Quiet right-hand man for 40-plus years to legends Belton Mouras, Gretchen Wyler, & Tippi Hedren
Vernon Weir, 74, died from a stroke on December 6, 2021.
Born on March 8, 1947, Weir attended Normandy Senior High School in St. Louis, Missouri, then earned a B.A. in political science and government from the University of Missouri at St. Louis in 1970.
A career in political fundraising took an abrupt turn several years later when Weir met Animal Protection Institute founder Belton Mouras.
“Belton was a real inspiration to me and many others,” Weir told ANIMALS 24-7 after Mouras’ death in 2014.
World War II hero Belton Mouras
The son of a disabled sharecropper from the Louisiana bayou country, Mouras had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1939, at age 16, two years before the U.S. entered World War II.
The Sacramento Bee recalled at Mouras’ death in 2014 that he “served with the 503rd regimental combat team, parachute infantry,” making 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 U.S. Army paratroopers who managed to land in one of two accessible areas on the western slope of the mountain called Topside, then stormed the Japanese fortifications from behind.
Twice wounded, Mouras received a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and the combat infantrymen’s badge.
Animal Protection Institute founder
Rising to the rank of master sergeant, Mouras retired from Army in 1959. Mouras 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.
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, a cofounder of HSUS who had split with HSUS eleven years earlier.
(Imagine any animal advocacy group leader loaning another money to start a rival organization today!)
Under Mouras, the Animal Protection Institute 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.
Weir, Mouras, & Primarily Primates
Mouras hired Weir in 1980, initially to help produce direct mail campaigns, but Weir rapidly came to be Mouras’ right hand man in all aspects of managing of the Animal Protection Institute, mostly behind the scenes.
Both Morris and Weir were also instrumental throughout the next 27 years in facilitating the growth of the Primarily Primates sanctuary, near San Antonio, Texas, a relationship that ended only after founder Wally Swett was forced out in 2006.
Managed for about six months by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, custody of Primarily Primates was eventually won by Friends of Animals. Primarily Primates since 2007 has operated as a Friends of Animals subsidiary.
An internal coup d’etat eventually ousted both Mouras and Weir from the Animal Protection Institute. After 20-odd undistinguished years under other leaders, the Animal Protection Institute in 2008 merged into Born Free USA.
United Animals Nations & the Genesis Awards
Mouras meanwhile founded United Animal Nations in 1987, again assisted by Weir. United Animal Nations initially hosted an annual conference of animal advocacy organization leaders, called the Summit for the Animals. After the Summit for the Animals moved to an independent organizational structure, United Animal Nations refocused on disaster relief.
When in 1996 Mouras was forced out of United Animal Nations by yet another an internal coup d’etat, Weir resigned to become program director for the ARK Trust, then the institutional umbrella for the annual Genesis Awards television program honoring mass media contributions to animal advocacy.
The Genesis Awards originated in 1985 as a project of actress Gretchen Wyler (1932-2007), initially under the auspices of the Fund for Animals. Wyler took the program independent in 1990, turning it over to HSUS in 2002 after it lost money in at least seven consecutive years.
The American Sanctuary Association
Weir, unable to stop the Genesis Awards’ financial hemorrhaging, in 1999 accepted leadership of the American Sanctuary Association, founded in that year by actress and sanctuarian Tippi Hedren.
Weir remained American Sanctuary Association executive director to the end of his life.
United Animal Nations meanwhile became Red Rover in 2012.
Weir outlined the American Sanctuary Association operating philosophy in 2014.
“Hundreds of animal care facilities that label themselves as ‘animal sanctuaries’ provide ‘refuge’ for nearly every species of animal,” Weir began.
“All sanctuaries are not created equally”
“Unfortunately, all sanctuaries are not created equally. While many organizations label themselves ‘sanctuaries’ on the grounds that they will accept displaced animals, their real mission is to breed, sell, trade, or use animals commercially. Many of these facilities operate legally as nonprofit, charitable organizations, when in reality they are entrepreneurial businesses.
“Others provide animal care and housing far worse than the conditions from which the animal was rescued,” Weir observed.
“Animal protection groups, government agencies, and individual activists want to be certain that the animals they place are going to good facilities, and that their donations are sent to those deserving of their support.
“But sanctuaries are often located hundreds or even thousands of miles away, making it impractical for these individuals and organizations to personally inspect each facility.
Fulfilling a need
“The mission and activities of sanctuary associations fulfill this need,” Weir said, mentioning also The Association of Sanctuaries, founded in 1992, and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, begun in 2007 as a quasi-subsidiary of the Humane Society of the U.S.
“A sanctuary that is not accredited is not necessarily substandard,” Weir mentioned. “For whatever reason, some sanctuary directors have decided not to join an association. Conversely, accreditation does not guarantee that organizations are free from problems or concerns.
“Nevertheless, being accredited does increase the likelihood that organizations will continue to achieve their goals in providing the highest standards of animal care,” since accreditation requires re-visits at regular intervals by accreditation teams.
“If an organization does not meet accreditation standards,” Weir continued, “the organization’s director may take steps to correct sub-standard facilities or practices.
More primate sanctuaries needed
“Sanctuary associations are not in the business of making lists of sanctuaries that are deficient,” Weir finished. “Our primary interest is to create lists of sanctuaries that meet our qualifying standards. Application materials and site visit reports are held in the strictest confidence. If an organization does not pass accreditation, we will say only that the sanctuary does not meet our guidelines at this time. Nothing more.”
Weir was especially concerned, he said, also in 2014, that “The number of primates being used in medical research and testing are reaching record levels. In the past, labs routinely killed apes and monkeys when research was completed. Now, however, if the primates are not involved in terminal studies, we are seeing many being offered to sanctuaries.
“Unfortunately, high quality animal sanctuaries are always full,” Weir lamented. “Not enough space exists to absorb large groups of primates. Considering how these animals have been abused, this is unacceptable. More resources are needed to expand current sanctuaries and to build new ones. The fate of many of these animals hangs in the balance.”
“Don’t get around much any more”
Never inclined to seek the spotlight, Weir remained a force behind the scenes in his later years despite being practically unknown beyond the sanctuary community.
“I don’t have much interest in conferences anymore,” Weir admitted to ANIMALS 24-7 in 2016, three years after briefly attending the 2013 HSUS Expo chiefly, he said, because it was held in Las Vegas, his longtime home city.
Recalled Vernon Weir’s widow Cheryl Weintraub Weir, who married him on September 24, 1981, “We’ve been married for 40 years and I can honestly say that this man loved his family and animals with all of his heart!”
Their children include sons Phillip Weir and Daman Schwartz, and two daughters, Sara Martinez and Shana Weir.