An expert handler of animals for television and the cinema, Pat Derby eventually denounced what she saw as cruelty in their training. A passionate advocate of animal rights, she helped to set up a huge sanctuary in California, where she tended rescued animals.
Born in east Sussex, Derby moved to New York when she was 15 to try to find work as a dancer and actor. She then settled in San Francisco, where she was employed in a nightclub.
There, she met Ted Derby, with whom she set up a roadside zoo. They hired their animals out to film and television producers and then married. But Derby fell out with her husband over his insistence on using an electric prod to train cattle.
While working on a television commercial featuring Farrah Fawcett and a puma, she met her long-term partner, Ed Stewart. Together, they established their first sanctuary.
Derby once said of her work: “I went into that occupation with the feeling that, if people earn their living off animals, they must love them. But it was really horrifying to me when I saw how even little dogs had to live.”
While working for Walt Disney, she walked out after a young lion cub was made to appear in the same scene time after time under harsh studio lights.
In 1976, she published an expose of some of the techniques used by her colleagues, although in fairness she said that the various Lassies she worked with over the years were always treated well. The book won awards, but it spelt the end of her career in showbusiness.
In time, she and Stewart ran three sanctuaries in California, the largest of them extending to 2,300 acres.
Pat Derby, who was born on June 7, 1942, died on February 15, aged 70.