WALNUT CREEK -- Animals have a great friend in Leroy Moyer, a 76-year-old Walnut Creek man who's devoting his life to stopping violence against animals and seeing that people who abuse and kill pets are brought to justice.
It was 20 years ago last December that Moyer formed the advocacy nonprofit Voice for Pets, a result of his outrage over a Danville man who showed off his military training to a group of young people by torturing and beheading his family's cat, and got a simple misdemeanor charge and $200 fine. Since then, there's rarely an animal cruelty case in the Bay Area where Moyer isn't at every important court appearance, alerting the media, rallying animal lovers to take action and pressuring law enforcement and judges to see that a perpetrator is punished to the fullest extent of the law.
"Unfortunately, in the legal system, there are still people who don't think it's a big deal to do severe harm to dogs or cats or other animals. They don't see the violence perpetrated on other species as concerning as violence perpetrated on human beings," said veterinarian Elliot Katz, founder of In Defense of Animals, an international animal rights and rescue organization based in San Rafael.
"Leroy plays such an important part in trying to bring accountability to perpetrators of such violence and at the same time educate our people in our legal system," Katz said.
Katz, who himself was once threatened with a shotgun by an East Contra Costa County farmer after offering to treat a starved heifer, said this can be dangerous work. "It amazes me how he will on some level endanger himself by standing up against and challenging people who many times have violent histories."
Moyer was raised in Alameda in extreme poverty. He never went to school, but at age 19 a thirst for knowledge prompted him to teach himself to read. He eventually started his own manufacturing business, producing counter-culture novelties like roach clips and tie-dye shirts for head shops and jewelry for Macy's. Later, he sold the business and ran his own art gallery. Although he is currently between homes and staying in a camper van with his cat Henry, his activism has not slowed.
Most recently, he's been lobbying the Berkeley City Council to abandon a tentative plan to use kill traps to rid Cesar Chavez Park of ground squirrels and gophers that the city says are releasing toxins by burrowing in the landfill.
Moyer, a humble man who would rather talk about the cause than himself, said his passion for animals was born out of love for a tan-and-black tabby cat named Eros who died in 1993.
"He changed my life. Cats don't trust easily, but once you are given their trust, something magical happens," Moyer said.
Moyer doesn't like to be the center of attention, but he provides a unique and hands-on service, said Nancy Lyon, president of the Ohlone Humane Society in Fremont.
"Leroy is a bridge builder," Lyon said. "He's not only out there to make sure people are held accountable, he reaches out to families of the offenders to figure out why the cruelty happened and how to prevent it from happening again. He doesn't just advocate, he actually gets in the mix, right in there."
Contra Costa County prosecutor Molly Manoukian said she recalls Moyer giving her perspective on what punishments were being given to animal abusers across California. In 2010 she prosecuted a Richmond landlord who beat her tenant's miniature pinscher Taz to near death, hid him in a plastic bag and led the owner on a high-speed chase when confronted about the animal's whereabouts.
The landlord was convicted of three felonies, but the sentencing judge gave her probation and electronic home detention over incarceration because he thought it was unlikely she would remained jailed in the overcrowded prison system.
"That was a case where my victim family couldn't watch the preliminary hearing because they were witnesses. (Moyer) was a valuable presence in the courtroom when the victim owners couldn't be," Manoukian said.
Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson said his office gets more letters from people concerned about animal abuse cases than about any other type of crime. That's in part because of Moyer and subscribers to his Voices for Pets newsletter about current cruelty cases.
"We take these cases very seriously, and every letter is considered and put in the court file," Peterson said. "The judge is the ultimate decision-maker of the sentence, and I believe those letters and community interest in a case has influence on what they ultimately have to do."
The cause is not without its disappointments and frustrations, Moyer said. Last year, he campaigned for a felony conviction and jail time for a Walnut Creek man who slit the throat of an untrained 10-month-old German shepherd who had shown some mildly aggressive behavior toward his children. One judge reduced the crime to a misdemeanor at a preliminary hearing, and another refused to allow Moyer to be heard at sentencing.
"It's been harder and harder for us to get jail time even in the most serious animal cruelty cases," Moyer said. "But we keep trying to move forward. We don't have all the answers."
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.
CLAIM TO FAME: Founded Voices For Pets, a nonprofit group of volunteers committed to bringing animal abusers to justice.
QUOTE: "I think the majority of (the) world's problems come from a mindset that accepts the idea of a chosen people, a superior race, a superior species and until we can overcome that and value all life, none of us will be free."
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