Belton Mouras Sr., a hardened combat veteran with a soft spot for animals who co-founded two national humane groups based in Sacramento, died May 14 at 90.
He had been in a lot of pain in recent years from “old war injuries, and his body was falling apart,” his daughter Cheryl Mouras Fernandez said.
Mr. Mouras was an early leader in the animal protection movement, starting in 1960 as a Colorado animal shelter director for the Humane Society of the United States. He settled in Sacramento four years later as head of the society’s California branch.
In 1968, he co-founded the Animal Protection Institute to raise public awareness of abuse of wildlife and animals in captivity. Based in Sacramento, the group pioneered direct-mail fundraising techniques and was active in high-profile campaigns to ban the use of steel-jaw traps, protect wild horses on public lands and stop the clubbing of harp seals in Canada.
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API hit turbulence under his leadership, however, amid challenges by federal tax officials, a state lawsuit alleging misuse of charitable donations and legal squabbles with the Humane Society. Under a settlement with California officials, he resigned from the group’s board and agreed to share royalties with staff members who helped him write a book about animal rights advocacy. In 2007, API merged with Born Free USA, which is the group’s name today.
In 1987, Mr. Mouras helped start United Animal Nations to provide emergency shelter, disaster relief and financial assistance for animals in crisis situations. The Sacramento-based nonprofit group later changed its name to RedRover. He also wrote books and helped produce documentary films about animal welfare, including “The Ninth Crusade.”
Before devoting his life to caring for animals, Mr. Mouras was a veteran of some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II. At 16, he lied about his age to enlist in the Army and served with the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in the Pacific. He made 92 jumps – including 16 in combat – as a sergeant and trainer with the 503rd Regimental Combat Team, his daughter said.
He was in the first wave of soldiers who parachuted in a fierce assault to liberate Corregidor Island from the Japanese in 1945 and was wounded twice. In addition to the Bronze Star and two Purple Heart medals, he received the Combat Infantryman Badge. He later served as a military recruiter, retired as a first lieutenant in 1959 and attended reunions of the 503rd for many years.
“He didn’t talk about the war until about 15 years ago,” his daughter said, “but he was always so proud to be in the Army. He could remember so clearly the sound of the guns and when he got shot. He was a really brave man.”
Born Aug. 19, 1923, to sharecroppers in Moncla, La., Belton Paul Mouras grew up speaking Cajun French in remote bayou country and did not learn English until he started school at 8. He quit school early but later graduated from high school and college in the military.
He married several times and had a total of six children with two of his wives. He lived in Sacramento near Luther Burbank High School for almost 30 years.
He learned compassion for animals growing up on a farm and working with his father, who became a dogcatcher. Even in war, “he was known as the sergeant who saved animals,” his daughter said. At the end of his career, he traveled often to Brazil to help build shelters for strays and to support humane efforts in rural areas.
“He never stopped caring for animals,” Fernandez said.
In addition to Fernandez and his wife of 13 years, Rita, Mr. Mouras is survived by three other daughters, Paulette Pesavento, Yvonne Reimers and Judy Duffin; two sons, Belton Jr. and David; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. A service was held May 20.