***************Editor's Note: With a heavy heart, Vegetarians in Paradise reports the passing of Gretchen Wyler on the morning of May 27, 2007. Noted humanitarian, luminary, and friend of the animals for more than 50 years, Gretchen lost her life to breast cancer. In lieu of recounting her life, we offer our 24 Carrot Award interview published March/April 2001 as a more fitting tribute.
Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Gretchen Wyler for her dedicated efforts on behalf of animals for over thirty years. As founder and president of Ark Trust, Inc., she has spearheaded a campaign to raise public consciousness about animal issues through annual presentations of Genesis Awards to the media.
Gretchen has had a distinguished career spanning 50 years that has included appearances in Broadway shows, motion pictures, television, night clubs and concert shows. As a singer-dancer-actress, she has appeared in Broadway shows like Guys and Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie, and Damn Yankees. In films she has had featured roles in Private Benjamin and The Marrying Man. Television audiences have seen her on Dallas, Friends, Providence, and Judging Amy.
While performing, she has still found time and energy to work for animal rights by serving as a board member of 13 organizations working on animal issues. These organizations included the ASPCA and The Fund for Animals. She has a shelf filled with awards from organizations recognizing her achievements.
Vegetarians in Paradise is grateful to Gretchen for taking time in her busy schedule to tell us about herself and Ark Trust.
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by Gretchen Wyler (GW).
VIP: What events in your life led to your work on behalf of animals?
GW: One dark day 34 years ago on Dec. 6 in Warwick, N.Y., I discovered the local dog pound, a medieval dungeon amidst the burning garbage, where a truck from New Jersey arrived every two weeks to transport the dogs to a laboratory to sell them for medical experiments. That day an activist for animals was born.
VIP: How did The Ark Trust come into existence?
GW: I had served on the board of 13 animal-protection organizations over the years and had no dreams of founding another one, but thanks to a generous bequest from a woman I had never met but who had supported our work for a number of years, I enthusiastically founded the organization in May of 1991, became the president, and now feel great pride in the growth of the organization.
VIP: What are the principal goals of the organization?
GW: The real goal is to instill in my own species an ethical behavior toward all species.
VIP: What publications are produced by The Ark Trust?
GW: We produce, for our membership, prospective members and the media, brochures and pamphlets describing our mission, philosophy and projects.
VIP: What human and financial resources are necessary for the organization to function?
GW: A viable board of directors, a staff which is committed to our goals, and a donor base that understands and supports those goals.
VIP: What is the Genesis Awards, The Ark Trust's major program?
GW: Throughout the year, The Ark Trust collects and evaluates media works for the annual Genesis Awards, a taped-for-television, star-studded ceremony honoring outstanding individuals in the major news and entertainment media who have spotlighted animal issues with courage, creativity and integrity. The Fifteenth Annual Genesis Awards is scheduled to be held at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, on March 10, 2001. For 10 years the event has been on television, first on Discovery Channel and now on Animal Planet. Christian Bale, Pierce Brosnan, James Cromwell, Ellen DeGeneres, Kelsey Grammer, Robert Guillaume, Valerie Harper, Shirley Jones, Bill Maher, Sidney Poitier, Lynn Redgrave, William Shatner, Martin Sheen and Alicia Silverstone, among many others, have participated in the gala, one-of-a-kind event over the years.
VIP: Which came first, the Genesis Awards or Ark Trust?
GW: I began the Genesis Awards in 1986 under the banner of the Fund for Animals for which I was vice chairwoman from 1972 to 1991. In 1991 the Fund for Animals transferred the banner to The Ark Trust.
VIP: How did the Genesis Awards come into being?
GW: There came a point in my life when I decided I would rather change minds than change laws. I had become disenchanted and frustrated working within the legislative arena, since corporate Political Action Committees (PACs) were now defining the legislative agendas. I believed it would be more beneficial to direct my energies toward nurturing and rewarding the major media for producing positive animal works.
VIP: What special plans do you have for the 15th anniversary of the Genesis Awards in March?
GW: As in years past the only expectation I ever have is living up to everyone else's expectations! Each year, everyone tells us it was the best ever! I hope it will always be the best ever.
VIP: What reaction have the awards received from the public? From the media?
GW: From the public, it attracts over 1,000 attendees from the social, business, humane and theatrical communities. From the media, we now receive a large volume of submissions from the industry itself. I would like to believe we are accomplishing our goal, which is to change public opinion and effect behavior as a result of the media's awesome powers of persuasion.
VIP: What do you envision as the future for The Ark Trust?
GW: The ultimate goal for our organization would be to work with prime-time series as both a consultant on animal story lines and successfully having story lines we submit become incorporated into scripts. Also, I believe that in the near future we will be able to inspire former documentary awardees to focus on issues that have not yet received the media spotlight.
VIP: What is Project Noah?
GW: It's a collection of videotapes we have accumulated, the majority of which have appeared on television, that is available as a resource to members of the major media to assist in their story writing.
VIP: What other projects has The Ark Trust undertaken?
GW: Our major program is the Genesis Awards, but throughout the year we work to thrust animal issues that need media attention into the spotlight. Over the past year we have been successful in garnering exposure in the media of the cruelties inherent in the greyhound racing "sport." We are proud of our Red Alert program which is now a part of the shelter systems in six different areas, including City of Los Angeles and San Diego County. Conceived by The Ark Trust and funded by grants from PetSmart Charities, the program streamlines adoption procedures for stray and unwanted dogs and cats. The program is available to large city shelters in the United States. We also disseminate our annual "Foe-Paw" Report, which is the antithesis of the Genesis Awards in that it cites the major media for conveying anti-animal messages. The 2000 "Foe-Paw" Report was covered in USA Today's Dec. 11 edition.
VIP: What recognition have you received for your work on animal concerns?
GW: I have been humbled by my selection to receive many of the humane organizations' annual awards including the Order of Nature (International League for Animal Rights), St. Francis of Assisi (City of Los Angeles), Minnie (Actors and Others for Animals), Golden Paw (Warwick Valley Humane Society, Inc.), Lifetime Achievement (American Humane Association), James Herriot (The Humane Society of the United States) and Paloma (Los Angeles SPCA) awards. Since most of my time is now devoted to protecting animals, I doubt my acting career will ever earn me an Oscar!
VIP: What personal goals and aspirations do you have for the future?
GW: My life is stimulated by the work I do for The Ark Trust, and I've a hunch I will continue a lifetime "run" in this job.
VIP: In your theatrical career, which roles have been the most important to you?
GW: I have enjoyed 50 years working as an actress, both on Broadway and in London's West End, in television and film, and the two highlights of my long career have been enjoying success as the singing and dancing star in Cole Porter's last Broadway musical, "Silk Stockings," and starring for one year as "Sweet Charity" in London.
VIP: Tell us about any companion animals you currently have.
GW: Obviously, all are rescues, and my four-legged family now includes four cats, two horses and one dog.
VIP: Does your family share your animal concerns and participate in any of your programs?
GW: My interest in animals does not stem from a childhood influence. As a child, we had no pets, and I was 32 years old before I selected my first companion animal, a Great Dane puppy. My parents preferred my acting career to my activist role in protecting animals.
VIP: With the many hours you devote to The Ark Trust do you have time to indulge yourself in leisure activities or hobbies?
GW: One year ago I purchased my dream home in Camarillo, California. Although still a working actress and dedicated to my work as president of The Ark Trust, I have now enriched my life further by riding the trails astride my beautiful horse, and designing and tending my lovely rose garden.
VIP: Have we overlooked anything that you would like us to share with our readers?
GW: Perhaps it would inspire your readers to know that, from my 34-year perspective in the humane community, we have taken giant steps. I remind you that phrases like animal rights and cruelty-free were unknown in the late '60s. Most people thought that fur coats grew on trees, and that all animals used in experimentation were protected from pain, and that all animals who arrived on your plate had a pleasant journey getting there. No longer. The Ark Trust motto is: Cruelty can't stand the spotlight! Once the cruelties are revealed, many human animals elect not to play a role in such abuse and exploitation.
VIP: Many of our readers are new to vegetarianism as well as animal concerns. Is there a special comment you would like to add that would awaken our audience to the concerns of your organization?
GW: Unfortunately, the human animal has placed itself at the top of the species Neilsen ratings. As a result, it somehow has drawn a line between us and all the rest of creation. I would encourage people to very carefully select where they draw that line, and attempt to live lives that do not involve pain and suffering of animals. The choice is very personal, and I firmly believe in the defining philosophy of The Ark Trust: Animals should have the right to swim if they have fins, run if they have legs, and fly if they have wings!
Additional information about Ark Trust and Gretchen Wyler can be accessed at http://www.arktrust.org