In the long journey that was the life of Doris Day — who died May 13 at age 97 at her home in Carmel Valley, California — her fans got to see her in many roles on and off screens big and small. She was an aspiring dancer turned big-band singer who became a movie icon and a TV star. She survived physically and financially abusive husbands. She embraced co-star Rock Hudson, dying of AIDS in 1985, at a time when many people, and even more governments, recoiled.
The one constant in a life that often wasn’t as sunny as her onscreen persona was her love of her furry, four-legged friends.
It began with Tiny, the dog her mother presented her with as she recuperated from the car accident that shattered her right leg, ending her dancing career but giving birth to her singing one. The 15-year-old was enchanted but learned a bitter lesson when, still on crutches, she took Tiny for a walk without a leash and he was killed by a car. Years later, she told playwright A. E. Hotchner, who interviewed her for the 1976 book “Doris Day: Her Story,” that she betrayed Tiny by not being more careful.
If so, she spent the rest of her life atoning for that perceived thoughtlessness by rescuing animals and working to end animal testing. According to The New York Times obituary, she would even go so far as to check out the homes of pet adoptees to ensure they had proper enclosures. The so-called “Dog Catcher of Beverly Hills,” Day would often find dogs dropped on her doorstep and just as often take them over to fellow stars’ homes where she would lobby for their adoption. Apparently, it didn’t take much convincing. As one anonymous star says on the website of her legacy, the Doris Day Animal Foundation, “We all had at least one of ‘those Doris Day animals.’”
But the foundation — established in 1978 as the Doris Day Pet Foundation — wasn’t enough for the woman who found animals more loyal than people. With the Doris Day Animal League, begun in 1987, Day started Spay Day USA in 1995. Now World Spay Day, it has helped spay and neuter more than 1.5 million animals. In 2007, the league merged with the Humane Society of the United States.
Meanwhile, the foundation has become a grant-giving organization, assisting with spay/neuter efforts, veterinary expenses, seniors programs, pet-food pantries, wildlife rehabilitation and educational resources. Besides World Spay Day, projects include the Doris Day Equine Center (located at Cleveland Amory’s Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas), the Duffy Day Life Saving Program (giving second life to older and injured animals that may face euthanasia) and the Doris Day/Terry Melcher Scholarship at University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
“During the painful and bleak periods,” Day told Hotchner, “my animal family has been a source of joy and strength to me. I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent, devoted companionship of your pets that you can get from no other source.”
There is no question that she repaid that love in full.
For more, visit dorisdayanimalfoundation.org.