Mary Tyler Moore’s ardent support of animal rights once ruffled a few of her neighbors’ feathers.
The actress, who died at the age of 80 on Wednesday, was never afraid to fight for the rights of all animals, and she proved her dedication to the cause when New York City’s most famous bird needed her help.
Pale Male the red-tailed hawk was hatched in 1990 and rose to fame when birdwatcher Marie Winn, who gave him his name, wrote about him in her best-seller Red Tails in Love. According to Winn, Pale Male was one of the first red tails to nest in a building, as opposed to a tree or cliff.
He also had great taste in real estate, making his home and raising his many hatchlings on top of a swanky Fifth Avenue building overlooking Central Park. His neighbors included Woody Allen, Paula Zahn and, fortunately for him, Moore. In December 2004, the co-op board that controlled the building removed Pale Male’s enormous nest, complaining about the droppings and half-eaten animal carcasses that sometimes fell to the streets below. They were also hoping to do away with the bird watchers who often congregated outside the building with their binoculars.
Moore decided to take a stand. The actress attracted international media attention, protesting alongside other bird enthusiasts with placards outside her own building. Eventually, the building agreed to negotiate, leading to discussions ABC News reported “seemed to rival the Paris peace talks.” Finally, an agreement was reached between the building and the local Audubon society, and Pale Male and his partner Lola were allowed to return to their nest, which the building replaced.
Moore’s dedication to protecting animals became famous after the incident, but the origin of her passion for the cause is a lesser known tale. During a 2002 interview with The Pet Press, a Los Angeles-based monthly magazine, Moore revealed her passion for animal rights took shape when she was 9 years old. “I was coming home from school, and I saw a man had cornered a dog and was beating him with a stick,” she explained. “I yelled at him to stop but he wouldn’t, so I just dropped my schoolbooks and ran and jumped him and beat him around the head and shoulders and kicked him with my feet.
“That was the first time I felt passion and anger at man’s inhumanity,” she continued. “I beat the man up as best I could, but I didn’t undertake any active role until many year’s later.”
Moore loved all animals, telling the magazine she even cared for the ones “whom I have no particular feeling, like snakes or alligators or any of the creepy crawly fellows.” But it wasn’t until she wrapped up her two hit TV series, first The Dick Van Dyke Show and then The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that she was able to dedicate herself more fully to activism.
“I help wherever I can. Whether that means going to Washington to lobby Congress or just showing up for a benefit and signing autographs, whatever needs to be done I do happily,” she told the magazine. At the time, she had joined the ASPCA in their goal to make New York City a no-kill city.
In order to accomplish this goal, Moore cofounded Broadway Barks, an annual animal adoption fundraiser with her friend, actress Bernadette Peters. In 2002, Moore reported that N.Y.C. killed 40,000 dogs and cats ever year, but in Broadway Barks statement from 2006, she announced, “the euthanasia rate for dogs and cats in the city’s Animal Care & Control shelters fell below 50 percent. A total of 20,581 animals were placed into homes. 9,313 were adopted; 9,937 were transferred for eventual adoption to local shelters and rescue groups; and 1,331 were returned to their owners.”
Moore also practiced what she preached. She was a vegetarian, explaining to Larry King in 2005, “I can’t go along with killing an animal. I just can’t do it. It’s not necessary. We have so many other things we can eat that don’t require slaughter. Can’t do it.” She also refrained from wearing leather or other animal products.
The actress poked fun at her vegetarianism in 1996, when she appeared as herself on an episode of Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom Ellen. Her storyline involved praising DeGeneres for trying to save a 65-year-old lobster from being eaten at a seafood restaurant.
Throughout her life, Moore personally rescued numerous animals from shelters, looking after a number of dogs, cats, horses and even goats. “Animals can give you so much in terms of a warm, full, rich feeling about yourself and your life,” she told The Pet Press. “When you sit down with an animal or just watch it playing off on its own with another animal, you are inspired. And that stays with you. And that gives you more to go on than you ever had before.”