Doris Day and her fight for animals

December 9th, 2014
Doris Day

Kylie Baracz speaks to Lea Price, director of communications at Doris Day Animal Foundation about the Hollywood starlet and how her love of animals ignited her charity.

What sparked Doris’ passion for animals?

Doris has loved animals all her life, but one particular incident in her childhood truly sparked her passion to help them. As a young girl, Doris was studying to become a professional dancer until a horrific auto accident left her nearly paralysed. During the many months of recuperation, her dog, Tiny, never left her side. Doris has said in her autobiography, Doris Day, Her Own Story, “Those long days of companionship gave me a beginning insight into what it is that sets a dog apart from all other animals. It was the start of what was to be for me a lifelong love affair with the dog. I care about them deeply, but no matter how much I have given them in the way of love and concern for their wellbeing, they have given me much more.”

Many years later on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much in Marrakesh, Doris couldn’t bear the deplorable condition of the animals. “I went on the warpath about the animals being used in the scenes,” she said. “It was one of the few times in my life that I pulled rank. I said I would not appear in any scenes with animals unless they were properly fed. I couldn’t provide for the feeding of the entire undernourished population of Marrakesh, but by the time our photography was finished, I had succeeded in fattening up the animals used in the picture.”

Why did Doris decide to start the Doris Day Animal Foundation?

Although Doris had been involved in other animal organisations, she recognised that the animal welfare community in the 1970s was a sorely lacking landscape, with an estimated 14-17 million unwanted dogs and cats being euthanised in US shelters every year. She knew that through her own organisation and celebrity status, she could make a difference for the animals, so she founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation (then known as the Doris Day Pet Foundation) in 1978, with the straightforward mission to help animals and the people who love them.

Can you tell me a little bit about the foundation?

DDAF started out as a grassroots organisation primarily on a local level, with Doris herself rescuing many homeless animals, giving some of them shelter in her own home. She recruited friends and volunteers to rescue, foster or adopt countless others, while educating the public about spaying and neutering their pets to prevent unwanted litters. Through her foundation, she paid for boarding and veterinary care until forever homes were found.

In more recent years, Doris realised she could expand the foundation’s reach by changing its approach. Today, DDAF is a non-profit grant-giving charity that identifies and funds worthy non-profit organisations and programs across the country that directly cares for animals.

How has animal care changed over the years you have been involved?

Happily, the animal welfare community has come a long way since Doris started the Doris Day Animal Foundation. There are many more organisations rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing animals, while educating the public about the importance of rescuing, rather than buying their pets, the benefits of spaying and neutering, the abuse and neglect found in puppy mills, the horrors of dog fighting and many other issues. Thanks to the internet and social media, we are able to reach so many more people around the world. Euthanasia numbers in the US have decreased to an estimated 4 million dogs and cats annually, but that is still too many. There is much work yet to be done.

What projects is the Doris Day Animal Foundation currently working on?

DDAF assists non-profit organisations with spay/neuter, veterinary expenses, seniors programs, pet food pantries, wildlife rehabilitation, educational resources and many other programs. Some of DDAF’s ongoing “legacy” project funding includes World Spay Day (an annual event that provides free and low-cost spay/neuter services, founded in 1995 by our sister organisation, the Doris Day Animal League), the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center (operated by the Humane Society of the United States on the grounds of Cleveland Amory’s Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas), the Duffy Day Life Saving Program (providing a second chance to older and injured animals that may otherwise face euthanasia), and the Doris Day/Terry Melcher Scholarship at the University of California at Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine (awarded annually to outstanding veterinary students specialising in shelter medicine).

How involved is Doris with her foundation and how many animals does Doris currently look after herself?

Doris continues her hands-on involvement with DDAF, overseeing the organisation’s activities. Doris has several dogs and cats. Although some of her precious senior four-leggers have recently passed away, she knew the best way to honour them was to rescue other unfortunate pets waiting at the shelter for loving homes.

This year Doris will celebrate her 90th birthday – what does she have planned to celebrate?

There are many activities planned to commemorate this very special birthday and benefit the Doris Day Animal Foundation, including a “Sentimental Journey” Weekend in Carmel on Doris’ birthday (which sold out within hours of being offered!); a Doris Day Tribute cruise on Crystal Cruises; new book and music releases; eBay auctions of memorabilia; and many more. Please visit DDAF’s website for additional information.

How can Australians help the Foundation?

The Doris Day Animal Foundation gratefully accepts donations of any size on our website, Please also consider remembering DDAF in your will. If you can’t afford to donate, a free and easy way to support us is to register with and select the “Doris Day Animal Foundation” as your cause. DDAF gets a penny for each online search done through their search engine, and they have other fun ways to earn money for us, such as online games and surveys. More information can be found on our website. Of course, always remember to be kind to animals, don’t shop for a dog – adopt instead from your local shelter or rescue organisation, and spay and neuter your pets.

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