Pat Derby, who founded the PAWS sanctuary for wild animals in the country outside Galt before adding two more sanctuaries, died Friday of throat cancer at her home in San Andreas. She was 69.
Derby and Ed Stewart, her partner of 37 years, founded the Performing Animal Welfare Society in 1984 at their 30-acre animal sanctuary on Simmerhorn Road, east of Highway 99 in Galt.
She and Stewart adopted elephants, bears and other creatures in a peaceful setting where they can live out their remaining years and be rescued from what Derby and Stewart to be abused animals.
Derby was diagnosed with throat cancer in July 2010. She was in remission until she discovered last fall that her cancer had returned, according to an anonymous statement on PAWS website.
“It’s impossible for any of us to imagine life without Pat Derby — PAWS without Pat Derby — but she chose and trained her support team well, and under the leadership of Ed Stewart, Pat’s dreams and visions will be kept alive, her advocacy for animals will continue and PAWS will move forward,” according to the website.
Derby was born on June 7, 1943. She enjoyed a show business career before coming to Gait, according to a biography on the PAWS website. She was an animal trainers for animals that appeared in movies and television commercials.
She trained cougars in the Lincoln Mercury commercials, plus animals in such TV series as Gunsmoke, Lassie, Daktari and Flipper, all from the 1950s and ’60s. It was during this time that Derby witnessed the neglect and abuse prevalent in animal training, according to the PAWS website.
Determined to bring attention to the problem and initiate better standards of care and handling for performing animals, Derby chronicled her adventures in her first book, “The Lady and Her Tiger,” in 1976.
Derby and Stewart spent the next few years promoting the book on The Today Show, The Tonight Show, Merv Griffin talk show h
After creating PAWS in 1984, Derby and Stewart lobbied government officials for legislation to protect animal performers. Derby testified before Congress twice and served on several state committees setting standards for the care and handling of elephants and other exotic species, according to the PAWS website. She was a charter member serving on the California Department of Fish and Game’s Committee for the Humane Care of Captive Wildlife.
PAWS’ three sanctuaries — in Galt, Rancho Seco and San Andreas — cares for more than 100 animals, including elephants, lions, tigers, bears, bobcats, lynx, several, coyotes, leopards, mountain lions, oryx, eland, deer and monkeys.
The Galt sanctuary is on 30 acres, the Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty on the Gunsmoke series) Wildlife Refuge in Rancho Seco is on 100 acres and Ark 2000 in San Andreas is on 2,300 acres.
Although suffering from cancer, Derby wrote a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as recently as Jan. 26, requesting that the African mountain lion be listed on the Endangered Species Act.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.