Beverlee McGrath found her way into animal activism on the set of a TV show.
She played Lady Godiva in the 1960s television series “The Greatest Show on Earth,” a short-lived Desilu production that starred Jack Palance. McGrath, an Oxnard resident, said she saw how the large cats were treated on the show about a circus.
“The animals are heavily tranquilized and in inhumane situations,” said McGrath, who acted under the name Beverly or Beverlee Reed.
She went on to become the western regional director for the Doris Day Animal League and the Nevada state director for the Humane Society of the United States among other roles.
In California, McGrath’s efforts have included lobbying for legislation requiring the use of alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics and household items, adding agents to antifreeze to make them unpalatable to animals and banning the sale of dogs younger than 8 weeks.
McGrath, who is married to retired Superior court Judge Charles McGrath, has become a tireless lobbyist who not only works to pass bills through the California Legislature, but has also been singled out for recognition by the state of Nevada.
Nevada’s Legislature passed a proclamation honoring her efforts, establishing May 31, 2015 as Beverlee McGrath Day.
But it’s not just advocating for the animals.
McGrath has become an animal rehabilitation specialist at her home on a ranch off Gonzales Road, which is a satellite of the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas.
ROB VARELA/THE STAR Beverlee McGrath bottle feeds one of the three raccoons she is caring for in her Oxnard home.
These days, throughout her lovingly restored Victorian home, signs of her passion abound.
A small cage in her kitchen houses tiny, 2-week-old rabbits that were found dehydrated. The back porch is currently home to three small raccoons that are entering what she calls “the biting stage,” where they are introduced to solid food. Across the property she has 14 cats and one dog wandering around.
“I’ve always had animals. I was raised in Wisconsin cleaning a chicken coop before I went to school and milking cows. I learned at an early age that all species have different personalities,” McGrath said.
In addition to the bunnies and raccoons now in residence, there is also an outdoor cage where she keeps squirrels that are being reintroduced to the tall trees on the property.
She explained that in most cases, she raises small mammals to be reintroduced to the wild. But from time to time the wildlife center allows her to release them at her home, where she keeps feeding stations outside so the animals don’t go hungry.
Coming in from errands on a recent weekday morning, Charles McGrath said he supports his wife’s efforts. The couple met while she was working as a singer in a nightclub in Las Vegas. They were married in 1961. Her work with animals started around this time.
“I’m very proud of her. I admire her energy,” he said, adding that he also loves animals, especially the horses he can no longer ride because of a bad back.
Because of Beverlee’s demanding schedule — she feeds the rabbits every 90 minutes and the raccoons every three hours — the couple enjoys staying home watching British movies on television.
As president of Paw Political Action Committee, McGrath is currently keeping close tabs on various pieces of legislation going through the California Legislature, including a bill banning the use of bull hooks or other devices, such as baseball bats, to inflict pain on elephants, a gill-net bill that would phase out the nets that often catch and kill unwanted marine life only to be left in the ocean, and a beehive bill that would make it a civil action to “wrongfully and willfully” destroy hives or kill bees.”
“I track all the Legislature, writing letters of opposition and others of encouragement,” McGrath said, adding that she also informs a large network of others through emails and other media about animal-rights issues.
In her backyard, she has a pool set up to receive baby sea lions and seals, but was unable to secure the necessary permits to rehabilitate the animals, even though she lives very close to the ocean.
“What has helped the most in making animal cruelty a crime are television ads by the pet food industry showing animals living in clean homes. It’s done a lot to change the awareness of how important animals can be as members of the family,” she said.
For information about McGrath’s legislative issues, email her at email@example.com. For information about wildlife rescue, call the California Wildlife Center at 310-458-9453.
By Anne Kallas, Special to The Star