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.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.