When it comes to animal advocacy and philanthropy, Helen LeBrecht wears a coat of many colors, representing the many species and causes of which she is so passionate. In conversation, it is apparent that her love for animals, domesticated and wild, knows no bounds. It is not that surprising to find people with a fondness for domesticated animals and those in the wild. A cat lover may have a strong affinity for the big cats. But to find someone whose loves range from a lop-eared bunny to an elephant weighing in at thousands of pounds speaks to the spectrum of her interests in causes concerning animals of all sizes.
It was LeBrecht’s passion for elephants that brought her to the pages of WAG in September 2016. (https://www.wagmag.com/waccabuc-woman-works-to-save-african-elephants/) Since then, the Waccabuc resident has been supportive of the Wolf Conservation Center in neighboring South Salem and active in raising funds for the Snow Leopard Trust. Though many wild creatures vie for her affection, it is elephants she most adores. “They are the smartest in the world and so compassionate,” she says.
Her passions extend naturally to her own domestic habitat. We meet at her art-filled home, which she shares with Richard Coburn, M.D., her fiancé and love of 27 years, her beloved adult children, who occasionally are in residence, and two special pets. The first is Remy, her 7-year-old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, currently suffering from a rare heart valve issue, and Pierre, a real charmer of a bunny, who manages to steal the show and win everyone over. Her family’s 15th bunny, Pierre was rescued in 2018 from what is now Animal Care Centers of NYC.
With his gorgeous coat of mostly black with a hint of white, and blue eyes, Pierre can perform a dazzling array of tricks not often seen in domesticated bunnies. By far he is leading the jumping category with his ability to leap off the ground onto laps, beds and other furniture. LeBrecht is amazed by his affinity for his human family and his close attachment to his human “parents.”
Outside of her home, LeBrecht is active, using her voice, intelligence and a law license she keeps current to further her pro bono work for many animal rights organizations. She also continues to do work for the Animals and the Law subcommittee of the New York State Bar Association on a variety of legislative issues, most focused on the protection of species, harmful testing and the trade of “products” procured from animals and sourced illegally. Each state, she explains, regulates these issues independently, and while she believes she has much to contribute to her home state — Helen is a Westchester native — she aspires to elevate her work and contribute to lobbying efforts on a federal level.
In January of this year, LeBrecht founded a new organization, Passion for Animals Foundation Inc., through which she intends to further her desire to sound the alarm on the atrocities playing out, often under the radar, around the globe. Still in formation, the organization intends to shine a light and further legal intervention on issues ranging from the sale of wild mustangs to slaughterhouses abroad, the illegal dog food trade, animal testing and the Endangered Species Act.
As LeBrecht explains, these efforts can be complex, moving slowly and requiring vast resources to fight what she notes as “the most powerful farm lobby in this country and the most horrifying acts against animals that are unknown to many but persist under the realm of ‘science.’” She is vehemently against the eating and hunting of animals and has been vegan since 2015, a pledge she told me she made on behalf of the organization PETA.
It is in keeping with her larger pledge — to speak for those who cannot.