In Memoriam: Pat Derby

My mentor and my friend. 

I don’t remember how I met Pat. I feel she has always been in my life.ele2.png

She never tired of my incessant barrage of questions. Her answers were my classes. She was a brilliant teacher.

And every year when I was teaching Animal Rights, I would ask Pat and Ed to come to LA and speak to my classes. She never said no. I watched as kids sat in awe of her. She talked about things they had never considered. Suddenly they were hearing the truth and they knew it. Their old, unquestioned assumptions about elephants crumbled forever. Every kid Pat spoke to could never set foot in a circus or zoo again. They now knew the truth.

But that was only a part of Pat’s magic.

I happened to be visiting Pat the day two elephants arrived from Ringling Brothers. They had just gotten off the truck. They stood shoulder to shoulder, in the middle of the huge enclosure that Pat and Ed had built for them, swaying back and forth, as if there were chains holding their feet in place.

Pat watched them for a while from outside the fence. Then she ordered us to stand away from the fence and she went in carrying two huge buckets of fruit. With incredible ease, she walked towards them, making little chirping sounds as she called their names. When she got within a few feet, they stopped swaying and turned to look at her. Pat began to toss bananas and watermelons to them. She watched as they approached the fruit with tremendous hesitation, as if they had never seen fruit before. When they realized what it was, they began to stuff it into their mouths as fast as they could! Within a few minutes, Pat was feeding them and stroking their trunks.

The magic of Pat!

There was another side of Pat. She was a warrior who fought for the rights of elephants. Through the city councils across the country, through the United States Congress, and in the media, Pat used every avenue to open people’s eyes.

Yet inside Pat the horrors of what elephants endure ate away at her. Again and again she battled against the greed and insane mindset that kept the cruelty in place. And as she did, she uncovered more and more darkness. Darkness she could not speak about. It caught in her throat. It slowly took her voice.

elephant1.png  But that didn’t stop Pat. Circus owners across the country considered Pat the greatest threat to circuses with animals in the world.

  Wherever Pat is, I know she will keep fighting. Nothing will stop her until this brutality is ended.

   I would always tell her, Pat, you are the only person I can call who answers all my questions while washing an elephant! So Pat, wherever you are, would you give me a call? I have more questions.

- Melya Kaplan
Founder and Executive Director, VFTA

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