People 11 February 2019
You may know Katie Cleary from the first season of America's Next Top Model or from popular dramas like How to Get Away with Murder, but her successful career extends far beyond entertainment. As the founder of Peace 4 Animals, Cleary channels her abundant compassion for wildlife into a welfare organization that amplifies the issues of all animals (tigers being her favorite). These important issues are touched upon further in the news platform she launched called World Animal News and in her two documentaries, one of which is still in production. Below, Cleary discusses her lifelong connection with animals and her devotion towards them that has inspired her to set out on a philanthropic journey.
- What inspired you to found Peace 4 Animals? How did the process of getting it off the ground go?
I was inspired to create Peace 4 Animals when I was young because of my passion to protect endangered species. I wanted to be a veterinarian but knew that I wouldn't be able to see the animals in pain and perform surgery, so I thought another way I could make a big impact would be to start my own organization. I was going back and forth with names, and was thinking of including something with the word wildlife in the title, but that would exclude other species, so I decided to go with something that would speak for all animals. That's when I came up with Peace 4 Animals. The logo came to mind right away. I knew I wanted a peace sign with a tiger because tigers are my favorite species, and sadly one of the most endangered big cats on the planet. I had someone create the logo and began the process of filing my 501c3 status, and so my foundation began.
- Where does your passion for helping animals stem from?
From the time I was a child, my connection with animals was so strong, and I knew I wanted to be involved in helping them for the rest of my life. It wasn't until 2012 that that calling became a reality…when it was time to start my foundation and cultivate partnerships around the world with like-minded organizations and individuals who share the same passion to help save animals.
- What makes World Animal News a unique and important platform for its readers? When did you notice there was a lack of coverage on other platforms?
It was around the same time that I founded Peace 4 Animals when I knew that there was a void in the news for animal and environmental topics. One morning I woke up and had an epiphany about developing an animal news network, this was how World Animal News (WAN) started. It began as a filmed podcast and turned into a popular new site with help from a team of dedicated writers and animal lovers who help me bring our readers the latest breaking news in animal welfare from around the world every day.
- Could you tell me a little bit about your in-production film, “We Are One"? When should we expect to see it premiere?
“We Are One" is my second documentary, and the first film that I am directing. I'm really excited. It's such a unique project, and I get to travel and interview leaders in animal welfare around the world who are dedicating their lives to protecting animals. We are highlighting many issues that the public is not aware of and that need to be brought to light. The topics in the film include: factory farming, undercover investigations, anti-poaching, the ivory and rhino horn trade, palm oil/saving orangutans and animal welfare legislation. Hoping to premiere beginning of 2020.
- Have you faced any challenges as a woman in the film industry? If so, how did you overcome them?
I have faced many challenges, as a young woman who began as a model and actress and now who is producing and directing. You feel like you must constantly prove that you're just as worthy of creating important films that can make an impact in this world for the greater good. I had to persevere and overcome fears and obstacles, people saying that it's too hard or difficult, and people who tried to discourage me. I know that this is what I'm here for and what I'm meant to do. I just have to keep focused full-steam ahead and not let anything throw me off my path, so I can be a voice for the animals.
- What advice would you give to other women hoping to found their own organizations? Likewise, who has been a role model to you in the world of animal advocacy?
I would say that if you have a passion and mission in this life, that you should do everything in your power to make that dream a reality. Never give up despite what anyone tells you. This is all a test and those who stay focused and driven on something for the greater good will always succeed.
My role model growing up was Jane Goodall because of her ambition, strength and determination to make her dream of working with chimpanzees in the wild a reality, as well as becoming a global voice for animals. We need more women like her to be able to bring to light what is needed, not only to save the rest of the species that we share this planet with, but to protect our earth before it's too late.
- What has been the most gratifying moment of pursuing your mission to protect animals thus far?
The most gratifying moment is rescuing an animal, and when they look at you and know that you have saved their life!
- What is your biggest dream for Peace 4 Animals? What goals do you hope to achieve over the next few years?
My biggest dream for Peace 4 Animals is to continue growing my organization to help save millions of animals every year and be one of the largest animal welfare organization worldwide. I would also like to build the Peace 4 Animals Rescue & Rehab for Endangered Species in Africa, as well as have World Animal News become a show on a major news network like BBC so that we can mainstream animal welfare on a global scale.
"There are no good men out there," yet another woman my age declared. At 50, I was freshly divorced after two decades of marriage and motherhood. My unhappy marriage had shattered my faith in men and romantic relationships. Based on my ex-husband's opinion of my sexual appeal, I was afraid my naked body would cause future lovers to run screaming from the room. Rather gleefully, I announced to my girlfriends that I was done with men, and sex, forever.
For the first year, I got tangled in my sheets alone every night, overjoyed to have the bed and my body to myself. I felt liberated by divorce—free to be me, skip showering, and make dinner for one. But it bothered me when women decried the scarcity of men, because I'd known so many good ones—college boyfriends, my brother, my best friend from business school, etc. The first of many naked truths gradually crept up on me: I was not going to find my juju again through self-help and yoga. The feminist in me didn't want to admit it, but going for too long without men was akin to starvation.
I didn't want another husband. But I needed men, a lot of them.
The universe signaled its approval by sending Mr. Blue Eyes to me at an airport. He was 29 and perhaps the sexiest man I'd ever kissed. Being with him convinced me, pretty decisively, that men were going to heal me, even though men had destroyed me many times before. I became the female incarnation of a divorced, clichéd older man: I bought a sports car, revamped my wardrobe, and took younger lovers. "I want five boyfriends," I told my best friend KC after that first tryst ended. "Sweet, cute, smart, nice. Enough that I won't get too attached to one." My message from the frontlines of divorce at 50 is that to restore your confidence as a woman, especially in the wake of a crushing breakup, try dating outside your comfort zone, expanding your dating pool to include partners you might never have considered before. It may not be the recipe for a lasting union, but in terms of rebuilding your self-esteem, it can work wonders.
The first thing I noticed—and liked—about dating younger men is that they didn't want to marry me or make babies with me. And I didn't want that either. Frankly, I didn't even want them to spend the night. Since I'd been 11, I'd been taught to seek out and value men who wanted commitment. To my surprise, I found it refreshing, even more authentic, to be valued not for my potential as a mate, but instead for my body, intelligence, life-experience and sexuality.
And the sex! I quickly realized that—warning, blanket stereotype coming—men under 40 are more straightforward and adventurous than older men, maybe since they were raised with the Internet. You hear so often about the scourge of crude, sexist online pornography; and I agree that the depersonalization of women as sexual playthings is deeply destructive to all genders. However, from sexting to foreplay, I found younger men uniquely enthusiastic about getting naked and enjoying sex. Every younger man found my most erotic zones faster than any man my age ever had, with a lack of hesitation men over 50 seemed unable to fathom.
Also, about my big fear of getting naked in front of a younger man? Completely unfounded. I started to shake when Airport Boy took off my sundress in our hotel room. Had he ever seen a woman my age nude? How could I stand to be skin-to-skin with a body far more perfect than mine? I had given birth to eight-pound, full-fucking-term babies. I'd nursed them, too, and at times by breasts looked (from my view at least) like wet paper towels. "You have a spectacular body," he told me instead, running his hand over the cellulite on my stomach that I despised. That night I learned that younger men who seek older women accept our physical flaws—they don't expect perfection in someone 20 years their senior. These men taught me to see my body through a positive, decidedly male lens, to focus on the pretty parts (and we all have them) rather than the flaws that we all have too, whether you're 19, 29 or 59.
I even found the pillow talk lighter, easier and more intellectually stimulating, because a younger man's world view differs so vastly from the pressures of my 20-something kids, annual colonoscopies, 401K balance and mortgage payments. They have simple financial problems, like "Can I borrow a few quarters for the parking meter outside?" or "Do you have any advice on consolidating my student loans?"
Everything feels simpler with younger men. Men under 40 seem less threatened by assertive women; they grew up with them. They like cheap beer instead of expensive wine. They don't snore (as much). Leftovers a 55-year-old would scoff at look good to them. Their erections NEVER last more than four hours. Their hard-ons end the old-fashioned way and 45 minutes later they are ready for more.
But what I enjoy most about younger men is not the sex, or the cliché that they make me feel young again—because they don't. Younger men make me feel old, and to my delight, I like that. I feel valuable around younger men, precisely because I am wiser and more experienced in life, love and between the sheets.
I know I'll never end up with one for good. The naked truth is we don't have enough in common to last. One recently put it exactly right when he told me, "I love this, but there's always gonna be a glass ceiling between us." That lack of permanence, the improbability of commitment and "forever," doesn't mean I can't pick up a tip or two about self-esteem, and enjoy the magic of human connection with younger men. And vice versa. The experience can enrich us both, making us better partners for people our own ages down the road.
*My viewpoint is from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, because I am one. But change the gender identification and/or sexual orientation to whatever works for you and let me know if the same advice holds true. Thank you.