Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
"All this" is a busy career as an actress that included 8 Broadway shows such as the original Guys and Dolls andDamn Yankees, and numerous guest-starring roles on TV, most recently on Friends and Providence. But of equal significance is her tireless devotion to animal-rights issues, and her mission as the founder of The Ark Trust, Inc.which presents the annual Genesis Awards. (See page 13 for information about this year’s March 18th event.)
One would think she must have been a life-long animal lover, but nothing could be further from the truth. "I never had a pet," Gretchen said. "I had not a thought of animals as a child. And then becoming a dancer, I ate a steak everyday. I thought you had to," she admitted, "so I’m a total convert."
"I was starring in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, and my husband at the time said, "let’s get a dog." I had never had a dog," Gretchen continued, "and I thought the idea was rather appealing because I had decided long before that I never wanted to have children. So I agreed, and fell in love with the Great Danes."
Not only did that dog become the center of her life; it also led her to her life as an animal activist. Gretchen began her crusade in 1966 in Warwick, NY, after a fan asked her to visit the local dog pound. Upon discovering a horror facility that was a medieval dungeon, she immediately vowed to "do something."
"That day I became an activist. I can’t tell you what it did to me," Gretchen recalled. "Very often people need something to strike a chord and start a passion. I vowed that very day to find out what was going on and to stop it."
The result of that promise came two years later when she founded the local animal shelter in Warwick, NY. "I think in my whole life it was probably the thing that gave me the most pleasure… because it was my activism and my passion that made it happen." She managed that shelter for 10 years while pursuing her acting career, and says she goes back every couple of years to visit. "It’s in wonderful hands," she reports. "And it probably makes me prouder than anything I’ve ever done!"
Considering all of the different projects she’s been involved with that’s quite a statement. She was the first woman to serve on the ASPCA’s Board of Directors, and became the first person ever dropped from that board after filing a lawsuit against her fellow board members, charging them with corporate waste and indifference to animal suffering. She was also on the board of The Fund for Animals and served as its vice-chairperson until 1991.
A role in the show Sly Fox brought her to LA in 1978, where she soon became immersed in West Coast animal issues. In 1981 Gretchen successfully led the fight to repeal "pound seizure", the selling of shelter cats and dogs for medical research. "I worked with all of the other groups in the City and was really proud when we repealed it in 1980 and 1981," she said.
One of her most recent contributions is The Red Alert program implemented in the 6 City Shelters and the 6 County Shelters. "If you find a shelter animal you want to adopt, you can Red Alert the animal by putting a Red Alert tag on its collar and a little red sticker on its kennel card. Each animal has to be held for a certain number of days, so on the form you fill out it will tell you to come back on a specific date at a very specific time," Gretchen explained. This window of opportunity to adopt the animal is very small, possibly just an hour or two, but when the dog becomes available, you have the first choice for that animal. This is called the Interested Party Red Alert.
"Petsmart Charities underwrites this program, and it costs us money (happily spent) for the tags, the signs, and the special forms, " Gretchen continued. "If any of your readers ever has occasion to say it didn’t work, they are to call me, myself, at The Ark Trust, and tell me that the Red Alert Program didn’t work for them. The City wants it to work. The County wants it to work. And I take cases to them maybe once a month, when something didn’t work, possibly because a kennel person didn’t explain it well."
"The First Rights Red Alert is even better," says Gretchen. "If you find an animal, you absolutely should take it to the shelter where you can put a First Rights Red Alert on it. This means that you care enough to bring the animal in because you know the owner might be frantic. If the owner does not claim the animal, you can retrieve it. It will not be killed. You have first rights for that animal. You have to go back and fill out the paper work to adopt it, but that’s standard procedure. So First Rights is working out very well."
With all of the different animal organizations around, why did she create The Ark Trust?
"I wanted an organization that’s trying to change minds, not laws. Laws are too difficult and our opposition is too powerful," Gretchen explained. "The Ark Trust was founded to raise public awareness of animal abuse and exploitation by interacting with the major media to produce works which will show cruelties and abuse. The Genesis Awards, now in its 14th year, is here to nurture and reward people in the industry who have produced works which have thrown a bright spotlight on animal abuse."
You might think The Ark Trust occupies all of Gretchen Wyler’s time, but she still works as an actress. Most recently she’s played some rather eccentric characters. "I did aStark Raving Mad where I was the craziest person in the world; Judging Amy where I was an old ballet dancer; andProvidence where I was a nosy person. On May 16th I’ll be guest starring on Chicken Soup, seen on the Pax Net."
She’s also the mother of Mocha, an 8-year-old poodle mix adopted at 7 (from Pet Orphans), and has 4 cats that were all rescued as adults. "I always rescue older animals," Gretchen explains. "I ran a shelter. Everybody wants a puppy. And I have 2 horses that were rescued from the slaughter truck the day before they were to be shipped to Texas for slaughter for human consumption."
Despite all of her success in show business and the animal business, Gretchen Wyler has a simple philosophy about her life. "Clearly in a world filled with a species that I constantly question, how can we ever have such arrogance to believe we are special darlings of the universe? We are not. We are just another animal. And the four-legged ones I am really more comfortable with. Even though I am surrounded by humans, I seek my comfort with my four-legged friends."
Published February, 2000
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
pet lovers in the Los Angeles area. The mission of The Pet Press is three-fold:
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