Aside from its traditional spiritual significance, Christmas is generally considered a time to spread peace, love, and “good will to all men.” Actress Doris Day would like to see that benevolence extend to animals year-long, but especially during the gift-giving season.
“Many people think dogs, cats, birds, and bunnies make good Christmas gifts, and they couldn’t be more wrong,” explained Ms. Day from her long-time Carmel, Calif., home. Although she rarely gives interviews, Day agreed to discuss her passion for animal welfare.
“The holidays tend to be loud and chaotic – an awful environment into which to bring a new pet,” she added. “Those cute, rambunctious puppies and kittens given as gifts often prove to be too much for the household to handle and wind up back at the shelters. A much better option is a gift certificate from a local shelter or rescue organization, and wait to redeem it until the dust from the holidays settles.”
A hugely popular singer and actress throughout the 50s and 60s, Day says she first became interested in animal issues on the set of a 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film.
“One of my first profound experiences working with animals in my films was in Morocco on the set of ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much,’” she recalled. “I was never one to make waves when working on my films, but was appalled at the condition of the local animals used in this film and refused to continue until we made sure they were all well-fed, well-treated, and happy. I think this was one of the instances where I truly realized how my celebrity could help improve animals’ lives.”
In 1978, she founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF), a small, grassroots organization.
”Since evolving into a grant-giving charity, we’ve been able to have a much greater impact on both a local and national level, supporting programs and other non-profit organizations that share our vision. It’s all there on our website, www.ddaf.org.”
Now 93, Day still takes an active role in the Foundation.
“I make it a priority to stay on top of all DDAF activities,” she said. “We have a very small, caring staff and Board of Directors so that donations go directly to help the animals instead of administrative expenses. My wonderful group keeps me apprised of all the grants we are considering, the donations we receive, and the ‘happy endings’ reports from our grantees.”
While her big screen presence declined after the 60s, Day had no regrets bidding farewell to Hollywood.
“I enjoyed my career and had a great time working in Hollywood,” she said. “But after decades of non-stop films, recordings and television, the time seemed right to start a new chapter – concentrating on my animal welfare work.”
Over the years, many animals have passed through the Day household and several still call it home.
“I currently have several cats and three dogs – fewer than I’m used to,” she said. “I can’t even think about all of the sweet four-leggers I’ve lost over the years. But I always say, although they can never be replaced, the best way to honor their memory is to save another life from the shelter. My current crew is keeping me on my toes and laughing at their antics – I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Fans from her Hollywood days also keep in touch.
“I’ve been blessed with good health and keep busy with the Foundation and going through all the mail that comes in, especially around the holidays. I get such lovely letters from all over the world, including from young people whose parents and grandparents introduced them to my films and music. I’m floored when they tell me how much my work has meant to them – let alone that they even know who I am!”
As for this Christmas, Day says hers will be typically low-key.
“Our Christmas is going to be quiet, here at home, with friends,” she says. ”Just the way I like it.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. Follow @TinseltownTalks