Celebrity Interviews

Heartfelt: When it comes to animals, Stefanie Powers thinks with her heart…

Stephanie Powers with Doggies

Stefanie Powers is widely recognized for her role as Jennifer Hart, an amateur sleuth in the hit television series Hart to Hart for which she received Emmy and Golden Globe award nominations. In her new book One from the Hart, which is scheduled to release this month, Powers opens up about the things that are dear to her heart—her men, her mother, and her love for animals.

Stephanie Powers with Bird

Animal conservation means something different to everybody. What does it mean to you and what sparked your initial interest in this issue?

It goes back to my childhood. I suppose it is something that’s in you. There are people who instinctively loveanimals and people who instinctively don’t have the same feelings. I’ve always had a great love of animals. I can’t remember a time when we did not have animals. My mother and father had dogs; they liked Dachshunds. And we always had a Fritzy and Ziggy inside the house. My stepfather had raised race horses, and so, on the ranch, there were the outside dogs, as well. They were the big ones, and they were the ones who had other jobs to do, but they were my pals. And I grew up with a sense of responsibility to animals. Nobody else fed them, and, if I was given one or if I adopted one, that was my responsibility.

I was raised with a little bit of tough love. When I wanted a horse, my stepfather took me to a slaughter house. We didn’t go in to see the way they were slaughtered, but we went to the stockyards. When we went to the stockyards, there were horses galore. There were young ones, old ones, beautiful ones, and not-so-beautiful ones, and he said, “If you don’t take the responsibility, the life responsibility of this horse, you never know where it’s going.” And so, as much as possible, any of the horses that he raised and sold he kept track of, and there was always a proviso that whoever had the horse and however many times it was sold, it was part of the documents …that he would take the horse back.

There was a long heritage of responsibility. I think that’s the main thing—these are lives.  I was taught that these are lives, not toys. They are not something to be discarded; they have feelings, and they respond to kindness, and I’ve always felt and [have] always witnessed the fact that there’s not a bad dog or a bad horse. There’s just a bad person in that animal’s life. The meanest things that have been done to [animals] can be treated with kindness, and, over time, they will respond, and they will come out of the hell they’ve been put in because some human being put them there, not because that’s their nature.

I know with the Michael Vick case, a lot of those dogs have been re-homed and rehabilitated; it was just the original home they were in. I don’t think there’s enough that can be done to a man like that. Not enough. It’s beyond cruelty to an animal; it’s sadistic. It shows no respect for life. It shows a person who is a complete idiot and [who] is, therefore a menace to society because he’s so ignorant.

What prompted you to become president and cofounder of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation (WHWF)?

Well, I spent the last nine years of Bill’s [William’s] life with him. And, in the beginning, it was his two partners in Africa, who are now my partners, and we wanted a fitting tribute to Bill after his death. He always wanted to build an education center in Kenya to back up some of the conservation work that had been ongoing for many years I mean, Bill was responsible for creating a conservation effort in Kenya in the early 1960s unlike anything that had existed at the time..

It was a game ranch where they would capture animals—there was nothing on the farm. It had been a farm, and then they let the grasses grow, and they created a game preserve out of these 2,000 acres, They brought the captured animals there. [There were] a variety of 37 species, and they allowed them to breed. Some of the progeny that were born were sent to zoos and zoological parks throughout the United States and Europe for gene pool refreshing. And that was principally . . . the way that the ranch helped to pay for itself. But it was nothing of that kind done on the whole continent of Africa in those days, in the early 1960s.

At the end of the 1950s, Bill was already established in east Africa because he bought a hotel with two other partners, and they created the Mount Kenya Safari Club, which became world-famous. And, when the 2,000 acres surrounding it became available, his idea was to create this preserve because . . . those people who were there in the 1950s [and who] lived and managed the game parks and the hunting areas . . . knew that the encroachment of civilization was going to mean the extinction of animals.

So, it was very obvious to a lot of people; this is not new news. By the 1950s, things were disappearing. Before that, there had been conservationists and preservationists that understood the industrial revolution from a hundred years before and how it had created an endless cycle of destruction to the environment. But, of course, those people were all called kooks and eccentrics nobody wants to live with. Today, we have to face the fact that more than 80 percent of the biological life on this planet has been destroyed through human activity—irresponsible human activity. Today, we face an even greater extinction at a more rapid rate because of our sheer lack of concern.

Let me tell you what we do at our education center, which serves about 11,000 students a year in a country that does want to do something. What we try to teach are alternatives to habitat destruction so humans and animals can live compatibly—and they deserve to—in the world and have enough space for each other. [This is possible] if we use the land responsibly and don’t destroy it.

Speaking of land, I understand that Kenya has been experiencing its worst drought since 1962.
Only in parts because we’ve had an excessive amount of rain, more than we’ve had in the last five years. We had a drought that went on for about five years, and there are still pockets of drought in the north because of the environmental devastation. Because . . . if you have only desert, there’s nothing to retract rain. You have no cycle of moisture to attract the clouds that then deposit the rain that then brings the desert back to life. And the encroachment of desert in sub-Saharan Africa has been intense largely because of the cycle of overgrazing, which is a big problem . . . where you have marginal land and too many cattle or too many goats. Overgrazing is the principle cause of the encroachment of the Sahara Desert. I don’t know when the last census was taken, but there was a 50-year period when the Sahara Desert had encroached 60 miles on its perimeter. If you imagine the size of the Sahara Desert, that is a staggering amount of land and topsoil loss. That only occurs because of . . . vegetation that is overgrazed by cattle, sheep, and goats. So, what we try to do is offer alternatives to that.

Tourism has been extremely helpful in Kenya in areas where there were pastoral tribes and a lot of farmers who helped create . . . tourist destinations [where the tribes] could see that the wild animals would come back once they removed their cattle herds. This process took about three years, but many of the wild animals did come back, and then the land regenerated. The condition of the habitat is very much dependent on what predates it. If you have non-domestic animals, animals that never grew up and evolved on that land, and you superimpose them on that area, they will destroy it, and the land will not recover because it’s not adapted. One has not adapted to the other–the animals and land didn’t evolve together. So, once you put wild animals back, remarkable as it sounds, the land regenerates. And it happens time after time. Those studies are already well-established.

We don’t deal with the tourist operations, but we certainly deal with young people by showing them how to coexist with wildlife. [We help them] to understand what the demands of the environment are and how much you can enhance the environment rather than destroy it (thinking that you can move onto the next piece of environment). Now, with Kenya having such a large population of human beings, there is less and less land available, so nobody has the ability to move about as much as they once did. It has caused a lot of social problems with no alternatives. So, what we try to do is show that, while there is a stop sign, there is also a way around it. There’s an alternative route; it’s not just a dead end. It’s not enough to say, “You can’t do that anymore.” You have to offer people an alternative that they can see as viable because what are you going to do if you simply have a stop sign?

So, that’s what we try to do. [Teach practical methods of conservation] that are simply relearning old-fashioned methods and reconceiving what waste products really are. How to create dirt from composting—that’s one of our biggest products that we make at the WHHF’s education center. We manufacture dirt—soil. All of the biodegradable waste is recycled. All of our water, even gray water, is recycled. It comes out of the toilets, sinks, and every source that we use. It goes through a natural process that replicates—in an accelerated way—nature’s own way of filtering water, and, at the end of the process, there are four ponds. At the final pond, we get water that’s drinkable from water that was once in the toilet. That’s called apermaculture aquifer to purify water. So, we practice what we preach—we have solar power, wind power, and we make our own fuel briquettes out of biodegradable waste.

You should be a model to every organization.

People keep saying, “Why aren’t we doing that here?” I’m practicing what I preach because I’m just finishing renovations on my own house, which will eventually hold 54 solar panels that will power my entire home. I will not only be off the grid; I will be powering reserve batteries, which I will be using at night. So, I am going to practice what I preach.

No one can accuse you of being hypocritical.

No, even in California, as difficult as it is. It is unbelievable. We have so much sunshine, and, as I walk through my neighborhood, which has a lot of movie stars in it, I don’t see enough solar panels.

Again, maybe you can be an example to your community.

I thought about putting a sign out in front of my house [that reads], “My house is powered by solar energy. What are you doing?”

The WHWF has made a lot of progress during its 30-year operation. What particular accomplishment makes you the proudest?

We don’t have a lot of time to sit back and rest on our laurels because the challenges are always there on a daily basis. Of course, the biggest challenge is maintaining [the WHWF] through donations, although it takes very little to keep ourselves going. We don’t have the overhead that most organizations do because I work for free, and so does everybody in our office. I handle all the overheads of the foundation in the United States. So, all the money from our donors . . . goes directly to the operations in Kenya, and nothing is taken off. I pay for my own airline tickets and cars, and I buy everything for the office. There aren’t very many organizations like that. I’m proud to say that our organization is [one of them]. We don’t have a CEO on salary, which would mean that money would be taken away from the donors. It goes right to the work, which is rather unusual.

What do you think William Holden would have to say if he could see the WHWF today?

I think he’d be astonished. I don’t think any of us really realized just to what extent we would be operating. We thought we’d have a nice little education center, we would get groups who would come in, and then we’d take them to the ranches [where] we’d familiarize them, but we never thought 11,000 students a year. The good news is that we’re very successful, but the bad news is that we need to be successful because we are one of the few sources of information and help in this respect.

Unfortunately, we no longer have a peace corps. We no longer have people going into the fields with messages that will help others practically learn and understand how to farm in a more biodegradable way. It was one of the best things we did in America, and we don’t have that anymore. We have a lot of organizations, but, for all the organizations, there are fewer really solid conservation efforts going on. There’s a lot of Band-Aids, but we don’t see enough.
Right now, there’s a heightened amount of poaching; there are new kids on the block. There’s money in countries that want animal byproducts and that will pay anything for them, and it’s gotten into Africa. The demand has now gotten into sub-Saharan Africa, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to supervise it or stop the graft and corruption that is associated with the exportation of rhino horns and ivory. Poaching is once again on the rise.

In addition to the WHWF, I know you’re also involved with rescuing American wild horses.

The wild horses issue is a particularly hot item and one that has dropped priority in Washington. When everybody wants to get reelected, they make great promises about passing anti-slaughter laws for wild horses and [laws prohibiting] the collection of wild horses that continues to occur on public lands because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wants to rent those lands to people that graze cattle. Our money went into those lands. Those are public lands supported by the citizens of the United States. They were set aside to be national parks, not feed lots. The horses are being rounded up off public land because of human consumption and human demand for cheaper meat. People can graze animals cheaper on public lands than on private lands. This means that they look at the horses as competitors for the grasslands, so the horses are being rounded up and brought to slaughter houses. Then people bring in their cattle and sheep.

Instead of doing something positive and allowing for a moratorium on the roundups, so that the horses can be relocated—a moratorium on the slaughters and a moratorium on the roundups, so the horses that are being held in captivity can be sold or not for slaughter. All the horses that are rounded up are tattooed, so every horse that goes to the slaughter house [is clearly] a wild horse that’s been on the range. First of all, they’ve been starved to death so that they have no resistance [and] no strength, and then they go into the slaughter house. They are dragged or pulled; the treatment is horrifying. Everybody knows in every slaughter house that they’re wild horses because they’re tattooed. So, it’s not “Oh, I didn’t know I was killing a wild horse.” It’s impossible [to say that].

I know that you created the Jaguar Conservation Trust through Jaguar Cars North America and that Ford Motor Cars is also interested in a similar program for wild mustangs, as well.

When we first lobbied in Washington for a moratorium, which held for about three years, but now it’s off, all of the politicians that promised us, some are no longer in power, some are still in power but have turned a cold shoulder because they’re more interested in getting re-elected. This is not a hot issue so they have not kept their promise, but what politician really does?

So the wild mustang program is at a halt?

It’s stagnating in spite of all the efforts of many, many organizations. It doesn’t seem to move any of these people.

Where do you see the future of that program heading?

It really needs leadership, and it needs leadership in Washington. It really can’t come from the corporate world because the corporate world is involved in selling whatever products they sell. As much as Ford would like to get involved with Mustangs for Mustangs, they also don’t want to offend some of their customers who are cattlemen and ranchers who don’t feel so philanthropic toward wild horses and who are among the biggest consumers of Ford trucks. [Ford’s] heart was in the right place, but they had to take care of business. As everybody knows, the business of selling cars has not been a good business, so they have to think of their business first before their philanthropy. But they did make a statement, and they did help us.

Wild horse activists sat at a table for the very first time with people from Washington in South Dakota for the release of 50 wild horses that had been underwritten by Ford onto private land that included a refuge. There are two organizations in South Dakota that have refuges for wild horses: One is the ISBN-B, and one is the Dark Horse Ranch. These [horses] are being released on the Dark Horse Ranch, which is a Mr. Hyde’s place. We all sat down—two lobbyists and somebody from the BLM—and what could have been a very messy thing wound up being something that seemed reasonable. Everybody agreed that there had to be castration of stallions and a certain management of the herds on public lands so that they would not breed as rapidly as they have been doing. Everybody thought that this was a good way forward and that the money used to capture and contain the horses—which is a very expensive proposition—could be allocated and applied to herding, rounding up, and castrating and releasing males. The males can still have harems, as they need to in their social life, but they can’t breed. You need a moratorium on that for a while, so they’re only a few breeding.

Every time we tamper with nature, there is always some sort of a negative side effect, but there has to be some kind of active movement to curtail the population so that [the horses] don’t overrun. There are a lot of predators in the national parks that have been destroyed. Once again, human beings have tried to manage everything, so the wolves and wildcats are few in number. There is nothing to predate on the horses.

How did your interest in the jaguar movement begin?

Well, I think that we have to look at the activities of the top predators to understand that there is a balance in nature. We need the top predators in order for the whole chain below them to work. As we’re seeing the diminishing amounts of sharks in the ocean, the imbalance that that creates is considerable. It has an effect on the entire food chain—whether it is terrestrial or aquatic.

So, jaguars, which, of course, have a very special kind of countenance—the top feline predator [and] certainly the top predator in the New World—used to exist from the tip of Chile all the way along the southern part of the United States to Florida. It was last year that some stupid wildlife management idiot captured a wild jaguar somewhere in New Mexico, and because he was so dumb, he tried to tranquilize it in order to collar it. Without ever trying to call somebody who knew what they were doing, he killed it. That was the first jaguar that had been seen in, oh my gosh, 50 years.

Listening to you express how passionate you are about saving animals, I was surprised to learn about your involvement with bullfighting.

That was a long time ago. It was the result of family friends and being on their ranches and taping some young cows and going to the bullfights. It was part of a tradition, and I don’t really want to talk about that.

That’s not something you’re interested in anymore?

No. It was a long, long time ago.

Did your vegetarianism spark your involvement with the Bushmeat Crisis and Farm Sanctuary?

No, the Bushmeat Crisis was actually started by one of my little protégés, Heather Eves. She began theBushmeat Crisis activities in Washington and spread the organization throughout West Africa. The BushmeatCrisis is actually all over—not only in sub-Saharan Africa but South America, as well. The consumption of monkeys and wildlife from the jungles [raises several concerns], but the actual trade in primate meat is most concerning. . . In many cases, disease spreads as a result of the consumption, but, at the same time, human beings bring it with them.

I love that we have these quarantines for animals that come from abroad, but we never have any quarantines for the people that come from those very same countries. And they don’t have to travel with any health documents. They don’t have to have a health test. They don’t have to be tested for tuberculosis. They don’t have to have anything—just a visa. And they don’t have to show any [record of] inoculations, which is very odd because, in the past, we had to.

What legislation changed that?

We as American citizens had to show [proof of] our inoculations because we wouldn’t be allowed back in the country if we had gone to countries where we would be exposed to things [and] where people had not been inoculated. Then we came back [from] visiting countries where they were known to have tuberculosis or polio—whatever it was that we had eradicated and that we [still] had to prove through inoculations that we weren’t carrying. Well, we don’t have that anymore. I still keep all of my little records of inoculations because I travel a great deal to unusual places. I want to make sure that, if I get sick, I can tell a doctor, “This is what I’ve been inoculated against, so let’s rule those things out.”

It’s those simple things that, for some reason, have disappeared. Now, we have people transporting luggage that’s been exposed to what? God only knows what comes in and out of this country.

How do you see your role within animal welfare growing and evolving, and where do you think it will end up?

I guess because I don’t get as much press anymore as all the people spending time on their careers—rather than in the fields as I was doing—I have to pay more attention to my career to get back some more media attention. For those of us that have been in the field and have really done the work and continue to do the work, it’s difficult to direct the kind of generosity out there to good causes because we don’t get the press.

I’ve been fortunate that I have been out there in the world, and I have had a chance to speak to people. I always want them to understand that there are grassroots efforts that are the real thing. They don’t have offices in big cities. They don’t have huge mailing lists. They don’t have celebrities on their board of directors. They’re doing the real work, and they need the infusion of funds, and I can direct those funds.

If you’re interested in bonobos, I can tell you who’s doing the work because I know them in the field, and they don’t have an office anywhere. I can tell you who’s doing the work with lowland gorillas in the field [and] who is putting their life at stake every day. They need the money, not some big office that has a big name. [They are] the people who are actually doing the work.
That’s what I think is important to remember. Not the flash, not the big-name organization—but the people who are really doing the work. Some of them have websites, but it’s incumbent upon everybody who feels strongly about a given species or about the environment to really do their homework and not just go for the glitz. Not just go [for an organization] because it’s easy to find some celebrity that signs their name onto something, but to find out who’s on that organization, how much they spend on overhead, where the money goes, and how long it takes for that money to get into the field because the people in the field need the money directly. You don’t need to pay an administrator to get the money to somebody. Our office has always been open to people who want to find out who some of the frontline fighters are, and we are certainly still available for that service.

In November, Simon and Schuster will publish One from the Hart, a collection of your memoirs. What motivated you to do this book at this point in your life?

I had two life-changing events that occurred last year. I had an extraordinary relationship with my mother. We were best friends, we traveled together, and we had fun our entire lives. For the last 27 years of her life, she shared the house that I have in California. She was 96-years-old, she developed pneumonia in both of her lungs, and she passed away in January. Even when it’s 96, when a person has been that important to your life and that close to you; it’s always too soon. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have had a great relationship with our mother/father . . . when you lose your parents, you’re no longer a child, no matter what age you are. That is a HUGE adjustment. It’s a huge realization to have that ballast for your life removed. It’s gone. You cannot call them.

And, six weeks before she died, I got the news that I had lung cancer. We found a spot in the upper lobe of my right lung. We [had] watched it for five years, and it started to change. While I was sort of trying to recover my equilibrium from my mom’s death, I had to have the surgery on my lung. But, I am very, very fortunate that we detected it early, and the lobe was removed by a brilliant doctor, and chemotherapy and radiation were not necessary. We monitor it every six months to make sure that it’s still not reappearing anywhere—as much as it can be monitored because we never know about cancer. It’s now an epidemic. It is terrifying.

Almost everybody that you hear is dying, at any age, seems to be dying of cancer. We need to look around us [and at] the radiation in our television, phones, and microwave. There are a couple of other little things that are interesting like off gases. This is not rocket science; this just makes sense. It’s incumbent upon all of us to examine what we do on a daily basis. There are things that are obviously beyond our control, but the pathology of most cancers is that they find the weakest link in your system, and the weakest link in my system must have been my lungs.

I was a smoker. However, the third opinion I got was in New York City, and it was from the head of pulmonary at Mount Sinai. He is also he head of the task force that studies the first responders to 9/11. My form of cancer, alveolar carcinoma, is generally associated with something you inhale. Therefore, it was always thought of as the smoker’s cancer or the second-hand smoke cancer. [The doctor] said, “We’re rewriting the book.” With what they’ve seen with the first responders to 9/11 and what they inhaled, there was no way to predict the cocktail of carcinogens that was in the air. That cocktail didn’t just disappear. It went throughout the city, across the country, and around the world. Not only did that go around the world—every terrible manufacturing plant in China is spewing out some extraordinarily toxic fumes. They’re circumnavigating the globe and are not just sitting over in China. We do not live in a bubble. There are measurable toxins in the Arctic that are coming from China.

If you want to break it all down, maybe we don’t see as much smog in the air as we did 30 years ago, but it’s there. It’s not brown anymore. It’s white, but it’s there. Every single thing in our environment—all of the fabrics, fabric softeners, spray containers, chemicals in our cleaning solvents—just think, nobody was exposed to that sort of stuff [30 years ago].

Another point of consideration is that all of these animals [that] are sharing the world with us are also exposed to these things. People are eating these animals, so they then are consuming whatever has affected the animals.

That’s right.

It’s a vicious cycle.

It is.

And to not consider the condition of the natural world is the harbinger of everything. We’re doing nothing. The byproduct of our rushing around is the destruction of the planet, which we seem to have lost any responsibility for. We seem to be reluctant as a species unilaterally. And we’ve completely forgotten about the most important thing in this country. Our attention span is like a nanosecond these days.

Don’t get tired of what you’re doing. I’m sure other people will catch on.

I guess I have no choice. As dismal as it seems sometimes, you just have to keep fighting.

By: Megan Bender

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