Elliot Katz, North Bay animal activist, remembered as ‘trailblazer who liked being arrested’

San Francisco Chronicle

A man may be dog’s best friend, but dogs would be hard-pressed to find a better friend than Dr. Elliot Katz. That goes for most other members of the animal kingdom.

Monkeysgoats, chickens, chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants — all of them owe a debt to Katz, a veterinarian who founded the San Rafael-based In Defense of Animals and became one of the premier animal rights activists of modern times.

Katz died peacefully on March 24 at his home. He was 86.

On Saturday, his colleagues and friends gathered online for a memorial service that took note of his battles, his lobbying, his speech-making and his 37 arrests.

Among the mourners was anthropologist Jane Goodall, who called her friend a “real trailblazer who liked being arrested.”

Another was his daughter, Danielle Katz, who remembered how her father always treated her beloved friend, Ginger, as a co-equal member of the family. Ginger was a rat.

Animals, Katz often said, are individuals. They have their own interests, which rarely include being a part of circuses, hunts, laboratory experiments or a human’s dinner plate.

He led demonstrations, sit-ins and marches. He blocked roads to animal laboratories. He did battle on behalf of rats at UC Berkeley, on behalf of beagles at UC Davis and on behalf of chimpanzees at the now-defunct Coulston Foundation in New Mexico.

He helped make popular a celebration known as Fur Free Friday, and he handed out stickers that said “Love Animals, Don’t Eat Them.” He was silver haired and, his friends said, soft-hearted and joyfully argumentative.

After founding In Defense of Animals in 1983, his friends noted, he chained himself to a bulldozer in Berkeley to prevent the construction of a new laboratory and blocked a road in Davis leading to another laboratory.

“They read me my rights and put the handcuffs on me,” Katz recalled in a video interview shown during the service. “I realized it was one of the powerful moments in my life, being willing to take the consequences of my beliefs.”

Animals, he said, “are not property and we are not their owners.” He preferred the terms “companion” and “guardian’’ — and abhorred “master.”

A native of New York and a graduate of the veterinary school at Cornell University, Katz grew up tossing wayward starfish back into the Atlantic Ocean and rescuing lost dogs with his father on Long Island.

His friends, many sobbing, recalled his wit, smile, dedication and courage.

“He was a tidal wave,” said Doll Stanley, director of the Justice for Animals campaign. “He was fearless. I miss the twinkle in his eye and the sword in his hand.”

Current In Defense of Animals President Marilyn Kroplick recalled how she bonded with Katz two decades ago over the death of her Yorkshire puppy.

Her beloved mentor, she said, believed in a world “where all sentient beings, human and nonhuman, could live their full life span and realize their full potential.”

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: srubenstein@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SteveRubeSF