Los Angeles pet lovers.
Ed Begley, Jr.
By Lori Golden
He's one of those people who doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk. Literally. And he uses something that many of us have probably never even seen here in LA- a bus pass. He also drives an electric car and can be seen all over town riding his bicycle. He lives in a solar powered home, recycles everything he can, offers advice on how to shop "green" and is a full-fledged vegan. Is it any wonder I wanted to feature him this month in honor of Earth Day?!!!
In fact, the 1969 moon landing and the first Earth Day celebration in 1970 were pivotal moments in Ed Begley, Jr's life. "I became aware of the fragility of this planet when viewing the Earth rise pictures taken from the Moon," Ed writes on his website, www.edbegley.com. "It had a profound effect upon me because I saw that, for better or worse, we have no where else to go. Although the problems seem immense and no one individual is going to fix everything, there is a lot we can do as individuals. First, become aware of this ecosystem we call "Earth." If you understand how your actions impact the big picture, you'll be in a much better position to take corrective measures."
One of the first actions Ed took himself was to become a vegetarian. "It just seemed like a good thing to do in 1970. But it was so hard back then that I was only a vegetarian for about a year. Then I started eating some fish because I couldn't find vegetarian food when I traveled. I'd do a movie in some distant city or even on location and they wouldn't have anything to eat," Ed explains. "I became a vegan again in 1992. I discovered then how much easier it was to be a vegetarian and to indeed be a vegan."
"It also seemed like the right thing to do in 1970 when I started, to stop being part of the pollution mechanism in the Southland, because we had such horrible smog. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. From '63 on I lived in this choking horrible smog for years. By 1970 I had had enough and decided I would be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, so I bought a little electric car."
"I had done a certain amount of research, but you didn't have to do much research to see there was a big problem with the air in the LA Basin," he continues. "You couldn't run from the back yard to the front as a young child without breathing problems. And you couldn't see the mountains… I'm talking about nearly every day of the year you could not see that there were mountains out there. That was just unacceptable. The air has gotten a lot better because of all these things we did that they said wouldn't work and would drive business out of California. Well, they all did work."
"Now you can see the mountains clearly nearly every day of the year. That's extraordinary. It's not just vision, it's what's in the air. There's much less pollution than there was in 1970. We have four times the amount of cars yet we have half the ozone. We should all get a medal. That's incredible progress."
Among the things Ed would still like to see improved is "cleaning up the Santa Monica Bay. The bay was so bad 32 years ago. What the people with Heal The Bay have done… they've cleaned up the beaches. A lot of the beaches that once got an "F" rating are now getting an "A." But we still have a ways to go. We have the Malibu Lagoon area to clean up but there are ways to do that. It's not going to be easy but we've done an incredible job. We should be proud of the progress we've made and continue on."
When I mentioned to a friend who has interviewed Ed a number of times that I was planning on featuring him this month, her reply was this: "Talking to Ed is like driving a Rolls. It's just magnificent. He is the perfect cover story for Earth Day. I've never spoken to him about animals - just compost heaps and electric cars…"
The Saga of the Feral Cats
Of course, since this IS an animal publication, naturally the conversation comes around to his own animals which include Molly, a 10-year old mutt that's mostly Wheaton, and two rescued cats named Baby Boy and Bear. Nothing unusual there, until he mentions the five feral cats living on his roof that he also feeds.
"It all started with one cat that came to my back door in 1989 or '90 that I fed. It turns out it was a feral cat, a fairly wild cat. It wouldn't let me pet it or anything, it just let me feed it. And that opened up a whole chapter in my life."
"She had kittens," Ed continues, "and I tried to put my imprint on the kittens so I could take them to the vet when they were old enough to be fixed. I was successful with MOST of those in touching them and getting my sound and smell on them. But one got away from me and wouldn't let me touch it. I got all of them fixed but one. This one cat! She had another litter and another litter. And I kept adopting them out. I FINALLY solved the problem with a Have-A-Heart Trap that I had trapped the others with. They were all fixed but the one who kept sneaking off and having these litters in different places. I guess she had 3 litters in that decade which is a lot of cats. 3 or 4 of them each time would live to the point to procreate. And I would fix all of those but the one."
"I finally got her just last year. Guess what I finally put in the trap? (She wouldn't go in for food- she would starve to death before she would go in the Have-A-Heart trap for a piece of food.) I finally put her kittens in the trap. It had to be in that window when they're just a few days old. I didn't want them to get hurt with her thrashing around in the cage. She had them under the house. I went to get them and she ran away, of course, as I tried to touch them. But I knew she would just move them again and I'd be in the same mess. I had to get HER in the trap. So I put the kittens in the Have-A-Heart Trap. Somehow she levitated them and pulled 2 of those 5 kittens out without setting off the trap. Now you can't do that. It's not physically possible. She's not long enough to reach over that little sensor that sets off the trap to pick them up. I don't know how she did it. Did she crawl on the top of the cage hanging by her paws? So after that I moved the towel the kittens were sitting on onto the trap's sensor, so if she breathed on them it was going to set it off. And that worked! I finally got her and got her fixed. I have no unfixed cats. But it took me more work than you can ever imagine!
The point of this whole story is it took me a decade to fix her. When she first came to my door she looked like she had been part of a human family at some point. But those people, for whatever reason, didn't spay her, and that opened up a 12-year drama that finally was resolved last year. It's a challenge, because to trap a feral cat sometimes is quite difficult. I've been clawed and I've been bitten, but I got them all fixed and now I don't have any worries! And she is one of those five ferals living on my roof that I'm happy to feed the rest of her days."
With a house that has solar panels and is run by the sun, I wondered if it presented a problem with the cats. "The cats love living on the roof. Part of the reason they're on the roof is because they have shade. They're out of the harsh rays of the sun during the summer months and they love to bask in the sun in the winter. But at anytime they can go in the shade under the panels- there's a space of about 12 inches between the panels and the roof. They come down to eat and drink and to use the bathroom- they don't use a bathroom on the roof. They're pretty tidy, as you know, even feral cats. They don't want to spoil their environment. But they feel safe up on the roof away from our dog and away from humans that they are afraid of."
Ed The Fan
Having seen Ed as a presenter at last month's Genesis Awards, (airing on Animal Planet May 18th at 7pm & 10pm, May 19th at 2pm and May 25th at 9am) I was curious how he felt to be part of the event. "I was there a few years ago. I was just happy that Gretchen Wyler asked me again this year. It's a great awards evening and it's a great organization. I love what she does. I worked with Gretchen on St. Elsewhere years ago and so I know her and respect her and was just happy to be a part of it."
And then, this star of film and television surprised me when he confessed the highlight of his evening at The Genesis Awards. "Do you have any idea what a fan I am of Patrick McDonnell, the cartoonist who does the MUTTS cartoon," he asked. "I didn't know who he was and I was sitting next to him at the show. And then somebody at the table introduced us. I went nuts! I LOVE that strip. I was like a fan. Like a fan… I AM a fan! That strip has made me laugh, made me cry. It's the best comic strip I've ever read. It's up there with Doonsbury. It's so sweet and it's so poignant. It's just wonderful. So that was a big moment for me at The Genesis Awards, meeting him."
On Having A Sense Of Humor
Ed is of the belief that people "may think I don't have a sense of humor about certain things. I think it's important to laugh at ourselves and laugh at our predicament at this time. There are many things to be taken seriously and we do. Our actions speak to how serious we are about these matters, but I think we also have to have a sense of humor."
To illustrate this misconception he thinks people may have about him, Ed relays a dialogue he has had on more than one occasion on a set, when a worried Assistant Director has come up to him with a scared look on his face.
AD: I'm sorry, we have a big problem. Can we talk?
ED: What's the matter?
AD: You've got to drive the car tonight in the scene.
ED: What's the matter? Did someone get hurt?
AD: No, no. The car. You have to drive the car up the driveway. The station wagon.
ED: Yes. Didn't you get the car?
AD: No. We have the car.
ED: Well, what's the problem?
AD: Well, it's not an electric car.
ED: The script doesn't call for an electric car, does it?
AD: No, it's just a regular family wagon. We couldn't find an electric station wagon.
ED: Do you think I'm not going to drive a car 10 feet up a driveway because it's not electric?
AD: Yes. The director is worried.
ED: Tell him it's going to be fine.
"Now, if it was supposed to be an electric car in the movie," Ed explains, "then I'd want it to be an electric car. But it's not. It's a regular family driving a regular family station wagon. But they came to me afraid I wouldn't drive the car!"
On Working With Animals
Having read that the only circus Ed visits is Cirque de Soleil, "the best circus ever- where all participants go into the tent willingly to perform," I wondered how he felt sharing scenes recently with a chimp on his short-lived ABC sitcom Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central.)
"I went and saw how he lives and it is better than most facilities I have seen," Ed replies. "Nerissa (who handles the chimp) is incredibly kind and caring with Jonah and is trying to set up an Animal Actor's Guild to care for the primates that have worked in films and need to have long-term care. It seems to be the best way to deal with some of the chimps that are cast off from research labs, owners who no longer want them and the like. Bubbles, Michael Jackson's chimp that he could no longer care for, is there."
How We Can Help?
It's so difficult to put in one article all the things I'd like to include about Ed Begley, Jr. But like the circle of life, I felt compelled to bring the story back to what we as individuals can do to make an impact on our environment.
"I think the big problem that we have at this point in history is that we get so involved in material things. It's all about more and more stuff. I believe we need to live simply so that others may simply live. And that means not just the human population, but that our animal friends, domestic and otherwise may simply live. There are animal species being lost every day. There are plant species being lost every day. And these plant and animal species are part of the web of life that supports us all. Even if you don't care about animals, and I hope people do, for your own well-being you'd think you'd want to care for the web of life that supports us all."
"Simplify your life. Buy less stuff. Use less fuel. Use less energy… less electricity. Try to just live a simpler life with less stuff. People should know that they can be part of the solution. These problems are real but so are the solutions. People with their personal actions can vote not just on voting day, but they can vote in the supermarket aisles and the appliance stores and the showroom floors with the products and vehicles that they buy and make a tremendous difference."
(There is a wealth of information and resources on Ed's website at www.edbegley.com. These include low-cost solutions to products you can use everyday that WILL make a difference. For fans of Ed Begley, Jr. the actor, he and his former St. Elsewhere co-stars make a special appearance on SCRUBS on NBC, Tuesday, April 30th at 9:30pm.)
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