaigns, messages, and strategic approaches. United Animal Nations was begun two years later as institutional umbrella for the conference series. While the initial Summit goals were never realized, and United Animal Nations eventually refocused on doing animal relief work after disasters, the Summit for the Animals continues, now under the name of the National Council for Animal Protection.