Interview: Ex-child star goes from 'Lucy,' to animal activist
By WAYNE PARRY
February 22, 2006
TRENTON, N.J. -- As a child, she was the voice of Lucy in "Peanuts" movies, romped with "Lassie" and starred as Felix Unger's daughter on "The Odd Couple" TV show.
Now, Pamelyn Ferdin is grown up and leading a Philadelphia-based animal welfare group on trial for domestic terrorism.
Ferdin _ who is not charged _ says she is optimistic her group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, and six of its members will be acquitted in federal court.
Even if they're not, she predicts that "for every one that goes to jail, 10 others are willing to take their place."
The defendants are charged with animal enterprise terrorism, stalking and other offenses as part of a five-year campaign to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences.
The company tests drugs and consumer products on animals at labs in England and in Franklin Township, Somerset County.
The activists' group, also called SHAC, claims its actions are protected as free speech.
"If they had homeless people, human beings, inside the lab against their will and they were doing needless,
senseless experiments on them, people would be out in the streets marching," Ferdin said this week. "There would be a revolution.
SHAC is saying that these animals are equal to humans in that they shouldn't have to undergo needless pain and suffering."
Ferdin's voice can be heard on "Peanuts"
classics and she was also known as Edna Unger, the precocious daughter of finicky Felix, grappling with growing up on "The Odd Couple."
One of her most memorable roles on the show involved being invited to a dance at a boys' reform school and giving her father a migraine.
She also played the character Lucy Baker on "Lassie" from 1971-73.
felt sorry for the animals I'd work with," the 43-year-old activist said in an exclusive interview with The Press. "Even though
Lassie got his three squares _ and Lassie was a he, not a she _ and his hair was brushed every day and he was petted, he was a working dog.
He never got to run around and play. I just saw a lot of sadness in the animals I worked with."
Her acting career included roles on "Star Trek," "The Brady Bunch," "Gunsmoke," "The Flying Nun," "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Bewitched."
She later became a nurse and worked at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., serving mainly poor and uninsured patients.
Ferdin also started volunteering at animal shelters, including one in New York at which she unwittingly strayed into an off-limits area.
"I saw all these dogs lined up with ropes around their necks tied to a cinder block wall," she said.
"They were being taken one by one to a stainless steel table and having poison shot down their throats.
Their eyes were wide open with fear, and their hind legs were quivering. They were being killed. That changed my entire life."
Ferdin, who had moved from California to
Connecticut in 1992, plunged into the animal rights cause, reading as much as she could about animal cruelty, vivisection and testing labs.
"My eyes were opened," she said. "I had found my mission. This was better than being a nurse. Patients could speak to me.
If they were having pain or feeling sick, they could tell me. The animals needed me more than any patients did."
She learned about Stop
Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, and met its president, Kevin Kjonaas, a few times, offering to use her celebrity to attract attention at a rally.
"We had a conversation about my having been Lucy, and he had a beagle when he was little," she said with a laugh.
"I said I'd go to one of his rallies and say in Lucy's voice something like, 'Huntingdon Life Science uses beagles? Good grief!"'
When Kjonaas and five others were indicted in May 2004,
he asked Ferdin to take over management of the organization because he would need to concentrate on his legal defense.
She agreed in November 2004, and now lives outside Los Angeles with her husband, the surgeon and animal rights activist Dr. Jerry Vlasak.
Ferdin, who has attended every day of the trial that started Feb. 7, said she approves of the group's pressure tactics against
employees of Huntingdon and companies that do business with it, calling them "complicit" in the abuse and killing of thousands of animals a year.
Activists have staged noisy demonstrations outside the homes of their targets, screaming "Puppy Killer!" through bullhorns,
carrying photos of mutilated animals and posting fliers with personal information of the employees throughout their neighborhoods.
During the trial, prosecutors have shown the group repeatedly posted information about its targets on a Web site,
followed by harassment or violence against their homes or offices, followed closely by accounts of the incidents being posted on the Web site.
Prosecutors claim the group incites others to attack its targets.
But Ferdin says the government is prosecuting the wrong parties.
"They need to get these people who are doing these illegal things and prosecute them," she said.
"Because they can't catch the ones that are doing these things, they're pinning it on the ones that are out there, in the open, in public. It's just a Web site, providing information."