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Animal Instincts
Former Camera staffer pens biography of activist Cleveland Amory

By Meg Tilton
The Daily Camera
May 28th, 2006

Cleveland Amory probably ranks as one of the most colorful political activists in history. Amory, who dedicated his life to rescuing endangered animals, seemed to relish violent conflict. He did not mind having enemies; a person without them, he believed, was "a dull bastard without principles." Until his death in 1998, he delighted in annoying his adversaries. "One of the dangers of hunting is that hunters shoot each other," Amory once said. "Frankly, that's something I applaud."

Amory is the subject of "Making Burros Fly: Cleveland Amory, Animal Rescue Pioneer," the first book by former Daily Camera features writer Julie Hoffman Marshall. Many Camera readers will already be familiar with Marshall's work from this paper. Her biography of Amory exhibits the same lively writing and passion for animals as her newspaper columns. Yet writing the book was a decidedly new experience, as Marshall explains.

"My publisher asked me to use my own voice and to write longer sentences," says Marshall, who signs her book Wednesday at the Boulder Book Store. "Those are two tall orders for someone used to an abundance of direct quotes and for someone used to very limited space."

Marshall's journalism background is apparent in the book, particularly in her careful research. She provides many details about Amory's life. The biography covers his early writing career (his debut book was "The Proper Bostonians," a scathing indictment of blue-blood New Englanders) and his transition from social critic to animal rights activist. When Marshall describes the work of the Fund for Animals, the organization Amory founded in 1967, she is well-informed about both the Fund's campaigns and the debates surrounding various animal issues. She debunks common myths about brucellosis, a disease that affects cattle, and about the relationship between harp seals and codfish stocks.

Much of the Fund's work involves fighting animal cruelty, and Marshall's grim portrayals of such abuse are often difficult to read. Plenty of animals are suffering out there, and Marshall wants us to know it. She recounts a lab experiment in which dogs were starved to death. She describes an annual small-town "pigeon shoot" in which the pigeons that were only maimed, not killed, were left to be finished off by overzealous 8- to 12-year-old boys. One of her saddest accounts is of a black leopard shot on a game ranch. The leopard, who had been raised to trust humans, had to be chased out of his cage with dogs; after that he lay belly-up on the ground, pawing at the dogs until a hunter shot him. Marshall's description of this event stuck with me long after I'd finished the chapter.

Fortunately, the book balances these tales with uplifting descriptions of Amory's work. Marshall couldn't want for a better subject. Amory and his colleagues proved themselves brave, creative, and often incendiary. In 1979, Amory and his workers spray-painted hundreds of seals with red dye to ruin their pelts and save the animals from hunters. That same year, when the U.S. Park Service wanted to kill burros that lived in the Grand Canyon, Amory concocted a plan to airlift the burros out of the canyon via helicopter. At first, even the helicopter pilot they tried to recruit thought the idea was crazy, and Marshall's descriptions of Amory during the campaign make him seem a bit like a modern-day Quixote, charging forward against all apparent reason. But unbelievably, his plan worked, and the Fund managed to rescue 575 burros.

If the book has a shortcoming, it is that Marshall's passion for her cause leads her to view Amory with unquestioning admiration. While there is indeed much to admire, occasionally the book could benefit from a more critical perspective. Readers may wonder, for instance, whether Amory's uber-confrontational stance is ultimately the most effective way to help animals, particularly in our current era of political polarization. The discussion seems worth having, but the book doesn't address it.

Yet this is a minor quibble. "Making Burros Fly" is an engaging read, full of stories centered around one remarkable personality. Marshall says that her goal was to get people who knew Amory to share "their journey with one amazing man who made the world a better place for all creatures." And in that, she has succeeded. The book leaves readers with a deep respect for Amory and a better understanding of the importance of animal welfare.

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