Animal Protection >
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
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
GRETCHEN: Yes. Since Dec. 7, 1968, I have not had
even a bouillon cube.
|JUNE: Have you ever found that it's
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
|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
|JUNE: Is it your hope that everyone
else will soon realise that there's no need to eat animals to
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
|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
|JUNE: What about wearing leather?
GRETCHEN: I haven't worn leather since 1968.
|JUNE: Or having feathers in your pillows?
|JUNE: To what extent do you take
your animal activism?
GRETCHEN: I endeavor to live a cruelty-free
|JUNE: What are your feelings about zoos?
GRETCHEN: I'm opposed to any animal held captive for
|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
|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
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: 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."