On Father’s Day, daughter recalls Hoyt’s devotion to animals

John Hoyt passed away last spring, but his memory resounds strongly this Father’s Day with daughter Anne Hoyt William, who recalls how her father’s influence and accomplishments shaped her own life’s commitment to healing both people and animals.

Anne Williams with her first horse, Takota. Courtesy photo.
Anne Williams with her first horse, Takota. Courtesy photo.

According to Williams, a physical therapist and founder of Mountainside Physical Therapy on U.S. 211, her father John A. Hoyt, a much-heralded champion of animal rights and longtime president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), left an enduring and inspiring legacy in his work to improve the treatment of animals, in the U.S., around the globe – and at home.

Indeed, it forms the rationale for her professional work: Anne dedicates herself to helping others through her physical therapy practice, which proves effective not only for many area patients at Mountainside Physical Therapy here and its sister practice, Lakeside Physical Therapy in Orange County, but also as she supports veterinarians with curative therapies for animals large and small.

“My father always liked to help animals in need,” she says, recalling a story from her father’s boyhood on the family farm in West Virginia. After he saw a worker brutally beating a horse, she recounted, he ran to his grandmother (a vegetarian who loved animals and kept pet sheep, each of whom she named). Anne’s grandmother halted the horse abuse and fired the perpetrator, putting an end to what both believed was an intolerable injustice. “My dad believed that people should internalize and practice good and not condone or act in an evil manner,” she added.

Asked how her father, the son of a Baptist minister, who himself became a Presbyterian minister in Rochester, N.Y., landed the top job at the U.S. Humane Society, she says a fellow minister had recommended him for the post “because of his winning ways in sermonizing.”

According to news reports, the Humane Society was founded in 1954 to campaign for reduced suffering among animals, and had only 10,000 members and little public impact when Hoyt took the helm in 1970.

However, as the Wall Street Journal reported in an obituary after Hoyt’s death, he used his ministerial skills to proselytize, and also launched direct mail and other full-blown campaigns to expand “the group’s mission to include combating animal fighting, changing slaughtering practices, preserving wildlife and lobbying for regulation of medical testing that used animals. As membership grew, Mr. Hoyt recruited dozens of veterinarians, wildlife scientists and educators who increased the Humane Society’s outreach and programs. Mr. Hoyt also created an investigations unit that sent undercover agents into cockfighting rings and puppy mills, and then publicized what they found.”

HSUS membership went from 10,000 to 3.5 million under his leadership, which continued until 1996. Hoyt’s vision was to collect people who had the knowledge, expertise, personal drive and common goal of increasing the awareness of injustices against animals and the environment, Anne notes.

“He was with Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the Communist Party, at the Kremlin promoting the upcoming ‘Earth Summit’ in 1991, when the Soviet government was toppled,” she says. “He managed to escape Moscow and find a plane out of the country via Siberia.”

Anne recalls too, how her father did not allow fame or friendship to influence his thinking. He turned down Michael Jackson when the famous performer asked that his pet chimpanzee become the Humane Society’s mascot. “His answer was no,” she says. “He believed strongly that people should not keep wild animals in captivity.”

Another celebrity friend was actress Betty White, a strong animal-rights advocate, who kept in close contact with the Hoyts. “I gave one of her pets a therapeutic massage at her home in Hollywood,” Anne says.

Anne’s father, John A. Hoyt, with Betty White at a Humane Society of the United States event in the 1980s. Courtesy photo.
Anne’s father, John A. Hoyt, with Betty White at a Humane Society of the United States event in the 1980s. Courtesy photo.

“Our family lived in Montgomery County, Md., and we all had lots of animals growing up – dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, you name it,” she says. Early in her professional therapy career, Anne says, a poster caught her eye and inspired her to expand her therapy work to include animals, naming her animal therapy practice Healing Hands for Horses.

As Anne explains, the poster was a satire which suggested the best way to treat sick or maimed horses was “to shoot them!” One of dad’s friends was “Wild Horse Annie” (Velma B. Johnson), a well-known advocate of humane treatment and care of America’s wild horses. She felt strongly that the federal management, protection and control of American wild horses and burros was essential. Her work resulted in passage of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act – which, Anne notes, needs greater public attention and updates to continue insuring the survival and safekeeping of America’s wild horses, which are again in increased jeopardy.

“The poster alerted me to seek a better way of coping with injured animals and after already earning professional credentials as a physical therapist, I next headed off to study animal therapy. I went to Equisage in Round Hill, Va., to study massage techniques for horses and also took extensive therapy training to earn professional credentials, studying animal rehabilitation at a center in Florida,” Anne says.

While at Equisage, Anne took note of the owner’s broken-down pony and was told by the instructor that it had failed to respond to years of therapeutic treatment. Anne offered to try to help the sad looking animal. The pony responded to her therapies, raised its head high for the first time in memory and ran prancing around the fields, all to the amazement of the instructor (who, Anne says, congratulated her on her success and refunded the cost of the tuition).

Later, while traveling in Ireland with her sister Peggy Hoyt, a lawyer who works on behalf of humane animal treatment, Anne says the two were followed, for miles, on a trail ride by a homeless dog which had suffered a serious injury. The ladies managed to adopt the dog, and Anne used her therapeutic skills to help restore the pup, now named Fiona, to full health and a new career as a service dog.

Peggy Hoyt’s first legal book about estate planning (“All My Children Wear Fur Coats”) was written in response to the inadvertent neglect of victims’ animals following the 9/11 terrorist attack. Her book urges people to have advance plans for their animals in the event of disaster, offering ideas and guides for coping.

“Dad taught us all that people are ‘first’ but stressed that animals were left in the care of humans, and provide great solace and care for humans as a return for their kindness,” Anne says. “Animals can and do serve as physical therapists for people.

“I always loved the tale of ‘Heidi,’ the story of the little girl who was ill and sent to the Swiss Alps to live and recover her health. When I moved here with my family to live on land near the Blue Ridge Mountains, I too, felt the fresh air and therapeutic effect of this magic-vortex-like place,” Anne says.

“Lucky for me, I live here and work professionally to provide relief and help to people and animals, who can benefit from the skilled helping hand of someone who believes they can attain full health and strives daily to help them achieve that end.”

Anne Williams’ Healing Hands for Horses service, which offers veterinarian-prescribed therapies for horses and other animals, can be reached at 540-987-8824.

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