Sanctuary Gives Animals Second Chance to Roam
Founders want their guests to feel at home
Cobo Hall was an annual stop in the 1970s for Pat Derby, who performed at every North American International Auto show with her cougar, Christopher, to tout the Mercury Cougar automobile.
Their new home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains is one of three sanctuaries founded by Derby and Stewart to let retired and abused animals roam free � or as free as is practical in an environment often thousands of miles from their native habitats.
The facilities house dozens of species including tigers, emus, bears, cougars, antelope and monkeys. And, of course, elephants.
In the '70s, Christopher was part of the menagerie of animals that Derby rented out and performed with in commercials, TV shows and Hollywood movies.
She and Stewart grew increasingly disenchanted with what they saw as exploitation of the animals, and called it quits in the early 1980s.
"For Hollywood trainers' animals, an 8-by-10 cage is all they get," Derby, 62, said Saturday. "I realized, gradually, it just wasn't right."
She and Stewart, 54, retired their animals and formed the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary for them in Galt, Calif., in 1984.
Soon, requests started pouring in: Could the sanctuary take a lion confiscated by local police? A bear that had grown too big for its owner to handle? Inbred tigers treated wretchedly by an unlicensed breeding mill?
Derby couldn't say no. Stewart couldn't stop her.
The operation grew, funded solely by grants and private donations buoyed by high-profile benefactors like actress Kim Basinger, who last year gave the organization jewelry that netted $140,000 at auction. This year she has pledged wardrobe items, including a gown she wore to an Oscars ceremony.
Derby plans to consolidate all the sanctuaries in a 2,300-acre tract purchased for $2 million in 1999. So far, PAWS has sunk $7 million into building Ark 2000, which consists of the elephant sanctuary, which now is home to eight elephants and a separate sanctuary for 38 tigers.
The animals are tended by an extraordinary crew of animal lovers like Glory Quiggle, 50, who carefully relocated every spider before cleaning the cobwebs from the elephants' 10,000-gallon Jacuzzi; and Fred Cruz, 40, a muscular, hyperactive former Wal-Mart manager whose arrestingly bald head is adorned only with a fist-sized shock of hair at the base of his skull, from which a short ponytail dangles.
The staff members rotate nights sleeping inside the elephant barns on a spartan stack of mattress pads, waking every two hours to check on their "girls."
But at the center of it remains Derby, whose shock of dyed-red hair and collection of singsong elephant calls make her easy to spot as she monitors the elephants' every movement on the sprawling grounds.
Last Thursday, as Detroit's elephants snaked their way across the Plains States in a semi-trailer truck, Derby shuffled out every two hours in a nightlong rainstorm to check on the three Asian elephants that had refused to come into the barn that night.
With a 10,000-candle power spotlight, she verified their whereabouts � while often wallowing in a pond that night � and returned for another fitful 120 minutes of sleep.
"If they go down, you've got about two hours to get them up before they suffocate" under their own weight, she explained.
Earlier this year an elephant did go down. Tinkerbell, who had only been at Ark 2000 for four months after her transfer from the San Francisco Zoo, collapsed and had to be euthanized.
"We were ready to get her up" using a special harness hooked to construction equipment, Derby said. "But the veterinarian told us she was so bad off � her bone was exposed through her foot � that she'd never stand again."
The traumatic experience has reinforced Derby's efforts to closely monitor the herd, which now includes Winky and Wanda.
"We owe these magnificent creatures," she said. "We are going to do all we can to make them happy animals."
Contact Hugh McDiarmid Jr. by phone at (248) 351-3295 or email