“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.”
A consummate actress and musician, who enchanted millions with her golden voice, and indelible flair for comic artistry, Doris Day epitomized superstar success, and embodied all the ideals of the perfect role model.
Doris Day may have called Hollywood her home for many years. She was highly revered in the film industry, and she had immortalized several classics during her tenure as an actress, but, first and foremost, the legend born, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff had another interest that was of greater importance than her distinguished status as a movie star. She was passionate about animals, and instead of keeping in the spotlight, she enthusiastically embarked on a new career that would have her caring for the welfare of those four-legged creatures with the same degree of exhilaration that she approached stardom with many years earlier.
Many people have often wondered why Doris Day, the quintessential star of motion pictures would abandon Hollywood to pursue a career as an animal activist? The truth is that this is something that seemed to motivate Day. She had always wanted to get to the core of her strong adoration for her beloved companions. The actress’s lifelong passion for animals can be dated back to her teenage years when Day was a victim of a car accident in 1937, which left her confined to her bed for months. Distraught at the prospects that her dreams of becoming a professional dancer may be curtailed, Doris spent these torturous months in darkness. The only thing that had the power to cheer Day up was her dog, Tiny, who was always present during that difficult time. Doris later recalled the incident in her autobiography and stated, “He never left my side, understood my moods and gave me the kind of companionship that only a dog can bestow… It was during this time that I began a lifelong love affair with dogs, a sentiment known only to dog lovers – and cat lovers, too. Their affection and caring is a relief from tensions and anxiety.” From that moment on, Doris Day instilled the notion that all creatures must be protected.
Although it would be many years before Doris Day would form her own animal foundation, she never forgot about her passion, and she always inhabited the aspiration that one day she would change the lives of all creatures, big, and small. During her years as an actress, Day’s passion was clearly apparent, and in all most all of her movies her character owns a pet. She was also notorious when it came to the way the animals were being handled and used in the films, but while she was generally happy with the way they were treated, she had enough authority to pull rank whenever she witnessed something that was not up to her standards.
“I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like, and I can’t say the same thing about people.”
( Doris Day )
Luckily for Doris, the motion picture industry has strict regulations for the hiring of animals in filmed entertainment. However, one famous case almost sparked a war between Doris and the production company while she was in Morocco filming Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Man Who Knew Too Much. Day, who always modeled civility, and who was known for being easily accessible, was appalled when she noticed the deplorable condition the animals were in. Disheartened with Hitchcock, and the fellow crew members for allowing the animals to be malnourished, Day refused to continue working on the film unless the animal welfare measures were drastically improved. At this stage of her career, Day was at the pinnacle of her fame, and the production company couldn’t afford to lose an esteemed star, so they went ahead and complied with her requirements, while Doris oversaw the feeding and care of these animals. Doris later stated, “By the time our photography was finished, I had succeeded in fattening up the animals used in the picture.”
As the 1960’s progressed, Sexual Liberation in the United States was beginning to take charge. The films being made displayed a strong emphasis on sex, and audiences were detouring away from Doris Day films. With her popularity waning, Day only appeared in a few more motion pictures before retreating to the television medium, but when she realized that she will no longer be at the top of her zenith, Day ventured into the animal territory, which was an uncharted landscape at the time.
The animal world was a far cry from the bright lights of Hollywood, and all that glamour that was associated with being a star. After retiring from acting in 1973, Doris was free to devote her time to animal welfare activism. However, she did return to the television medium in 1985, when she hosted, Doris Day’s Best Friends, but even then the focal importance of the show relied solely on the animals, and to give Day the chance to address the subject of animal welfare to the public eye.
“I’m going to do as much as I can for the animal world, and I’ll never stop.”
The show was a commercial success. Viewers were enthused to see Doris Day step out of semi-retirement to host her own television program. They were even more elated to see some of Day’s real life friends, including, Rock Hudson, Howard Keele, and Kaye Ballard, among others make guest appearances. Despite the worldwide publicity that it received, Doris Day’s Best Friends was cancelled after twenty-six episodes. This occasion marked the final time that Doris Day’s presence would showcase television screens.
For Doris Day, helping and rescuing animals was her pursuit of happiness. She knew right from the start that saving the lives of helpless dogs and cats, and bringing them joy and comfort would be more rewarding than the recognition she achieved as a motion picture actress. In 1971, Day became a co-founder of Actors and Others for Animals, an organization that eliminates pet overpopulation, and protection for pet companions.
Actors and Others for Animals was initially conceived by actor, Richard Basehart and his wife, Diana. Basehart, who shared the same passion as Day, made it his mission to make sure that all pets are properly cared for. Since its establishment in 1971, this organization has become one of California’s leading animal care facilities.
Despite the fact that Doris Day was miles away from Hollywood soil, and was now permanently established in Carmel, where her primary endeavor was her beloved pets, and the care and nurturing of animals, the challenge became quite overwhelming. Because of her work, Day was prominently featured in news articles and entertainment magazines, which gave readers great insight into the actress’ life now, and what it was like to live in an 11 acre property in Carmel that was surrounded by dogs. For many pet owners this became their invitation. Doris found that her home was becoming a refuge for stray and abandoned pets. People were dropping their dogs and cats over her property gates at night, and each morning Day was greeted to a deluge of unwanted pets, who were in need of homes. Even though the task was quite perplexing, she got all the animals the veterinary care they required, and found them loving homes.
This was a common occurrence for Doris, and even though she welcomed every pet she received, and always found them homes, she realized that the possibilities of encountering turbulence was imminent. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of the animals, and the best way to do this was to open up her own foundation.
In 1978, Doris Day founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation, which is now known as, The Doris Day Animal Foundation. Focusing on animal rescue, and spay/neuter, the organization continues to maintain a caring interest in animal health and welfare, while making it their mission to place all animals in a compatible environment with people who love them.
The Doris Day Animal Foundation were rescuing a large number of animals a year. More lives were being saved, and more pets were being adopted into loving families, but Doris was still not satisfied with her efforts, and felt that a lot more could be done. She wanted to get to the core of homeless pet overpopulation. The key to addressing this issue was through spay/neuter. As a result, she set up a grassroots campaign, and in 1987, she formed The Doris Day Animal League, another nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting animals through policy initiatives, education, and corporate engagement.
As time progresses, Doris Day continues to be actively involved in helping animals from all walks of life. In 1995, she created the annual event known as, World Spay Day, and in the most recent years she formed, The Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center, which is located at, Cleveland Amory’s Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas. In addition to her foundation work, and her other animal engagements, Doris, who is now 95 years of age finds joy in taking care of her many four-legged friends at her Carmel estate. She has often been quoted as saying, “Maybe I might make a movie just to take a rest.”