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Pet Causes : Animal-Rights Activist Who Led Cedars-Sinai 'Rescue' Talks of War Against a Corrupt System

February 08, 1988|TRACEY KAPLAN | Times Staff Writer

The president of the San Fernando Valley's most conspicuous animal-rights group has no pets. In fact, Chris DeRose refused even to have his picture taken with animals for this article.

"That's not the image I want to get across," said DeRose, a resident of Los Angeles who runs the group Last Chance for Animals, based in North Hollywood. "I'm not an animal lover," he said.

But that didn't stop DeRose from clashing recently with security guards at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he and members of his organization went to rescue some animals they believed we1919230068experimentation. The pets may have been obtained by a man who told their Valley owners that the animals would roam on a 10-acre ranch, DeRose said.

When DeRose refused to leave Cedars-Sinai, just east of Beverly Hills, security guards locked him in a half nelson and pushed and dragged him from the building. He was treated immediately afterward at the hospital for a wrenched neck. DeRose, a fast-talking ex-New Yorker who says he has no respect for government because it is corrupt, now wears a white neck brace, symbolic evidence of his continuing war against the system.

It's a war that DeRose, a character actor who plays tough guys on the screen, waged first as a boy on the streets of New York, then as an adult in the throes of the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam-war movements. DeRose said he shifted arenas and got involved in the anti-vivisectionist movement six years ago after receiving some literature 1768824948animals who appeared to be in pain as a result of the experiments.

Long Struggle

The action against Cedars-Sinai was just the latest skirmish in DeRose's war of choice. The conflict escalated two weeks ago when Last Chance, with DeRose at the helm, charged that owners of the pets being sold to research facilities had been duped into thinking that their pets had found a decent home.

"I call it organized crime sanctioned by the USDA," DeRose said, referring to the Department of Agriculture. "The bio-medical establishment and the kennel owners are making big money, more than is spent on the Contras.

"If I wasn't involved in this, I'd be working to feed Ethiopians or for the rights of aborigines or American Indians. But you have to pick something. You can't do it all, or you won't be effective."

DeRose, 39, said he chose to champion the rights of animals because they are defenseless, "like juveniles or the handicapped, who can't stand up for themselves." DeRose himself knows about being powerless, although his muscular arms and chest and direct gaze of his gray eyes seem to belie it.

Born in Brooklyn and reared in the tough neighborhoods of Manhattan's Little Italy and Cliffside Park, N.J., he spent four years in an orphanage after his father died when he was a year old. His mother, a waitress in a pizza parlor, eventually was able to make a home for him and his sister, he said.

"In my neighborhood, we had poor people, very poor people, very, very, very poor people and then there were the DeRoses," he said. "Sometimes, there wasn't anything to eat in the house."

DeRose said he still doesn't always get enough to eat because he pours so much time and money into Last Chance, which he said has about 350 active members and is supported by private donations.

Most of his personal income comes from occasional acting jobs, he said. He just got back from filming a movie in Australia, he said, where he played the role of the toughest guy in prison.

He became an outspoken critic of the status quo 12 years ago when he moved to California, he said. But he was an iconoclast earlier, judging by his account of events in the East.

As a boy, he wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest, he said, but demurred because "there were too many hypocrisies in the religion." Instead, he said, he became a police officer in Fairfax, N.J., when he was in his early 20s. After a year on the force he resigned because, he said, he was "tired of being pushed around" by a captain with whom he did not get along.

Under Another Name

DeRose said he used another name in the early 70s, which he refused to divulge. Sgt. Stan Scoskie of the 25-member police department in Fairfax, N.J., could not confirm DeRose's employment with the department. Scoskie said none of the veterans on the force could recall anyone matching DeRose's description. Scoskie said no one left the department 18 or 20 years ago under the circumstances DeRose described.

DeRose plans to reveal details of his private life in a book sometime, he said, but until then, he will not divulge his past. His secretiveness is typical of several members of Last Chance, who were reluctant to be interviewed. Others spoke on the condition that their places of residences not be revealed because they feared for the safety of their pets.

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