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Jim Willis Interview
by Hedy Litke
December 1, 2002
Jim Willis is the author of the
recently published Pieces of My Heart � Writings Inspired by
Animals and Nature, a highly praised collection of works both
old and new among which are The Animals' Savior,
You? and The Basset Chronicles.
Jim, who in 1990 began an animal rescue, placement, education and
advocacy effort in Germany that eventually became the Tiergarten
Sanctuary Trust, also is a member of The African Conservation
Foundation and an accredited member of the American Sanctuary
Animal News Center: How did you become
interested in animal welfare?
Jim Willis: I've loved animals since I
was a child.
ANC: How did you become involved in
promoting animal welfare?
JW: I volunteered at an animal shelter
in Pittsburgh, PA when I was 14 years old. I spent a lot of time at
The animals were euthanized in an
old-fashioned gas chamber, so the experience was a very painful one
for me at times. Fortunately, I didn't have to put any of the
animals down myself.
ANC: Did you stop working with animals
for a while because of your painful experiences?
JW: I did stop for a while, but when I
was 17, I was given two pairs of Turkish Angora cats. Their breed
was an "endangered" one in those days. The zoo in Istanbul, Turkey
was the only repository for members of the breed, so it released
some in order to avoid having some disease wipe out the entire
I founded a breed club, started studying feline genetics, became
involved in showing and helped to draft a judging standard.
ANC: Did you breed the cats you�d been
JW: I bred only a couple of litters
myself, and was very selective about whom I would allow to take the
kittens. That experience gave me an opportunity to learn about the
tremendous responsibility individuals have to breed in order to
improve breeds and protect their longevity. I also learned about the
abuses and cheating of some breeders.
I have friends who breed and show animals responsibly, and rescue
animals. I respect that.
It's very unfortunate that both
the United States and Canada allow puppy mills, puppy brokers, etc.
to treat animals so inhumanely. The Western European countries have
much stricter laws against that sort of thing and much better
enforcement of anti-cruelty laws, and still have a thriving pet
Americans spend approximately $38 billion per year on their pets.
The world pet industry is valued at about $68.5 billion. So, we who
are the worst offenders account for more than half of worldwide
ANC: Was your dissatisfaction with what
you saw some breeders do what prompted you to stop breeding and
JW: Yes. I had my cats spayed or
neutered and began focusing on animal welfare.
ANC: What prompted you to collect your
writings about animals in Pieces of My Heart?
written many individual pieces that were frequently reprinted �
especially How Could You? � and people had started asking me
when I was going to write a book. In addition, I wanted to convey a
sense of hope � I�ve spent a lot of time talking and corresponding
with animal lovers and rescuers who were without one.
I wrote a poem, We Are Their Heroes, to remind myself of
what's important. The poem was recited by Dr. Elliot Katz, the
founder of In Defense of Animals, during Animal Rights 2002, which
was held in Washington, DC from June 28th to July 3rd.
No matter how many books I may write in the future, there will
probably not be another that is so "me" and depicts all of the
different facets of my life.