Advertisement
Share

Pet Causes : Animal-Rights Activist Who Led Cedars-Sinai ‘Rescue’ Talks of War Against a Corrupt System

Times Staff Writer

The president of the San Fernando Valley’s most conspicuous animal-rights group has no pets. In fact, Chris DeRose refused even to have his picture taken with animals for this article.

“That’s not the image I want to get across,” said DeRose, a resident of Los Angeles who runs the group Last Chance for Animals, based in North Hollywood. “I’m not an animal lover,” he said.

But that didn’t stop DeRose from clashing recently with security guards at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he and members of his organization went to rescue some animals they believed we1919230068experimentation. The pets may have been obtained by a man who told their Valley owners that the animals would roam on a 10-acre ranch, DeRose said.

When DeRose refused to leave Cedars-Sinai, just east of Beverly Hills, security guards locked him in a half nelson and pushed and dragged him from the building. He was treated immediately afterward at the hospital for a wrenched neck. DeRose, a fast-talking ex-New Yorker who says he has no respect for government because it is corrupt, now wears a white neck brace, symbolic evidence of his continuing war against the system.

Advertisement

It’s a war that DeRose, a character actor who plays tough guys on the screen, waged first as a boy on the streets of New York, then as an adult in the throes of the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam-war movements. DeRose said he shifted arenas and got involved in the anti-vivisectionist movement six years ago after receiving some literature 1768824948animals who appeared to be in pain as a result of the experiments.

Long Struggle

The action against Cedars-Sinai was just the latest skirmish in DeRose’s war of choice. The conflict escalated two weeks ago when Last Chance, with DeRose at the helm, charged that owners of the pets being sold to research facilities had been duped into thinking that their pets had found a decent home.

“I call it organized crime sanctioned by the USDA,” DeRose said, referring to the Department of Agriculture. “The bio-medical establishment and the kennel owners are making big money, more than is spent on the Contras.

“If I wasn’t involved in this, I’d be working to feed Ethiopians or for the rights of aborigines or American Indians. But you have to pick something. You can’t do it all, or you won’t be effective.”

DeRose, 39, said he chose to champion the rights of animals because they are defenseless, “like juveniles or the handicapped, who can’t stand up for themselves.” DeRose himself knows about being powerless, although his muscular arms and chest and direct gaze of his gray eyes seem to belie it.

Born in Brooklyn and reared in the tough neighborhoods of Manhattan’s Little Italy and Cliffside Park, N.J., he spent four years in an orphanage after his father died when he was a year old. His mother, a waitress in a pizza parlor, eventually was able to make a home for him and his sister, he said.

“In my neighborhood, we had poor people, very poor people, very, very, very poor people and then there were the DeRoses,” he said. “Sometimes, there wasn’t anything to eat in the house.”

Advertisement

DeRose said he still doesn’t always get enough to eat because he pours so much time and money into Last Chance, which he said has about 350 active members and is supported by private donations.

Most of his personal income comes from occasional acting jobs, he said. He just got back from filming a movie in Australia, he said, where he played the role of the toughest guy in prison.

He became an outspoken critic of the status quo 12 years ago when he moved to California, he said. But he was an iconoclast earlier, judging by his account of events in the East.

As a boy, he wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest, he said, but demurred because “there were too many hypocrisies in the religion.” Instead, he said, he became a police officer in Fairfax, N.J., when he was in his early 20s. After a year on the force he resigned because, he said, he was “tired of being pushed around” by a captain with whom he did not get along.

Advertisement

Under Another Name

DeRose said he used another name in the early 70s, which he refused to divulge. Sgt. Stan Scoskie of the 25-member police department in Fairfax, N.J., could not confirm DeRose’s employment with the department. Scoskie said none of the veterans on the force could recall anyone matching DeRose’s description. Scoskie said no one left the department 18 or 20 years ago under the circumstances DeRose described.

DeRose plans to reveal details of his private life in a book sometime, he said, but until then, he will not divulge his past. His secretiveness is typical of several members of Last Chance, who were reluctant to be interviewed. Others spoke on the condition that their places of residences not be revealed because they feared for the safety of their pets.

After leaving the N.J. police force, DeRose said, he became a private investigator, practicing skills that recently came in handy when Last Chance received a call from a pet owner who wanted the group to find the man who took her dog. When the pet owner tried to contact the man, she learned he had given her a false address.

Advertisement

An investigation by the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation revealed that a man it identified as Ralf Jacobsen had picked up animals from at least a dozen Valley pet owners after telling them he had a 10-acre farm. The man, a department spokesman said, preyed on owners who had placed newspaper advertisements seeking new homes for their dogs and cats.

But before the department became involved, DeRose organized a 24-hour surveillance of two Sun Valley kennels, where the animals allegedly were taken. Sleep became a luxury for members of Last Chance, joined by some of the pet owners, who tracked the activities of Jacobsen and the kennel owners, said Bill Dyer, an activist on the group’s board of directors. DeRose was the most tireless of the group, Dyer said.

‘Despicable People’

Dyer, 47, like DeRose, believes that scientists who experiment on animals “are the most despicable people on earth.” Dyer’s job as a producer and lyricist afforded him the time to “play private eye” when the group learned of the plot to take people’s pets under false pretenses, he said.

Advertisement

Difficult as the last few weeks have been on the group, no sacrifice is too great to make for the cause, Dyer said.

Like many of Last Chance’s members, Dyer and DeRose have made dietary and other changes consistent with their belief that all life is of equal importance. They do not eat meat, dairy products, eggs or fish, and have gotten rid of all of their leather goods. Products that they know have been tested on animals, such as certain detergents and cleansers, are also taboo.

But neither man is optimistic about the long-term effect of the recent efforts, although Cedars-Sinai has released six dogs. At least two of the pets have been claimed by their original owners.

“The animal problem is just so big,” DeRose said. “Maybe in 100 years, people will realize that a mouse has as much right to live as a human being.”

Advertisement

In the meantime, DeRose said, animal-rights activists may become more aggressive. He said he does not encourage arson, which has occurred at several animal-research facilities, but if no one is hurt, “I’m behind it,” DeRose said.

“In the civil rights movement, they got disgusted and started fighting back,” DeRose said. “I’ve been for passive resistance and civil disobedience all along, but you can only be pushed so far.”


Advertisement