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California and the West

Windfall for the Animals

Giving: Actor Alec Baldwin's appearance on 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' raises $250,000 for a group that cares for ex-circus performers and other creatures.

December 31, 2000|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GALT, Calif. — Maybe actor Alec Baldwin didn't win $1 million for an animal sanctuary here after naming it his charity of choice on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," but he did win enough to build two new lakes for its residents.

Baldwin won $250,000 for the Performing Animal Welfare Society, which cares for abused and unwanted lions, tigers, leopards, bears, elephants and other creatures. One of the new lakes will be for the sanctuary's elephants, the other for its bears.

How do the folks at PAWS plan to thank Baldwin, who with his wife, actress Kim Basinger, has long helped them with fund-raising and public awareness efforts?

"We're calling the elephant lake 'Lake Baldwin,' " said PAWS co-founder Pat Derby. "And we're thinking of calling the bear lake 'Lake Basinger.' "

Lake Baldwin covers five acres and is 16 feet deep--big enough for the sanctuary's four resident elephants to romp in. The one for the bears is smaller. According to Derby, two of the creatures expected to swim there were featured in the movie "Legends of the Fall" and later found abandoned in a Las Vegas trailer.

The lakes are on 2,300 acres not far from the PAWS headquarters here, about 20 miles south of Sacramento. Derby hopes to relocate many members of her menagerie to the expansion property by 2002.

The game show gambit, which aired last month, also provided invaluable publicity, according to Derby, who said hits at the group's Web site have increased.

A former Hollywood animal trainer, Derby, with her partner, Ed Stewart, began working in the 1980s to get better standards for performing animals. They set up PAWS in 1985 on 30 acres in Galt.

What began as a retirement home for animals that had spent their days on movie sets, in circuses or in zoos has evolved into a sanctuary for all types of captive animals.

"As we started looking at the problem, we began to see it's all connected," Derby said. "The people who breed bears and tigers in their backyards often do nature films and rent the animals out for performances. . . . These are the animals that get into the system."

Derby and Stewart regularly speak out against ill treatment of animals on movie sets and in other entertainment venues. They took aim at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey last summer, filing two lawsuits against "The Greatest Show on Earth."

One of the suits, filed with several other animal rights groups, accuses the company of mistreating baby elephants. The other accuses the circus and its parent company of spying on PAWS' headquarters.

Ringling Bros. spokeswoman Catherine Ort-Mabry said she has been directed by company lawyers not to discuss details of the litigation. "We are working things through," she said.

Derby also lobbied earlier in the year in support of federal legislation by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) that would have excluded elephants from traveling shows and eliminated elephant rides in an effort to protect the pachyderms, their trainers and the public. The bill died in committee, but a spokeswoman for Farr said he may reintroduce the measure next year.

PAWS' 78 residents include Amanda, an African lion who was a roadside attraction at a Mexican resort before ending up here. A recent arrival is Gracie, a tiger confiscated by authorities from the Rio Linda home of a man arrested on several felony charges.

At the PAWS compound in Galt, animals such as Amanda and Gracie spend their days in clean, spacious cages. Derby opens the sanctuary to visitors only a few times a year. Stewart said no breeding takes place, because the group believes animals should not live in captivity.

"I'd hate to feel responsible for sentencing one of these animals to a life in an enclosure," Stewart said.

The group has expanded its brood over the years, thanks to a growing number of supporters. PAWS claims a membership of 45,000, according to Derby, and took in about $2 million last year.

Stewart and Derby said they also receive support from local businesses, noting that a pharmacy in town donated leftover Christmas trees that have been gobbled up by the elephants.

The group opened the Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge in 1997 in nearby Herald, where African wildlife, including oryx, eland, fallow deer and emu, roam on 75 acres. The refuge was named in honor of the late actress and PAWS supporter who played Miss Kitty on television's "Gunsmoke."

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