Celebrating the Life of Dr. Elliot Katz, DVM

Guardians home

Dr. Elliot Martin Katz was a trailblazer who founded In Defense of Animals — one of the nation’s foremost animal rights organizations. His passing leaves a deep loss in the fight against animal experimentation, factory farming, and other abusive industries.




It’s impossible to sum up four decades of a 24/7 mission, and the incredible contribution to the animal rights movement Dr. Katz has made, but his efforts are still felt today, and he will be remembered by many.

Dr. Katz was a fearsome adversary to some, and was admired and moved by others. You might have found him lying in front of a bus taking attendees to Six Flags, in handcuffs being escorted from the headquarters of the Korean Embassy, protesting Proctor & Gamble, or being sprayed in the face with mace at a McDonald’s that he hadn’t yet entered. He took work home every night, he demanded productivity of his staff, and he backed them.

Dr. Katz was not a man to mince words, nor to back down. The twinkle in his eye, his bright, exhilarating smile, and charisma often covered his moments of penetrating directness.

He was perceived in many ways but his accomplishments on all fronts were astounding. He was a mentor and hero to many. The telling thing about his successes is that while he had followers, he brought together individualists with their own mindset as to how the war for animals must, can, and should be won, and taking little for himself, he was among the lowest salaried heads of non-profit organizations.

Dr. Katz never turned my requests down and I never had to seek his approval to act immediately without hesitation for every member of our sentient earthly family.

— Doll Stanley, founding member of In Defense of Animals and Justice for Animals Campaign Director



With the passing of Elliot Katz, animals have lost a true friend and defender. He was a real trailblazer. He was one of the outstanding personalities in the early days of animal rights, when I was just learning about all the abuses going on. He organized demonstrations, and he liked being arrested, because he said it drew attention to the cause. He filed so many lawsuits that ended so many cruel and unnecessary experiments on animals. He launched a campaign that would make humans the guardians rather than the owners of animals.

Sadly, I never got to spend much time with Elliot, though we did meet several times, especially during his successful effort to close down the terrible Coulston Foundation, which was the biggest supplier of chimpanzees for medical and toxicology experiments. But even in the briefest of meetings, Elliot's passion and absolute commitment to helping animals shone through. He was vibrant. His legacy is powerful, because all those he inspired continue to work with determination on behalf of animals around the world. And ever more people are joining the battle.

He will not be forgotten. And I'm sure that where he's gone, he's now surrounded by the joyous and grateful animals whose lives he saved, and whose lives he improved. May you rest in peace.

— Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & U.N. Messenger of Peace


Dr. Katz was a strong and determined voice at the forefront of the animal rights movement. He was part of the team that occupied the National Institutes of Health headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, to protest grotesque head injury experiments on monkeys that PETA had exposed at the University of Pennsylvania. President Ronald Reagan was having polyps removed across the street at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center while Dr. Katz and I sat on the floor and in the office of the department head and argued that the experiments were not science and didn’t deserve to be funded and noted that the experimenters had been caught smoking during brain surgery and mocking monkeys they had disabled. We talked until the department head ran out of counterarguments and left. We stayed for four days, and the monkey lab lost its funding.

— Ingrid Newkirk, President of PETA


The departure of Dr. Katz is a great loss to the cause of Animal Welfare & Animal Rights. I follow two things that he always spoke about. One is that we are Guardians and not "Owners" of animals and second, he never referred to any animal as 'it'... always as he or she. Whenever I draft any letter, email or report, I have followed this.

Dr. Katz was such a loving and caring person. I first met him in June 2005 in Los Angeles at my daughter's condo. I was immediately taken in by his warm personality and warm smile. After learning more about IDA India, he spontaneously offered to support our work by giving us USD 50,000 annually! I was so much taken aback that I asked him if his intention was to take over IDA India! He laughed and said 'No way! I cannot do what you do in India'. He was not able to digest the fact that none of us take any remuneration from IDA India. That was the beginning of a long relationship between IDA & IDA India.

I met him again when Fizzah and I attended a conference on Animal Rights that was organized by IDA. Thereafter I got an opportunity to meet him in 2011 when I visited San Rafael. Another memorable meeting.

I cherish all the meetings with this wonderful person, and feel blessed to have been associated with him. He will be greatly missed by all of you at IDA, by us all at IDA India, and the animals that he so much cared for.

We pray for eternal peace to his soul!

— Sudnya Patkar, IDA-India Founder and Honorary Secretary


I first met Dr. Katz in 2002. Upon telling him about Bernard, my beloved but sickly Yorkshire Terrier puppy bought from a pet store for me as a gift, he educated me on the horrors of puppy mills. He told me about the Guardian Credo, which explains how animals are our fellow beings who deserve to be thought of as individuals with their own autonomy and interests. His boundless compassion helped me to realize that animals are not our property, and we are not their owners.

His soaring passion for animal rights ignited my own. Essentially strangers at the time, I felt his deep compassion. Now 18 years later, and still inspired by that day, I forever will hold his spirit close within my heart.

— Marilyn Kroplick, President of In Defense of Animals



Elliot was one of the world's driving forces for countless years in the general field of animal protection. He was kind, passionate, and always open to talking with me and others about the numerous problems with which animal advocates were confronted. Elliot always was present when I spoke with him and invariably offered words of wisdom about how to go about dealing with the never-ending situations that arise for people who tirelessly work on behalf of nonhuman animals. His unwavering voice and legacy are timeless and he will be sorely missed.

— Dr. Marc Bekoff, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder


I came to know an altogether different man in our four decades of friendship — sensitive, loving, supportive, and even tender.

Born in New York City, Elliot was a 1958 graduate of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Even then, he challenged practices he believed to be needlessly cruel.

Elliot then became immersed in Zen Buddhism at a Zen Center in the San Francisco Bay area, followed by establishing City Celebration, an organization to help immigrants retain their indigenous art forms. Indeed, Elliot was a force in the Bay Area arts scene.

I attended many of the events, and the embrace of both immigrants and their art forms enriched performers and audiences alike. He predictably clashed with the board of directors, and it didn't end well for Elliot. Still, he left an indelible imprint on Bay Area arts.

Elliot first became involved in animal advocacy after that, forming Californians for Responsible Research to protest against laboratory conditions at U.C. Berkeley. He then founded In Defense of Animals in 1983.

His two major passions were vivisection and his "baby," the Guardian Campaign, which focuses on changing the language of animal ownership to that of “guardianship.” Indeed, of nearly a dozen times I consulted for him, one was specifically focused on initiating that campaign. His belief, shared by me, is that as long as other beings are considered "property" under the law, our progress will be limited to the margins.

One of his happiest days was when the entire state of Rhode Island changed their humane statutes to use the word “guardian.” Elliot realized that didn't move the bar in the larger legal realm, but he saw it as seed-planting.

He felt the suffering of other beings as acutely as anyone I ever knew in the movement… I feel privileged to have had a front-row seat for four decades with this larger-than-life man.

— Ed Duvin, considered by many to be the father of the no-kill movement


In the summer of 2004, I was 19 years old, and filled with righteous anger after reading Peter Singer's Animal Liberation, a book that truly did transform my life. I was determined to speak out against the systematic torture of animals in laboratories, and resolved to travel in my personal vehicle to each of the (then) eight National Primate Research Centers around the country, to hold 9-day vigils outside each one.

A few organizations responded with form letters. But Dr. Elliot Katz took the time to actually call and connect with me. I think the determination and zeal that came through in my letter resonated on a personal level with Elliot. He extended meaningful support to me from him and IDA. It was the first time I had been "plugged in" to the broader animal rights community.

I had a few additional conversations with Elliot ahead of and during my trip. As many who knew him will attest, Elliot had a particularly deep concern for the plight of animals abused in laboratories. He also believed strongly in the importance of supporting and maintaining a grassroots foundation in the animal rights movement, and not allowing ourselves to become overprofessionalized and lose sight of the raw passion that sparked our commitment in the first place.

Dr. Katz made sure I was supported throughout my cross-country trip. At Elliot's direction, IDA helped cover my expenses, which consisted mostly of gas, food, and campground rental fees. IDA also sent me a laptop to liveblog my trip (this seems so quaint in 2021), and VHS copies of a PSA that had recently been recorded by Dr. Jane Goodall about primate vivisection, as well as other assorted anti-vivisection literature. When I reached northern California ahead of my UC-Davis stop, Elliot invited me to come to the IDA office, where he made sure I received what seemed like a hero's welcome, especially after 3 long, grueling summer months in my car and in campgrounds. The support he extended to me — philosophical, personal, and material — was greatly appreciated, and made me feel connected to a movement bigger than myself for the first time.

I am sure Elliot was under no illusions that my quixotic journey would lead to the closure of these gargantuan, federally-funded primate laboratories. Indeed, seven of them are still in operation, receiving record taxpayer funding. But I think Dr. Katz understood the importance of cultivating rather than extinguishing someone's passion for animal rights and activsim. If I had not received the support of him and IDA, it's hard to say what my trajectory would have been. But now, nearly 20 years later, I'm as dedicated as ever to animal liberation. Elliot's passion for animals and the animal rights movement was infectious, and will continue to be through those he inspired and supported.

— Jeremy Beckham, MPA, MPH, Executive Director of Utah Animal Rights Coalition


This is a photo taken of me in Waveland, Mississippi, in 2005 when I assisted with animal rescue after Hurricane Katrina, thanks to In Defense of Animals. I'm standing next to the transport van that IDA and HSUS provided for the volunteers' use. The van is next to the quonset hut that IDA provided, along with air mattresses, for housing volunteers.

We used the van to transport volunteers to and from the nearest airport in Jackson and to transport some animals to IDA's Hope Sanctuary, where I was able to meet Doll Stanley in person. I used it once to drive to another town to launder the soiled towels and pet beds for the Waveland animal shelter, which had lost their washers and dryers as well as all electricity due to the flooding. And while there, I used the money my friends donated to me to fill up the van's gas tank. The trip was a memorable experience, and I thank IDA for that opportunity and for all its wonderful work.

— Janelle Davidson, IDA Volunteer


My hero since I first volunteered for IDA in 1986 and had the honor of meeting him. His quiet but fierce determination to change the world for animals has been inspiring. In my opinion, he built the most effective Animal Welfare Organization that has ever existed. RIP Dr. Katz. The world is now a better place for animals.

— Linda Calbreath, IDA Volunteer


Years ago I threw Dr. Katz a surprise 75th birthday party in Los Angeles. This is a picture of us during the luncheon. This day holds a special place in my heart.

— Rachel Weil, Weil Public Relations




Dr. Katz would want us to honor him by helping animals. Please pay tribute to his warrior’s heart and his strong determination to act now in defense of animals:

      • Choose Vegan! Animals raised for food are among the most exploited and least protected animals on Earth; a vegan lifestyle can make a difference!
      • Sign the Guardian Pledge and affirm that animals are not objects but sentient beings deserving of compassion, understanding, respect and rights.
      • Use Cruelty-Free Products that prevent animals suffering in cruel experiments and sign our alert to ban cruel cosmetics tests on animals.
      • Act Now In Defense of Animals by signing our urgent alerts for animals in need.

If you have a tribute, memory, or photo you’d like to share to honor Dr. Katz, please do so here.

You can support our work by donating