Doris Day: Screen Legend & Lifelong Animal Lover

Today on National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, we're spotlighting the good works of pioneering animal welfare activist Doris Day.
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Doris Day Photo

Doris Day on her 91st birthday this year. (Photo: Lea Price)

Doris Day is a lifelong animal lover. Her affection for "four-leggers" (Day's term for animals) was cemented when the family dog, Tiny, remained by her side as a teenaged Day recovered from a car crash. As an actress, an activist and even as a hotelier, she's consistently worked to assist and provide better treatment for all creatures. Given what Day's accomplished over the years, it seems animals couldn't have found a truer, or more devoted, friend.

A star who stood up for animals

Alfred Hitchcock could be a taskmaster on his film sets, but Doris Day wasn't afraid to challenge him if it meant helping animals. During filming of The Man Who Knew Too Much, she refused to carry on with her part unless animals around the set in Morocco were fed. Day spoke with Hitchcock, and soon dogs, cats, burros, horses and more were eating happily. In the end, not only was Day's performance applauded, her animal-friendly actions had set an example for future film productions.

Doris Day Photo

Doris Day and Alfred Hitchcock on the set of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956). While filming, Day insisted that the animals on the set were fed, and her animal-friendly actions set an example in the movie business. (Photo: Archive Photos/Moviepix/Getty Images)

However, there's one facet of her acting career that Day came to regret: wearing furs on the screen. Wanting to lessen fur's appeal, she appeared with actresses like Mary Tyler Moore and Angie Dickinson in a campaign promoting fake fur. In the 1971 print ad, Day was quoted as saying: "Killing an animal to make a coat is a sin. It wasn't meant to be, and we have no right to do it."

Though Day didn't relish her position in the public eye, her interest in animals even prompted her to come out of retirement and return to television. On Doris Day's Best Friends, she offered information about animals and their care (and also chatted with celebrity guests). The show's 26 episodes aired in 1985-86.

Organized to help animals

Day was a co-founder of Actors and Others for Animals in 1971, and in 1978 she started her own organization to help animals: the Doris Day Pet Foundation. The foundation's goal was to provide medical care and to find homes for unwanted pets; it was the precursor to the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF).

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Doris Day and her dog Duffy, circa 2009. (Photo: Doris Day Animal Foundation)

Today, DDAF is a nonprofit that issues grants to many animal-oriented nonprofit groups, supporting pet food pantries, veterinary care and educational materials. It also contributes to programs such as World Spay Day, a scholarship at UC Davis for veterinary students and horse rescue and adoption. In addition, there is the Duffy Day Lifesaving Program, named after one of Day's own rescue dogs. This program helps defray the costs of veterinary care for aged and special needs pets, and thus spares them from being euthanized.

Last but not least, the Doris Day Animal League came into being in 1987. This group, another nonprofit that was founded by Day, lobbies government bodies and officials to improve conditions for animals. Among the issues it's addressed are enacting limits on animal testing and the slaughter of wild horses. It's also succeeded in requiring certification and inspection for animal breeders who sell directly to the public. DDAL became part of the Humane Society in 2007.

Involved at every level of animal welfare

Day didn't simply set up a few animal welfare groups and then step back from the fray. Instead, she's often gotten down in the trenches in order to help "four-leggers."

When Day lived in Beverly Hills, people would often leave unwanted dogs at her home. In order to find loving homes for abandoned dogs (and cats), she would carry photos of the animals with her. And though her pet foundation leased kennel space when it started up, that didn't stop Day from continuing to foster many animals herself.

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Doris Day with Lovey and Biggest in the late 1970s. (Photo: Doris Day Animal Foundation)

Day also didn't shy away from using her fame and connections to help animals. When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, she called him to talk about problems with animal shelters in Los Angeles (the two were friends who'd both worked together and dated, so she knew her call would be answered). When Bill Clinton was in the White House, she encouraged him to have his dog, Buddy, fixed. After the Clintons opted to do just that, they made sure to let Day know about their decision.

Created the Pet-friendly Cypress Inn

Day wants to make the world a better place for animals, and that concern extends beyond activism, legislation and veterinary care. As co-owner of the Cypress Inn in Carmel, California, Day was able to create a spot where pets are truly welcome.

While staying at the Inn, pets are invited to join their family for meals and are able to sleep in comfort. In Carmel, dogs can run unleashed on the beach; the hotel also keeps a list of pet-friendly restaurants in the area. Plus if the human members of an animal's family have to go to a less pet-friendly locale, contact information for pet sitters is available.

Cypress Inn Photo

 A room at the Cypress Inn, a pet-friendly boutique hotel co-owned by Doris Day, with Sadie (pictured), its "Director of Pet Relations". (Photo: Cypress Inn)

Continuing her commitment to aiding animals , Day donated proceeds from her most recent album, My Heart (2011), to go to her DDAF, raising approximately $60,000 for the organization. And in December 2014, Day wrote in a year-end blog post that a celebration for her 90th birthday earlier that year had raised "more than twice our $90K goal amount for my Foundation—it doesn’t get better than that!"

In a 2011 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Day declared, "I'm going to do as much as I can for the animal world, and I'll never stop." Though she recently turned 91, DDAF confirmed to Bio that Day's commitment to animal welfare and to her foundation remains undiminished. Today she's still an active participant in the foundation's activities, keeping abreast of grant applications and recording her founder's messages. She also makes sure to sign CDs, DVDs and other memorabilia so that the items can be sold to raise money for animals.

The foundation's Facebook page offers updates about its activities and beneficiaries, and no matter what it's involved with there's one constant: Doris Day is someone animals can always depend on.

To learn more about the Doris Day Animal Foundation or to make a donation, visit the official website. Get updates and read pet stories on DDAF's Facebook page.