Animal Protection > AR Interviews

Interview with Gretchen Wyler founder of the Ark Trust

Gretchen Wyler is an amazing woman. Her distinguished theatrical career spans 49 years and encompasses eight Broadway shows, including the original "Guys and Dolls." Of equal significance to her theatrical career is her 30+ years of tireless devotion to animal-rights issues. On October 13, 1968, she opened and managed an animal shelter for 10 years, while concurrently pursuing her acting career.

In 1971, she joined a coalition in New York City that was created to lobby for reforms within the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). One year later, in a political move designed to quiet the coalition's efforts, she was invited to sit on the ASPCA's Board of Directors, the first woman to serve on the board in the organisation's 106-year history. In 1975, Wyler filed a lawsuit against her fellow board members, charging them with corporate waste and indifference to animal suffering; as a result, she was the first person ever to be dropped from the board!

The lawsuit, which lasted more than a year and a half, was eventually settled out of court in her favour. Subsequently, the organisation instituted many reforms.

Throughout her animal-advocacy career, she has served as a board member of more than 13 animal organisations. In 1991, however, she decided to devote all of her animal-rights energies to just one organisation which she founded, The Ark Trust, Inc. presenter of the annual Genesis Awards. Marking its 14th anniversary on March 18, 2000, the glamorous and uplifting celebration took place at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. (The 15th Annual Genesis Awards will be held at The Beverly Hilton on Saturday, 10 March 2001.)

Pictured above right are Gretchen and Roxanne, who was rescued from a slaughterhouse-bound truck.

Interview by June Bird, September 2000.

JUNE: Hi Gretchen, it's an honour to interview you. Okay my first question are you a vegetarian?

GRETCHEN: Yes. Since Dec. 7, 1968, I have not had even a bouillon cube.

JUNE: Have you ever found that it's difficult?

GRETCHEN: The emotional satisfaction outweighs any difficulty. Just to be able to say to people, "I don't eat anything with a face or anything that runs away from me or anything that had a mother," is immensely rewarding.

JUNE: Can you think of any significant events through your early life that shaped your compassionate thinking towards animals?

GRETCHEN: It was triggered in 1966 at the age of 34 when I discovered the local dog pound in a beautiful country town in rural New York where I had my home. I found that the animals were inhumanely confined with no heat or running water, the rats from the adjacent village dump would eat the puppies, the animals were killed by carbon dioxide fumes from a truck funneled into a chamber or they were sold to laboratories for experimentation.

JUNE: Did people initially think that this was all just a 'fad'? That you'd change your mind and go back to eating animals?

GRETCHEN: Nobody even knew at that time! I was in the closet with my animal-rights convictions until the mid-'70s.

JUNE: Were people a bit shocked when they found out you were one of those weird vegos?!

GRETCHEN: I didn't care what they thought! Popular thinking has never been a guide for my actions.

JUNE: What does your spouse, parents or your siblings think about you being vegetarian?

GRETCHEN: I have no spouse or parents anymore. My sister joined me as a vegetarian and my brother admires what we do.

JUNE: Is it your hope that everyone else will soon realise that there's no need to eat animals to stay healthy?

GRETCHEN: Absolutely. At The Ark Trust, our motto is "Cruelty Can't Stand the Spotlight!" And I believe that IF everyone knew the pain and suffering endured by animals to please the humans' palates that we would greatly reduce the intake of dead animals.

JUNE: So, exactly what sort of things do you like to eat Gretchen?

GRETCHEN: As a former professional dancer, food to me has always been regarded as fuel to keep my "machine" running. So, my food preferences are not important in my daily life.

JUNE: Have you found when you're touring that there's plenty of good vegetarian fare around?

GRETCHEN: Perhaps now, but in the '60s and '70s when I traveled as a performer I filled up on baked potatoes and salads. Maybe France has something today but when I was last there it was back to baked potatoes and salads.

JUNE: Are you a good cook?

GRETCHEN: I've never cooked anything! And I eat great.

JUNE: What about wearing leather?

GRETCHEN: I haven't worn leather since 1968.

JUNE: Or having feathers in your pillows?

GRETCHEN: No.

JUNE: To what extent do you take your animal activism?

GRETCHEN: I endeavor to live a cruelty-free lifestyle.

JUNE: What are your feelings about zoos?

GRETCHEN: I'm opposed to any animal held captive for display.

JUNE: What are your feelings about circuses with animals?

GRETCHEN: The hideous and unnatural lifestyle endured by wild animals in circuses is reprehensible.

JUNE: What are your feelings about rodeos?

GRETCHEN: I remain aghast that people can enjoy watching little calves roped and slammed to the ground, steers wrestled and horses made to unnaturally buck.

JUNE: What's your point of view on factory farming: such as hens in battery cages, pigs in cramped stalls, and cattle feedlots?

GRETCHEN: It's heinous and an invention of the human species at its very worst.

JUNE: Is there one particular area of animal exploitation that you find particularly disturbing?

GRETCHEN: Animals used in the production of food, and animals used for experimentation.

JUNE: How have you felt since you became vegetarian? Healthier ... or on your last legs?!

GRETCHEN: In the 32 years, I've never missed a day of work!

JUNE: Would you/have you encouraged your partner or children to eat a vegetarian diet?

GRETCHEN: I have no children by choice and as regards others with whom I am in close contact, I believe the choice to abstain from eating dead animals is a very private one. I always hope that people around me abstain.

JUNE: Vitamin supplements do you take them?

GRETCHEN: I take a million! I take a full range of vitamins, but never prescription drugs.

JUNE: Tell me about your own animals please Gretchen?

GRETCHEN: I share my life with one 20-year-old partially blind, white Appaloosa horse, Kate, rescued one day before she was bound for a Texas slaughterhouse; a 19-year-old Anglo-Arab horse named Zephyr who needed a good home and who was also saved from auction; four rescued cats; and a poodle mix named Mocha who was adopted from a shelter when she was 7 years old. Having founded and managed an animal shelter, I know that older dogs are doomed since everyone wants puppies. I always adopt middle-aged dogs.

JUNE: What do you want people to know about veganism and animal rights?

GRETCHEN: I would like your readers to give special thought and consideration to The Ark Trust credo. We believe that "Animals should have the right to run if they have legs, swim if they have fins and fly if they have wings."