Doris Day is one of the most-dedicated, hard working and recognized public servants and advocates of animal welfare and animal rights. Long before it was fashionable to have a cause or show compassion, Doris was protecting and defending the animals and the people who loved them.
Although very down-to-earth and accessible as a movie star, Doris did once use her superstar status to pull rank to protect the animals. That was in 1956. While in Morocco filming Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" with fellow animal lover Jimmy Stewart, she surprised everyone and said she wouldn't work unless the emaciated animals on or near the set received proper care. Responding to Doris's concerns, the production company promptly set up a feeding station for the goats, lambs, horses, cows, dogs, cats, burros and other animals. Doris, of course, supervised the care and feeding and was happy with the results and finished the movie.
Most of her work was closer to home, though. Doris was one of the founders of Actors and Others for Animals, which still today is a leader in the protection of animals in Hollywood. If there was a benefit or pet adoption event, fans could often count on Doris to be there helping out. (One star was famously quoted, "We all had at least one of ‘those Doris Day animals.' If you would see Doris on the street or at the studio, chances are you would end up with some homeless cat or dog Doris was sponsoring. She carried around photos of the animals who needed homes, and then she'd actually come over to inspect your house to make sure you were up to it.")
As other organizations grew, Doris started her own non-profit, the Doris Day Pet Foundation, in the late 1970s so she could focus on the issue that meant the most to her - finding homes for the too many animals who were being destroyed simply because there weren't enough good homes. Soon, she was fostering animals at her house, leasing space for kennels and had a big staff of volunteers to help her find homes for the increasing numbers of animals she encountered. Late at night, it was not uncommon to see people actually dropping animals over Doris's front gate or property walls. Others, familiar with her daily routines, would wait outside her house with the animals and hand them over. Sometimes, she would open her front gate and just find a little dog or cat with a note attached. Although every placement was a great accomplishment, it became overwhelming, as more and more animals in need appeared.
Doris thought more and more about the cause of all the homeless animals, and decided that she should go to the core and start to work on pet overpopulation.
She formed another non-profit organization, the Doris Day Animal League, and that organization would deal with the big legislative issues directly with the President, Congress and elected officials on virtually every level. Whether it meant a call to a President (and Doris was never shy, as President Reagan experienced first hand when she didn't like how one of his dogs was exiled to the Western White House), to calling legislators in Sacramento who were debating spay and neuter legislation, to joining campaigns in Texas to ban animal cruelty, Doris was on the phone, dictating letters and speaking to everyone who would listen. Recognizing the power of the voter with elected officials, the Doris Day Animal League became one of the most-powerful forces on Capitol Hill for the sake of the animals, responsible for legislation for everything from limiting testing for cosmetics on animals to humane treatment of farm animals to tax penalties for animals who were not spayed or neutered.
As with everything Doris took on, the Animal League was overwhelming in its success. Members of Congress wanted to get Doris's views on issues in their own states and national pet welfare legislation. City councils wanted her endorsements on their own bills. Invitations for appearances came from all over the world. And, President George W. Bush gave her the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, recognizing her non-profit work.
Doris noted that she was glad she had retired from show business because she had never worked so hard as she did as a volunteer for the animals.
The next step was to convert the Pet Foundation to the Doris Day Animal Foundation, another non-profit. This time, though, there had to be less focus on finding homes for individual animals. Instead, Doris would help other non-profits and people in need to care for their animals. That included everything from the pioneering "Spay Day USA" program she created almost 17 years ago and has been responsible for spaying and neutering over one-and-a-half-million cats and dogs, to providing grants for everything from humane education in schools to senior citizen funds to help them pay for their animals' vet care and food.
Doris's only regret is that there are not more hours in the day to help the animals. The Doris Day Animal League is now partnered with the Humane Society of the United States and continues to be a leading advocacy organization. The Doris Day Animal Foundation looks for ways to help make the future better for the animals. Working with the Nebraska Humane Society and Monterey SPCA, the new Duffy Day Lifesaving Program has been established in honor of one of Doris's own rescues. Opening soon will be the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center, and Cincinnati (where Doris was born) is naming a dog park in her honor. Veterinary students benefit from scholarships Doris is funding, and senior citizens get subsidies for adopting senior pets, thanks to Doris's generosity.
There is nothing left to "Que Sera" with Doris Day. Rather than let things be for the animals, she has spent a lifetime improving their lives.
Linda Dozoretz, Executive Director, DDAF