Cleveland Amory: Founder of Black Beauty Ranch and The Fund for Animals
By Poornima Agarwal
Cleveland Amory was born on September 2, 1917 in the resort town of Nahant, MA to privileged and established Boston textile manufacturers. His great-great-uncle, George Thorndike Angell, a prominent Boston attorney, founded the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in 1868 after watching a horse race that left two horses dead. In 1889, Angell founded the American Humane Education Society. He was also responsible for bringing the first publication of the book Black Beauty by Anna Sewell to the United States.
Aunt Lu Crehore from Jamaica Plain, a favorite relative of Amory’s, introduced him to the book which would have tremendous influence on him. Later in life he would build the Black Beauty Ranch in East Texas after the famous horse and novel that depicted animals as individual spirits with genuine emotions. His aunt often picked up strays and gave them a home. People would laugh at her for caring for animals and for being different which always angered Amory. At the age of 8, Amory got his first dog, Brookie, at the encouragement of his aunt. One could say Amory’s connection to animals was built into his DNA.
Cleveland Amory attended the prestigious Milton Academy, a historic college preparatory boarding school, from 1929-1935 and later joined Harvard’s class of 1939. While at Harvard, he held the prestigious post of President of the Harvard Crimson. Upon graduation, he launched his literary career by becoming the youngest editor of the Saturday Evening Post at the age of twenty-two. His writing career was temporarily put on hold so he could serve in World War II as a lieutenant in the army’s Military Intelligence Division. Following the war, Amory published three chronicles of high society that led to his first wave of literary fame. First was The Proper Bostonians in 1947 (a book that remains in print and brought him royalties for the rest of his life), The Last Resorts in 1952, and Who Killed Society in 1960. Today, his trilogy of social history studies is still regarded as a classic. The New York Times opinion editors dedicated an entire editorial to his satires after the publication of his first book that displayed Amory’s rare wit, something that would serve him well throughout his life.
In 1974, his pioneering work Mankind?: Our Incredible War on Wildlife was a sharp indictment of hunting and wildlife management. This book established Amory as an advocate for wildlife in America and led to an editorial in The New York Times as well as a CBS documentary, The Guns of Autumn. Later Amory would go on to pen a cat trilogy based on his beloved cat, Polar Bear, whom he rescued on Christmas Eve. The first of the three books, The Cat Who Came to Christmas, was published in 1987 and went on to become a bestseller. In addition to being a regular columnist for various publications such as TV Guide, McCalls, Reader’s Digest, he was a television commentator for The Today Show and CBS Morning News.
Amory’s gradual evolution from being an author and a media celebrity to an animal rights activist began in earnest after witnessing a bullfight in Nogales, Mexico. (He would later take on an active role in The Humane Society of the United States’ efforts to ban bullfights.). “I knew then that the end of my career in Arizona was nearing. I never went back to the paper.” Little did he know that being sent to cover a story on a cultural tradition would spark a personal transformation. He discovered that the bullfight is less about bravado but rather entirely about teasing, tormenting, and torturing a bewildered beast. It was man at its cruelest and the fight was highly unfair. Though the bullfight was traditionally depicted as a dramatic tragedy pitting brute strength against the proud graceful matador, Amory noticed of the six fights he attended that day, “not a single bull entered the arena without a care in the world, but to find the nearest way out.”
This bullfight [described below] came to be Amory’s defining moment in life. The bullfight he attended literally changed his life; a spark of compassion was ignited and moved him to walk away from his existing career to a whole new calling which he referred to as his real work. Story has it that at the end of the bullfight, after the matador had cut off the animal’s ears and held them above his head in a gesture of victory, Amory leapt out of his seat, marched to the stadium floor and knocked the matador over face-forward onto the ground. “I’ve had a lot of great feelings in my life, but this was the best.” At one point in his life, Amory stepped into a field of 100 bulls to demonstrate that the animals were docile until provoked.
Three picadors ride into the ring atop blindfolded horses with spears in their hands. From a safe distance the men thrust multiple steel blades into the bull’s neck and shoulder muscles, rendering the beast too weak to raise his head. (The horses may be gored to death in a similar fashion as well. No one hears the pain because their vocal chords have been cut out before they step into the ring.) The lesser matadors, banderilleros, come next on foot and rush at the bull, repeatedly stabbing the animal in the neck with barbed wooden darts. This enlarges the existing wounds to promote the flow of blood to make sure the job is done. The “brave” matador steps in at this point to attract the bewildered bull, who is too exhausted to make any attempt to fight back at this point. One would think it would end with the next blow, the final blow. Or, the third, or the fourth and final blow. Often times the matador failes when he tries to surgically strike between the cervical vertebrae in order to slice down deep into the heart. Finally, the Olé ensues. From the onset, the bull has serious disadvantages. Before the fight, he is raised by ropes and pulleys so his horns can be filed down, then held in a dark cellar until he rushes into the stadium in the heat of the day, blinded by the sun. His fate is sealed from the moment he is picked for the battle.
Amory continued to write numerous columns and appear on television and radio broadcasts, though he never returned to the publishing business. Animals from this moment forth would forever play a role in his life. He had enormous influence at this time and utilized his fame and stature for his groundbreaking and headline-making animal advocacy. He could have easily headed down a path of becoming a self-indulgent media star as actors were hanging onto his every written word, but he didn’t. He had sailed with Princess Grace of Monaco, dined with the jet set at the Russian Tea Room in New York, and mingled with such famous individuals such as Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, and the like. His writing talents were in such high demand that the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Warfield Simpson, invited him to ghostwrite her memoirs. Amory turned down the offer. At this point, he removed himself from family money and the comforts of his social status and decided, at the pinnacle of his authorship, to use “the power of the pen” to save animals from pain and death.
The first area that grabbed his interest was vivisection, the use of animals for medical, cosmetic, and consumer research. He plunged headfirst into the deep end of animal rights causes. He didn’t aim to teach people how to be compassionate, but rather to educate them about what was going on in the hidden world of animal experimentation. He cited many experiments he witnessed, firsthand, when visiting various laboratories. One horrific experiment after another was cited. At Columbia University, dogs were struck by researchers – as many as 1000 blows to each canine – with a rawhide mallet to induce shock. In the lab reports, the researchers stated that the three dogs who survived the shock died the following day when they were once again placed on the “animal board.” Scientists were drawn to use animals in the labs for grant money (taxpayer dollars) from the National Institute of Health, which remains the largest funder of experiments in biomedical research.
The worst aspect of this research? The cruel acts were often repeated because of competition; scientists did not want to share information. At the time, medical ethics and compassion were not required to be part of animal experimentation. Due to Amory’s attention to the subject, his columns drew thousands of letters, most of them favorable to making the world better for animals. There were unfavorable letters as well. One MIT student wrote: “The very fact that we do kill animals proves that we have the right.” Amory would reply: “We may be bigger and stronger, but we have no moral right to harm animals.” He garnered much respect for his courage in taking up the fight against the suffering of animals in laboratories. One woman wrote to the Saturday Review: “He will probably be assassinated, but he will perish in a good cause.”
Amory’s collection of writings and photographs at the Boston Public Library are difficult to witness due to their graphic nature. As Amory increasingly exposed what was occurring, a shift in attitudes could be seen. Physicians and vivisectors were examining their actions and speaking out. Donald Barnes, who had killed more than 1,000 rhesus monkeys over a sixteen year period for the US Air Force’s radiation experiments, quit his job and joined the National Anti-Vivisection Society. A physician at the University of Chicago wrote critically about the burning of animals without anesthesia and the deliberate production of extreme pain. “If experiments of this type omit anesthesia in order to advance medical knowledge, I’m not aware of acceptable rationalization of them. Whatever knowledge is gained by such experimentation is not worth the price.”
England passed a law, “The Cruelty to Animals Act 1876,” to protect laboratory animals from needless suffering and pain. Almost a century later across the pond, Amory attended congressional committees stating his case. He urged politicians to recognize that people who love animals were not unified like the American Medical Association because they tended to be highly individualistic people. He stated the public demanded a law because the scientific community had adopted the attitude of “by any means possible.” The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 was passed by Congress, becoming the first US legislation addressing the treatment of laboratory animals. Of course, the medical research community fought it tooth and nail. Amory never called for a total ban on medical research that used animals, but he did ask for reform of repetitive experiments and to mitigate pain by using anesthesia and giving animals postoperative care. Unfortunately, the law has failed to prohibit painful and cruel experiments on animals though existing standards of taking care of animals in experimentation were addressed.
Amory found, that as a writer exposing cruelty in the lab, he could make a difference in his many publications. However, that was not the case with his position at the Today Show. He had worked for the program for 12 years as a commentator, yet lost his position when he wrote a controversial piece in 1963 titled “Science Is Needlessly Cruel to Animals.”
Also in 1963, Amory became aware of an event called The “Sticks-and Stones Hunt,” or the “Bunny Bop,” in Harmony, North Carolina every December. The Bunny Bop was a prize-winning contest sponsored by the local American Legion Hall, where men, women and children would collect sticks and “bludgeon, kick, stomp, and smash any rabbits to be seen to a bloody pulp.” Rabbits who tried to escape were yanked back to be killed in such a fashion and wounded rabbits were tossed to dogs to finish them off. It was only due to Amory’s presence on national television that the legion’s president called an end to the bloody melee. He lost many friends because they couldn’t understand his commitment to the animal protection cause. They thought he was doing it for fame or that he was simply insane. He was an animal activist out of a pure, heartfelt calling.
Events up to this point in Amory’s life pushed him toward a lifetime of animal work, and he now started joining as many animal organizations as he could. He joined the National Catholic Society for Animal Welfare and achieved rank and status as the president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, continuing to bring attention to horrific cruelty in medical research.
In 1962, he joined the Board of Directors of The Humane Society of the United States. Amory made the strongest contribution to the animal movement with the founding of The Fund for Animals in 1967 with the motto: “We Speak For Those Who Can’t.” He relied heavily upon longtime Vice President Marian Probst and general counsel Ed Walsh to manage The Fund’s day-to-day operations, legal strategy, and institutional defense work. During the 70’s, a group of committed field reps made the organization one of the nation’s most dynamic advocacy groups and quickly gained a national reputation for wildlife-related activism. Amory leveraged his own celebrity to attract the powerful and the influential. He put his celebrity acquaintances (Doris Day, Mary Tyler Moore and many others) to use in campaigns against trapping, fur, and the clubbing of baby seals.
Amory initiated several high-profile rescues in his lifetime which included purchasing a sea vessel for Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society against whaling and sealing. They painted baby harp seals off Magdalene Islands in Canada to ensure their fur was worthless to the hunters. In the early 80’s he opened his FFA warchest to support the removal of 577 burros by air and land slated for slaughter by the National Park Service. Soon thereafter, he fought a similar battle to prevent the killing of San Clemente Island’s goats by the Department of Defense. These efforts led to improved collaboration between humane groups and federal agencies in the handling of imperiled animal populations.
Building on his efforts to halt the removal of animals from public lands, in 1979, Amory founded the Black Beauty Ranch, an 80 acre sanctuary in TX, as a final refuge for hundreds of mistreated and unwanted animals. One of the most famous residents was a chimpanzee, Nim Chimpsky. Nim was the focus of a landmark experiment which tried to show that chimps could learn language if raised and nurtured as a human child. He died at the ranch in 2002; today, it encompasses approximately 1350 acres.
Cleveland Amory created a sanctuary where the animals were unfettered and free to roam the grounds. The words on the ranch’s gate were taken from Anna Sewall’s novel, “I have nothing to fear, and my story ends. My troubles are all over, and I am at home.” It was “A Ranch of Dreams.”
Amory’s organization, The Fund for Animals, after nearly 40 years has joined forces with The Humane Society of the United States, and provides shelter and medical attention to animals at many sanctuaries across the United States. Michael Markarian, President of the FFA and the Executive VP of The HSUS stated, “Because of Cleveland Amory, we are where we are today in protecting all animals.” Amory was a masterful storyteller, had a self-deprecating brand of humor with a more acerbic tone that he reserved for hunters, furriers, animals fighters, and other targets. Befittingly, after his death in 1998, Amory’s ashes were scattered over Black Beauty Ranch by a wild burro he had helped rescue next to a stone monument of his beloved cat, Polar Bear.
Amory’s Black Beauty Ranch continues to this day as the nation’s largest and most diverse animal sanctuary.
Amory’s works include:
Ranch of Dreams by Cleveland Amory
Making Burros Fly: Cleveland Amory, Animal
Rescue Pioneer by Julie Hoffman Marshall
Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon
Animal Rights Crusader by Marilyn Greenwald