A writer’s fight for animals
By Robin Dorman
“Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo. Can I believe it? Can I believe it’s true? Rumors fly so I thought I better go and see it for myself. I saw this little girl in tears. I said can you tell me darling what could possibly be so bad. She said all the animals they look so sad. Why do they look sad? Why? But someone told me it’s all so wonderful at the zoo. Can I believe it? Can I believe it’s true? The monkeys stopped their swinging, the giraffes can’t reach the trees, and the chimpanzees have lost their sense of fun. The kangaroos have quit their jumping, hyenas laugh no more, and the pink flamingoes have nowhere to fly. The lions ceased their mighty roar, and the snow leopards they got no snow, the elephants are dreaming, they’re always dreaming of someplace to run.”
(Special lyrics by Bill Dyer, based on Paul Simon’s “At the Zoo.”)
As a writer and lyricist—who was a part of the magic of Broadway’s past—Bill Dyer’s musical and verbal dexterity has made him a natural in the art of political verse with a theatrical gauntlet thrown down, suggesting all the anguish and cruelty animals suffer daily. YouTube is rich with such Bill Dyer videos as his “They Don’t Wanna Be In Show Business,” “Billy,” “Be A Guardian,” and “At the Zoo.” With his overlapping identities as artist-activist, Bill, with his outsized passion for animals, has come to occupy a category of his own.
In the pantheon of Los Angeles animal activism, he is legendary. A ubiquitous presence staging protests outside departments stores, pet stores, universities, zoos, circuses—across the vast sweep of the entire benighted system of animal use and abuse, a devastating indictment of a society accustomed to the mistreatment of other species—Bill’s unremitting audacity and commitment to perseverance has thrust him into a very prominent role, a foremost innovator of provocation about our own capacity for empathy. Drawing upon the already rich culture of resistance in animal rights, he was swept into action in the early 1980s by Chris DeRose, of the newly formed Last Chance for Animals, of which Bill was a founding member, whose first project was to help end pound seizure in Los Angeles, the selling of animals from shelters to research laboratories, a momentous victory. At the time, Bill was involved in investigating three Class B animal dealers—USDA-licensed agents allowed to purchase and collect animals from such sources as shelters, pounds, individuals, and sell them to laboratories, institutions, and other dealers for research—who were sent to jail for operating under false premises. “
“Chris DeRose pulled away the curtains on the realities of animal abuse and focused my attention on corruption and injustice. He opened my eyes.”
When Chris took Bill to his first vegetarian restaurant that only served sun-dried food, Bill asked Chris, “Do we have to give up stoves, too?” But, fortunately, stoves are still necessary and Bill became a vegan because of animals. “Once you become an activist, it is inconceivable to eat them. As Kafka famously said: ‘Now I Can Look At You In Peace; I Don’t Eat You Anymore.’”
In 1996, at the electrifying occasion of the second March for Animals, in Washington, D.C., Bill met Dr. Elliot Katz, celebrated founder and then-president of In Defense of Animals, who, in a great capacity of spirit, asked Bill to take his place and speak on the steps of the Capitol, a moment he still cherishes. “Elliot gave a portion of his time over to me, which was very kind, very moving, and I spoke in front of thousands and focused on the young people who were there from all over the world and how much I admired their expression of vegan power, our hope for the future.”
Asked to join IDA as Southern California Regional Director, Bill threw himself into the day-to-day trenches of animal activism, taking aim at institutionalized animal cruelty—trying to widen the space for questions of morality and ethics—and became a magnet for other Los Angeles advocates with a responsibility to agitate. There are the battles over fur, including what has become one of IDA’s most symbolic and visible annual rituals of solidarity, Fur Free Friday, which it now leads in many cities across the world. In Los Angeles, Bill marches his protesters down the opulent streets of Rodeo Drive to Wilshire Boulevard, stretching along the sidewalks, stopping in front of Nieman Marcus and Saks, all the stores that dare to still sell fur. There are the fights against puppy mills, animal research, the human consumption of dogs and cats in Korea, Canadian seals, dolphins, zoos and circuses, elephants, guardianship, rodeos, foie gras, bison.
“As I’ve said many times, there isn’t an animal on this earth who we’ve not tortured, eaten, experimented upon, worked to death, exploited, used in some way.”