By Darlene Donloe
For 42 years, Chris DeRose has been an advocate for animals, and to this day, due to the things he’s seen, he still gets nightmares.
“I still wake up yelling and screaming because of the things I’ve seen,” said DeRose, who founded the nonprofit, Last Chance for Animals. “It can really be emotional.”
Last Chance for Animals, founded by DeRose in 1984, is an international, nonprofit animal advocacy organization focused on investigating, exposing and ending animal exploitation.
Last Chance believes that animals are highly sentient creatures who exist for their own reasons independent of their service to humans; they should not be made to suffer for the latter. The organization opposes the use of animals in food and clothing production, scientific experimentation and entertainment and promotes a cruelty-free lifestyle and the ascription of rights to non-human beings.
The organization was initially launched to address the issue of vivisection and to stop the theft of companion animals that were being sold to research facilities. It has since branched out.
Throughout the years, DeRose, 73, and his crew have gone into laboratories to document and/or rescue animals that were the subject of experimentation.
He describes some of the scenes as “horrendous.”
“You can’t un-see some of these things,” said the Brooklyn native, who was raised in New Jersey. “Some of it is too graphic to even speak about.”
In one of the labs, DeRose “saw the suffering of dogs.”
“I couldn’t comprehend that something like this could happen,” said DeRose, who has never owned a dog or cat. “It was about life. I saw a Malamute and it was infected. It was licking my face through the bars. I thought, if people could see this they would demonstrate, but we’re all wrapped up in our own worlds.”
DeRose, who released his autobiography, “In Your Face,” in 1997 and became the recipient of the Courage of Conscience International Peace Award, said as a friend was videotaping the encounter with the Malamute, the stitching opened up and the dog died in his arms.
“I made a promise to the dog that I would fight this the rest of my life,” DeRose said. “This nonsense can’t continue. The money that is being spent on this is better spent on schools or older people. There are a million causes that need to be worked on, not experimenting on animals. The same research is being done over and over again. I’m trying to show the injustice of what’s going on.”
At any given time, Last Chance for Animals is actively working on issues around the world. For instance, the organization has filed a legal complaint against Marineland Canada to stop the export of five beluga whales, and is currently working on a South Korea dog meat investigation in addition to working to ban torture devices at L.A. rodeos, and encouraging everyone to support the Pet Safety and Protection Act and to help save the Virunga National Park’s endangered mountain gorillas, plus the ending of ag-gag Laws, which would protect animals and whistleblowers. This represents just a portion of Last Chance’s efforts.
DeRose said he took his lead from men like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau.
“I listened to Dr. King’s speeches to feel the passion and to portray it to the public I was speaking to about the animals,” said DeRose, who has been arrested several times for civil disobedience in relation to his work saving animals. “At the time, we were grassroots. That’s when I noticed the media wasn’t covering demonstrations anymore.
“That’s when I changed to Dr. King’s teaching and focused on civil disobedience.”
DeRose, a former reporter, special correspondent, and actor who quit acting because “it wasn’t fulfilling,” deliberately named his nonprofit Last Chance so that it would invoke some kind of emotion.
“I initially named it Second Chance, but then I realized the animals weren’t getting a second chance, they were getting their last chance,” said DeRose whose wife, Cindy Beal-DeRose, works with him. “I named it Last Chance in hindsight. Once I gave it the name, it spurred me.”
DeRose prides himself on helping to eliminate Class B dealers, who sell animals for experiments.
“We went after them,” DeRose said. “If we accomplished anything, we eliminated some cruelty. We saved two million animals. These are people’s pets. These animals are taken under false pretenses.
“Class B dealers steal them, or they buy them. … They are taken from your car. I’ve seen the faces of little kids who come home from school and their dog is missing.”
Last Chance’s undercover investigations into Class B dealers (licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) that steal people’s companion animals and sell them for research resulted in the nation’s first state prison sentences for multiple-count cruelty cases.
In August 2003, a 15-year investigation of Class B animal dealers cumulated in the largest multi-agency investigation (federal, state and local) on any animal issue in U.S. history.
While he is passionate about saving animals, DeRose, who was an orphan, also has an affinity for kids.
“I have a strong attachment to kids,” he said. “I was in an orphanage for three years, then a juvenile home. It actually set me on a path to do good.”
DeRose’s stint as an orphan is partly to blame for his never owning a dog or cat, or any animal as a pet.
“To be honest, it’s a fear of losing them,” said DeRose, a former police officer. “It’s about abandonment or if something happens to them. The things I’ve seen, I feel like those animals would be one heartbeat away from ending up in a research facility.”
DeRose, who does not have children, said that’s also how he felt when a teacher asked what the class was going to do when they grew up.
“They asked about children I said, ‘no children,’” he recalled. “That child would be a heartbeat away from ending up on the streets if I died as my father did. I never knew him. Never met him.
“I didn’t want the fear of losing them. When I went into labs and saw the worst of the worse, I didn’t want to trigger myself by seeing a dog that looked like my dog at home. It’s hard not to get wrapped up. If I see a dog that looks like my dog, who knows what I would do?”
Although he and his baby sister were orphans for three years, due to his mother suffering from breast cancer, and therefore, unable to take care of them, DeRose said he “wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
“Being an orphan made me understand what institutionalized kids go through,” said DeRose, who has been a Big Brother to 26 children. “I’m much more aware of it. It helped me become a Big Brother and more sensitive to animal issues and helped me become who I am.
“It taught me a lot of lessons. We had a great mother. She taught me right from wrong. I wouldn’t recommend an orphanage, but you’ll come out the other end stronger mentally.”
DeRose, who studied history and political science at Rutgers and also went to school in Florida, majoring in criminology, believes everyone on earth has a purpose and Last Chance for Animals is his.
“It’s my purpose,” he said. “I made it my purpose because of what I’ve seen. My purpose is to make a change for animals, kids, and older people. I just need to do what I can when I can do it. I believe what Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.