> AR Interviews
With Kind Hands
The Satya Interview with Pat
Pat Derby and Tammy
The Performing Animal Welfare
Society (PAWS) is a place where abandoned or abused performing animals and
victims of the exotic animal trade can live in peace and contentment.
Founded by Hollywood animal trainer and author of In The Presence of
Elephants, Pat Derby and partner Ed Stewart, PAWS
maintains three sanctuaries for captive wildlife.
Pat has also
pioneered the method of elephant handling that uses no bull hooks or
chains. PAWS was the first facility to use this “non-dominance” technique
successfully and the work of Derby has been a model for elephant handlers
around the world. Kymberlie Adams Matthews had a chance
to talk with Pat Derby about her path to sanctuary life,
commitment to education and, of course, the animals.
me begin by asking you how PAWS came to be?
founded PAWS in 1984 to get better standards for captive wildlife. Among
our greatest concerns are the treatment of animals in traveling shows,
animal acts, television and movies, as well as the problem of captive
breeding, inadequate standards for captive wildlife and the exotic animal
trade. I had worked with animals in movies and television including
Flipper and Lassie and Disney films, as well as working with the famed
Lincoln-Mercury cougars, Chauncey and Christopher. I always felt that
there was something wrong with working animals for entertainment. I
witnessed so much neglect and abuse. In the process of developing my own
training methods based on love instead of fear, I was shocked to discover
a profession rampant with cruelty, ignorance and lack of concern.
That is an incredible way to get into activism. What are
some of your main campaigns?
We are really dedicated to the
rescue of performing and exotic animals from cruel confinement and
performances. And mostly now we are working on raising the standards for
care. Right now there really are no standards—zoos have their own certain
set of ethics, which are horribly lacking. And of course circuses and the
entertainment industry have none at all. To make matters worse, there
really are no regulatory agencies that do an effective job of monitoring
the animals that work for these industries and captive wildlife.
So we try to strengthen laws on animals’ behalf; helping to
mandate legislation that will ban ownership of wild animals and require
permits to restrict their breeding. PAWS has also been involved in
ensuring the ban of such elephant discipline techniques as electric shock,
food, water, and rest deprivation, and punishment which results in the
scarring or breaking of an elephant’s skin.
In 1999, Congressman
Sam Farr authored and introduced PAWS’ Captive Elephant Accident
Prevention Act (HR2929) into Congress, which would prevent the use of
elephants in traveling shows and for elephant rides.
We also try to
protect wild species and their habitat with international programs
established in India, Mexico, Africa and Cambodia to diminish
human/elephant conflict and to establish protected areas for
You must come across some very horrible
situations. Does PAWS ever conduct their own
Yes, we do a lot of that. If we get phone
calls we try to track down the problem and report them to whatever
agencies are available. But we spend most of our time trying to prevent
those problems. We are constantly lobbying for better laws that would
prohibit captive wildlife from being in private hands and laws that would
ban the use of live animals in entertainment. Our thought is that it is
better to prevent abuse than have to investigate and try to control it.
That makes perfect sense, nipping the problems before they
bud. But just so our readers get an idea of the problems you deal with,
can you tell us about a recent rescue case?
In November 2002,
the California Department of Fish and Game seized ten tigers from a
“pseudo-sanctuary” in Colton, CA, called Tiger Rescue, after finding
tigers in filthy cages without water and suspecting the owner of illegal
breeding. The Fund for Animals assisted the state by caring for the tigers
and placing them in accredited facilities.
Then in April 2003,
officials executed a search warrant on the Tiger Rescue owner’s residence
and discovered 90 tiger carcasses, including 58 baby tigers dead in a
freezer. Thirteen other cats were found barely alive. Then the state
seized control of Tiger Rescue where 54 big cats remained. The Tiger
Rescue property was deplorable. Staff and volunteers had to set up a
make-shift triage—constructing shaded areas, fixing pens that were
hazardous to the cats, and most significantly, providing medical
treatment, food, water and professional 24-hour attention to rehabilitate
Last fall $250,000 was raised to build a sanctuary for the
remaining 39 tigers who had not been placed. We came on board and
committed to create a new ten-acre tiger habitat with dens, trees and
swimming pools on their San Andreas property, where they will live out the
rest of their lives under proper care.
We are committed to
providing the best quality of care to these animals. It is frightening to
think there are many stories similar to theirs all over the country
because of the lack of enforcement of existing laws. Sadly, the Tiger
Rescue facility had been inspected by regulatory agencies and seems to
have fallen through the cracks. While these big cats were fortunate that
The Fund came to their rescue, unfortunately there are over 10,000 tigers
privately owned in this country—double the number of those in the wild in
Asia. Most are bred and abused in order for their “owners” to try to
“domesticate” them. Ninety percent die within their first two years of
Wow, was the owner of Tiger Rescue
Well, the Riverside County District Attorney’s
office filed 63 charges—16 of which are felony animal cruelty
charges—against the owner, and we were all hopeful that prosecution would
come fast and harsh. But that was almost two years ago, and there has been
no meaningful progress in the case.
It’s scary that people
who love animals could have been donating to Tiger Rescue thinking they
were a true sanctuary. How can people tell if a rescue group is
Unfortunately, it happens too often. These false
“sanctuaries” are professional scam artists. People should keep in mind
that no animals in a sanctuary are ever sold, nor are their offspring or
byproducts ever sold. Also, no breeding of animals occurs in the facility
for financial purposes. And unescorted public visitation, as in zoos, is
not allowed and the animals are not ever taken off sanctuary grounds for
exhibition or education. Basically, at a sanctuary, no activities are
conducted that are in conflict with the animals’ inherent
You are a member of the Association of Sanctuaries
(TAOS). Can you tell me a bit about that?
TAOS is one of the
agencies who are trying to set standards. But the problem with setting
standards is that you are always setting minimums, which means that nobody
ever exceeds the minimum. So we are working on trying to encourage people
to exceed them. To take the extra step.
Speaking of taking
the extra step, PAWS has certainly done that with its sanctuary
facilities. Can you tell us a bit about them?
sanctuary is in Galt, CA, and sits on 30 acres of land. And of course we
are big proponents of giving animals as much space as they can have and
lives that somewhat replicate their lives in the wild. But we have always
felt somewhat landlocked in Galt.
We opened our second sanctuary
in 1996 at a large park—100 acres of land—that used to be a nuclear power
plant. It is beautiful though. They offered us land because the power
plant had been closed and they wanted to have a more benign use for the
property. We have a lot of hoof stock there.
But the ultimate
sanctuary is the one here in San Andreas, Ark 2000, which is 2,300 acres,
with 100-plus acres for elephants covered in native California grasses,
shrubs and huge oak trees, which provide year-round grazing. The mild
climate, natural vegetation and large lakes are similar to their natural
habitats and provide many opportunities for the elephants to engage in
activities which stimulate natural behaviors. We also have two 20,000
square- foot barns stocked with all the equipment necessary to provide the
best husbandry and medical care, including an indoor jacuzzi pool
especially designed for elephants with arthritis and joint
Although captivity is never a substitute for the wild, our
sanctuaries are a large and beautiful home for victims of the captive
wildlife industry. This sanctuary is currently home to Minnie, Rebecca and
Annie, our three Asian elephants, and 71 and Mara, our two African
Do you allow touring of the sanctuaries?
No. To be open to the public would make us a zoo. We do have
some special private viewings and they are mostly to educate the public of
the inherent dangers and difficulties of having captive wildlife. People
can visit the animals but also help prepare their food, feed them and
learn about sanctuary life.
Getting back to the animals,
can you share any of their personal stories?
Our main focus
recently has been on elephants. We have always had elephants at our
sanctuaries but with all the recent controversies we have actually
expanded our elephant families.
I think our premiere elephant is
71, the first elephant that ever came to the sanctuary at four years old.
And she was very sickly and wasn’t expected to live. One of us was
actually with her 24 hours a day. Number 71 is now 23 years old, big and
healthy and beautiful. She is probably the most tractable elephant in the
world, she has no understanding that people can be mean or bad and she
trusts everyone. She is sweet and gentle but she is still all elephant.
And what I am so proud of is that she has no stereotypic behavior.
Normally an elephant is the ‘product’ of whoever raised them. We get
elephants here who are in horrible conditions—who have terrible feet,
arthritis—and you look at them and think, don’t these people know what
they are doing?
Today 71 is undoubtedly the only captive elephant
who has never been chained or negatively trained. So in a way we are very
proud of 71. I always say she reflects good parenting.
Where did she get her unusual name?
number 71 in a group of about 86 elephants whose herds were killed in a
cull in Zimbabwe. She was in a group of elephants who were shipped to this
country. They had so many that they gave them numbers instead of
Have most of the animals come from the entertainment
A lot of the big cats and the primates come from
people who had them as personal pets, which is absolutely the worst thing
anybody can do—have an exotic animal as a pet. You have to have very
skilled people to care for them. You can’t just raise them like you would
a dog or cat. They require a lot of space. They can’t live inside, they
need large enclosed areas. They simply were not meant to be in captivity
and certainly not in the hands of people who do not understand their
needs. And usually people who want to have an exotic animal as a pet have
some ego issues [laughter] to say the least.
trafficking of exotic animals for the pet trade is a huge problem.
Yes. The exotic pet industry, with the help of the Hollywood
animal industry, has created a huge market for exotic animals to be sold
as pets. PAWS has so many of these discarded animals. One of our black
bears, Boo-boo, was born in a bear “puppy mill” in Ohio. Boo-boo was taken
to a flea market and sold for $60 as a “real live teddy bear” for
[someone’s] daughter. But Boo-boo, being a ‘real’ bear cub, destroyed many
of their possessions and was not easily potty-trained. The family also had
no idea how to deal with him. They finally chained him to a tree, where he
became aggressive. They avoided him and even stood at a distance to toss
him his food. By the time Boo-boo was seen by animal people, the collar
that had been put on him as a cub was imbedded at least an inch into his
It’s just so sad and confusing. When I was a little
girl, I always wanted a pet monkey. I even had a make believe
monkey-friend named Pete. But I also tried to fly and thought I wanted to
be a mermaid when I grew up. I don’t understand how people don’t grow up
to comprehend that wild animals are…well, wild. What is the one thing you
would like people to take away from this interview?
say that although people think running a sanctuary is a wonderful thing,
we would hope that in the future there would not be a need for them. We
often say that we are working hard to put ourselves out of business. The
happiest day of my life would be to see no captive wildlife at all and
these animals in their natural habitat. People who are really concerned
about wild or exotic animals need to support efforts to protect their
For information on the Performing Animal Welfare