Today, Reuters reported that an animal trainer renowned for her work with beloved animal characters from television and movies, Pat Derby has died due to throat cancer. The 69 year-old served as the trainer for the dogs who appeared in the iconic movie “Lassie” as well as the bottlenose dolphin from television's “Flipper.”
In the 1960s she appeared in ads for Lincoln Mercury performing a dual role as spokesperson as well as trainer to the two “Sign of the Cat” cougars who were featured with her. She also worked on the television shows “Gunsmoke” and “Daktari.”
She wrote an autobiography titled “The Lady and Her Tiger” which doubled as an expose on the neglect and abuse she was confronted with in the animal performing business in 1976. In 1984, she and partner Ed Stewart founded PAWS: a company dedicated “to rescue and provide humane sanctuary for animals from the exotic and performing animal trades.”
Derby served on a number of state committees responsible for setting standards for the care of exotic species such as elephants. “She was the first to champion the cause of performing animals, and today, because of her tireless work, and fierce determination, most animal protection organizations now have captive wildlife programs that address the issues of performing animals," PAWS said in a statement obtained by Reuters. Today PAWS shelters more than 100 animals in three sanctuaries in northern California.
Stewart was with her when she died at her home in San Andreas, California on Friday.