Doris Day: A lifetime of animal advocacy
By Phil Snyder, Executive Director Suncoast Humane Society
Many famous people use their celebrity status to speak out for the rights, protection and welfare of animals. One of the loudest voices is Betty White, who seldom appears anywhere without bringing up her love for animals. Television host Bob Barker always ended his shows reminding his audience to spay and neuter their pets. Ellen DeGeneres has been a spokesperson for many animal welfare issues. Kim Novak, Tippy Hedren and Linda Blair not only support the cause, they each have had animal sanctuaries of sorts.
We recently lost one of the great Hollywood Pioneers for animals who spent much of her acting and singing career and all of her retirement years, advocating for their humane treatment. Doris Day credited her childhood pet, Tiny, for helping her through a difficult time in her life when an automobile accident ended her dream of becoming a professional dancer.
Tiny never left her side during her painful recovery, seemed to understand her moods, and left her with a lifelong love affair with dogs, and with cats too. A pet’s affection and caring can be a relief from tensions and anxiety. Doris so loved animals, that years later during the filming of one of her movies, she refused to continue work unless conditions and treatment of the animals on the set were drastically improved. Thankfully her star power forced the production company to comply with her requests. She even oversaw the feeding and care of the animals.
Along with other movie stars of the day, Doris co-founded Actors and Others for Animals. Her home became a place of refuge for stray and abandoned animals. Many homeless dogs and cats would be dropped off at her property gate. It is said she never turned away an animal in need. She would see that they received the veterinary care they needed and would find them loving homes with many of her Hollywood friends.
As the task of saving lives by herself became overwhelming, she formed the Doris Day Pet Foundation, eventually to become the Doris Day Animal Foundation, focusing on promoting spay and neuter. Still wanting to do more to help animal causes, she founded the Doris Day Animal League, expanding the work provided by her foundation. The League’s mission is: “To reduce pain and suffering of non-human animals through legislative initiatives, education, and programs. To enforce statutes and regulations which have already been enacted which protect animals.” She went on to also create Spay Day USA, now known as World Spay Day, held in February each year. Many humane societies recognize the day, on a local level, as an opportunity to promote the benefits of having your pet spayed or neutered.
In 2007, she agreed to merge her Doris Day Animal League with The Humane Society of the United States, to allow a greater voice for animals in Washington D.C. She continued to oversee the activities of the League until her death.
In 2011, The Humane Society of the United States announced the opening of the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center in Texas. It is located on the grounds of Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary originally started by author and animal advocate, Cleveland Amory, who was a friend of Doris.
Doris Day graciously used her celebrity status to help animals and to help people help animals. Her legacy in the humane movement will be felt for years to come. Today her Animal Foundation continues to provide grant opportunities for non-profit humane societies that directly rescue and care for animals. Perhaps remembering the traumatic time in her life when she thought her dream had ended, she is quoted as saying, “I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” As an animal advocate, she had a soft voice but delivered a powerful message.
Doris Day will be remembered throughout the humane movement.