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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, How Could 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 Association.

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 shelter.

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 population.

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 given?

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 industry.

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 sales.

ANC: Was your dissatisfaction with what you saw some breeders do what prompted you to stop breeding and showing animals?

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?

JW: I�d 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.

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