Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
Best known for his role as Lou Grant, first on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then on his own show that bore his character’s name, these days Ed Asner maintains a very busy schedule divided between dramatic projects, and political and charitable causes. A humanitarian and an activist, he is not afraid to take on controversial issues and speaks out for what he believes in, no matter what the cost. “The greatest service that you can do mankind is to expose hypocrisy, question authority, and blow the whistle. These are not popular activities. There are punishments for those who participate in them,” Asner has written. “If you really want to make a difference, stand up for an unpopular cause.”
You may not associate Ed Asner with animal causes, but indeed he lends his voice as an advocate for responsible pet ownership, and has strong views on the importance of spaying and neutering and shelter adoptions, with a lifelong commitment to the companion animals with whom we share our lives.
Animals were not a big part of Ed Asner’s life until he was older and married. As a young boy growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, he enjoyed visiting the watchdog at his father’s junkyard. And he loved the Scotty named Clare De Lune that was a birthday gift for one of his sisters. But the truth is, he’s much more a cat person.
“I already had a 6-toed tabby when I met my wife in New York. And she eventually adopted, on her own, a bobtail Siamese. Then we added a third cat a friend found on the street which was like a Maltese. Of course he was gorgeous. We called him Brooks because he looked just like a gray flannel suit. He just loved to talk all the time. But he was a mean bastard.”
“We were getting complaints from the people who lived below us,” Asner recalls. “Brooks was batting a grease pencil along the floor, and my wife knew it would transmit down below and our neighbors would complain again, so she walked across the room, took the grease pencil, picked it up and said, ‘no Brooks. No.’ And then she went and sat down in the chair she was reading in. He looked at her, stalked across the room, and SLAPPED HER!”
“He got her one other time,” Ed continues, “when she took him in to be neutered, as a matter of fact, and everybody walking around commented what a beautiful cat he was. Thinking they were right, she put her head down and he immediately stuck his paw up and clawed her scalp. Well, she was ready to throw in the towel, but finally I said, ‘honey, this is a little animal. There’s nothing he can do to you. Show him who’s boss.’ So she began showing him who was boss and he became the dearest cat of the bunch because he was just a blowhard. The Siamese and Brooks got along fine. The tabby never did care for him and he never cared for her, but they didn’t make trouble.”
Eventually the Asners moved to California with their three cats, which were later joined by three children… and a collie named Lucy. Then came an Irish Wolfhound named Juno. And a careless mistake involving Lucy that produced one of the smartest dogs he ever had, a Collie/Labrador mix named Fletcher.
Replacing the cats when they died, Ed remembers that “we rescued cats in the neighborhood. We adopted a wonderful orange tabby named Tigger. And when somebody left 2 longhair tabbies on our doorstep- we found a lovely older couple who adopted them. We had everything- we had fish, we had birds, we had turtles. I even found a black and brown rat in our front yard. Somebody’s pet that had gotten away, god knows from where, and we brought her in and she was with us for 2 years. Her name was Spotty.”
All of this took place during the time he was playing the loveable Lou Grant, and although he worked with two of the all-time animal lovers, Mary Tyler Moore and Betty White, neither one of us could recall a Mary Tyler Moore Show episode that involved an animal.
“On Lou Grant, however, Mrs. Pynchon (Grant’s boss, played by the late Nancy Marchand), had her Yorkie,” Asner suddenly remembers. “And we did a wonderful show which affected legislation in several states on dog fighting. As a matter of fact, that’s when Mrs. Pynchon lost her dog- they kidnapped it and used it as bait for a Pit bull.”
It’s obvious that Ed Asner is proud of the work he does when it can make a difference or prove a point. But not all of his work is on screen. He uses his voice to narrate books on tape, films and documentaries, and he tapes Public Service Announcements for organizations and causes he believes in.
Recently Asner took part in a nationwide campaign for the Humane Society of the United States that poses the question- “What would happen to your pet if you were not here?” Its purpose, according to Robert Blizard of HSUS, is to encourage people to provide in advance for their pets in case of a serious illness, death, or an emergency which suddenly takes the owner away.
The campaign features a packet called Providing for your Pet’s Future without you that includes a six-page fact sheet with sample language for attorneys to use when writing a will or living trust, as well as wallet alert cards, removable window and door stickers and forms for emergency caretakers.
Of his involvement with this campaign, Asner says, “the Humane Society has always been a great organization, a phenomenal organization, and I’m very deeply convinced of its worth. Anything which they say or do helps. Providing for your pets after you’re gone, if you have the love that you profess for them, is certainly a worthwhile idea, and saving animals in dire situations and without immediately euthanizing them, to me is a wonderful practice.”
Copies of the kit are available from the Humane Society for $2.50 each. Checks should be made payable to HSUS and can be ordered by writing to: Humane Society of the United States, Office Services - Code PF-2000, 2100 L St. NW, Washington, DC 20037. For more information, call their Planned Giving department at 202-452-1100 or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Asner is also part of a PSA campaign, “Do It for Someone You Love: Tonight, Make It Vegetarian,” for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. While he is not a vegetarian, he thinks “it’s a wonderful idea to propagate the idea about periodic abstinence from meat, for a million reasons. The over consumption of acreage by cattle feeding and the fact that we could feed a lot more people if those same acres were used to grow protein grains which would feed people, a lot more people, and a lot less expensively. The mad cow disease threat. The cholesterol threat. I eat very little meat… that of course, is my choice. But anybody who can’t get off meat for one day, periodically, must really be in the bucks and certainly in bad shape arterially!”
An outspoken Democrat, during the recent presidential campaign, Asner taped a telephone message geared to Senior Citizens on behalf of Al Gore and the DNC. And he was also part of the demonstration in LA on Inauguration Day that expressed displeasure with the election outcome. So what does he think the next four years will be like under our new President?
“Oil drilling, oil drilling, oil drilling! National parks limited. Certain areas that Clinton had set aside before he left office, those will be revoked. I am in despair and above all I am in despair because I see the countless mounting of unemployment in this country. The fact that we crow about 4% unemployment, which is the lowest I’ve ever seen it… but at the same time so many people have to work so hard to feed their families while being employed… many have 2 jobs, both parents working, and stuff like that, and being underpaid for those jobs, and still, companies in this country are laying off people constantly now, because it is the way to impress stockholders. As soon as a company says we’re laying off 24,000 people, immediately its stock jumps on the Dow. So people say, ah, they’re cutting expenses. Andpeople are the last things to be concerned about.”
Passionate about protecting the environment, Asner recently narrated a video for Defenders of Wildlife, featuring computer animation starring a polar bear, her cub and an oil driller to illustrate the danger posed by oil exploration to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
The video is displayed on the Defenders’ new Web site -www.SaveArcticRefuge.org - along with a petition urging President Bush and Congress not to allow oil drilling in the refuge.
When asked if he had any thoughts about what we could do regarding the over-population of dogs and cats right here in LA, Ed replied, “I think what the shelters are doing now, that you can’t adopt without neutering an animal, is a phenomenal regulation. I don’t know what else you can do. I must also say that we are an enormous population here. And people are adopting animals right and left, buying them, but they get tired of them and they throw them on the streets. I don’t think we’re sitting down and truly concentrating on the problem and worrying about it enough. The pollution in terms of corpses and droppings is too great to ignore much longer.”
“With shows like Survivor being the big hit on TV, we’ve degenerated into a nation of bread and circuses,” he continues. “And the concern for fellow man becomes lessened by this focus on Survivor, on greed, on the survival of the fittest. It drifts down into how we treat animals. There is a proliferation of dog fighting and cockfighting that goes on, which is a reflection of the ignorance of a great segment of our populace who don’t know the horrors that are furthered by a lack of neutering cats and dogs, resulting in the unwanted litters that end up on the streets and eventually in the gas chamber.”
Ed Asner is passionate when it comes to speaking out against injustices to humans or animals. And the two are certainly on his mind when he talks about the role pets play in our lives. “It’s already proven what visiting pets do for confined seniors. It’s common knowledge what pets mean to all of us, both in our past and in our present, if we’re lucky enough to have them. Pets essentially broaden our humanity. And the more we come to learn and respect pets, and value them, and appreciate them and find ways to cease from killing them… hopefully this will lead us to ways of caring and compassion and reduce our homicidal nature against humans.”
Versatile, committed, eloquent and talented are all adjectives that describe Edward Asner. But when I asked how he would describe himself, he thoughtfully replied, “an actor. A concerned actor.”
(Ed Asner has recently completed several films, Fanatic andPrep, and can be seen on video in Perfect Game andBring Him Home. Later this year he can be seen as the police chief in Rob Schneider’s feature film titled The Animal.)
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
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