Animal rights activist Pat Derby dies at 70

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Pat Derby, a former Hollywood animal trainer turned animal rights activist, has died. She was 70.

Derby, who later devoted her life to protecting and rescuing exotic and performing animals, died Friday of complications related to throat cancer in San Andreas, 70 miles southeast of Sacramento and the site of a 2,300-acre animal sanctuary she helped establish.

A native of England, she moved to the United States at age 12 and eventually followed her hopes of Hollywood stardom to California.


She began training animals in show business instead, working with Flipper and Lassie, as well as automotive manufacturer Lincoln Mercury’s iconic cougars, but became disillusioned with what she regarded as inhumane treatment of performance animals.

In 1984, she co-founded the Performing Animals Welfare Society, an animal rights advocacy organization, with her longtime partner Ed Stewart.

The couple helped pass a landmark California law for standards of animals in captivity in the mid-1980s and continued to lobby for a ban on elephants in traveling shows, a practice they considered cruel.

Derby and Stewart opened the first of three sanctuaries in 1985, which over the years housed wolves, bears, lions, and tigers and elephants.

One of the sanctuary’s residents, a 9,000-pound African elephant named Ruby, retired there in 2007 after a stint in a circus and a 20-year stretch at the Los Angeles Zoo. After an emotional debate involving animal rights activists, Ruby’s fans and city leaders, a donation from TV game-show host Bob Barker helped secure the elephant’s transition to the compound. Ruby died in 2011.

Derby was known to have a special affection for the elephants, at times sleeping in the animals’ barn to be near them.

“I cannot imagine living without elephants,” Derby told the Modesto Bee in 2004. “Unless they could all go back to the wild and live there.”

A complete obituary will follow at

For the record, 5:20 p.m., Feb. 20: A previous version of this post said that Pat Derby was 69. She was 70.


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