Pat Derby, 69; became activist after training Flipper, Lassie

SACRAMENTO — Pat Derby, a former Hollywood trainer for Flipper, Lassie, and other performing animals who later devoted her life to protecting them after seeing widespread abuse in the entertainment industry, died Friday at her home in the biggest of the animal sanctuaries run by her organization, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, in San Andreas, Calif.

Ms. Derby, 69, had throat cancer.

During the 1960s and 1970s, she worked on such television shows as ‘‘Flipper,’’ “Daktari,’’ “Gunsmoke,’’ and ‘‘Lassie,’’ and wrangled a pair of pumas, Chauncey and Christopher, that appeared with model-actress Farrah Fawcett in popular commercials for the Mercury Cougar.


Ms. Derby said she developed her own training methods based on love and trust but was stunned by the abuse and neglect she saw among other animal trainers in the industry.

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She often served as the public face and voice for performing animals, in recent years fighting primarily to get elephants out of circuses and zoos and into sanctuaries.

Her 1976 autobiography, ‘‘The Lady and Her Tiger,’’ served as both a memoir and an expose of Hollywood’s treatment of animals.

She began shifting her emphasis from training to activism, by 1984 opening the first PAWS sanctuary in Galt, Calif., with Ed Stewart, who would become her partner.

Ms. Derby most recently made news when she coordinated flying three African elephants from the Toronto Zoo to the 2,300-acre PAWS sanctuary in San Andreas. The sanctuary is also home to lions, bears, and tigers, but the elephants were closest to her heart.


‘‘It had to begin with elephants,’’ Ms. Derby wrote in her book. ‘‘I was born in love with all elephants, not for a reason that I know, not because of any of their individual qualities — wisdom, kindness, power, grace, patience, loyalty — but for what they are altogether, for their entire elephantness.’’

Shortly before her death, an African elephant at a sanctuary in Kenya was named ‘‘Pat Derby’’ to honor her work.