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for the dogs

Doris Day, A True Friend of the Four-Leggers

by Kelly Luker

Top Photo Courtesy of Doris Day Animal Fondation

Bottom Photo from the Collection of Matt Tunia

doris day

When you’ve shared a marquee with the likes of Clark Gable, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, and dozens more big-name movie stars, it would be easy to consider your acting years a career well-spent and a retirement well-earned. Not Doris Day. Instead, her passion for animals continues to raise millions of dollars, save countless lives, and influence groundbreaking legislation for animal welfare. Not incidentally, she has been the driving force behind Carmel’s reputation as one of the dog-friendliest towns in the nation.

Doris turned 90 years old April 3, an occasion celebrated with a three-day party extravaganza that included silent auctions and an adoptable rescued-doggie fashion show that raised over $90,000 for her pet projects. While the older generation will remember the quintessential “girl next door” for her roles in Pillow Talk and Please  Don’t Eat the Daisies, as well as her signature song, “Que Sera Sera,” younger folks may know Doris better as animal activist and founder of the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

Born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, she has recalled her lifelong love of animals in various interviews. Her love affair began when she was just a girl and was in a car accident. She had a long recovery ahead of her, and her little black and tan dog, Tiny, was by her side every moment until she was healed. He showed her the love and devotion of dogs. Since then she has shared her life with dogs such as Smudgie, Biggest, Katie, Daisy, Fred, Beau, Lovey, and many, many more. Tiny and all of her dogs have inspired her to become the animal advocate we know today. In an interview for USA Weekend, Doris said, “I love people and animals—though not necessarily in that order. I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like, and I can’t say the same thing about people.”

Box-office hits with co-star Rock Hudson in the late fifties cemented Doris’s fame and made her one of the highest-grossing actresses of her day as well as one of the world’s best-selling vocalists. When it came to animal welfare in Hollywood, Doris allowed no one to intimidate her. While filming The Man Who Knew Too Much, Doris told the formidable director Alfred Hitchcock that she would not work for him unless emaciated animals on the set received proper care.

According to David Kaufman’s 2008 biography, Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, she learned in the late sixties about deplorable conditions at Los Angeles shelters. She rallied for the city to adopt reforms to remedy the situation. That was just the beginning of a life dedicated to making things better for animals. In 1968 she helped liberate diseased and abandoned animals that she discovered were being abused at a Burbank kennel. She rescued strays and kept them in her Beverly Hills home until adoptions could be arranged. At various times Doris had a dozen or more dogs living with her.

In 1971, Doris and a group of celebrity actors formed Actors and Others for Animals, which is still in existence to this day and is dedicated to eliminating pet overpopulation and ensuring good care and protection for pet companions. Then a few years later, in 1977, the Doris Day Pet Foundation (later renamed the Doris Day Animal Foundation) was founded, its mission to “assist humane organizations by providing funds where they are most needed for the welfare of animals.”  Over the years it has provided millions of dollars in grants to hundreds of animal-welfare organizations throughout the country, including local organizations such as the SPCA for Monterey County, the Santa Cruz SPCA, Animal Friends Rescue Project, and Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.

The actress has often said that her favorite project instituted under the auspices of DDAF was  “World Spay Day,” observed on the last Thursday each February. The Foundation funds free spay and neuter services in hundreds of clinics throughout the country. When the program was instituted in 1995, an estimated 14 to 17 million cats and dogs in overcrowded shelters were euthanized each year. That number has dropped to less than three million annually, thanks in part to the efforts of DDAF.

To further her commitment to animal protection, Doris and her late son Terry Melcher formed the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) in 1987, its focus on lawmaking and public policy goals. The mission of DDAL is to reduce pain and suffering and protect animals through legislative initiative. Over the years, DDAL has created and passed legislation aimed at animal welfare issues that really matter to people and the animals they love. From local spaying and neutering ordinances, to legislation against puppy mills, to standards for the prevention of animal testing for the beauty industry, DDAL has made a tremendous difference in the lives of countless animals. In 2006, the league merged with the Human Society of the United States.

doris day

Carmel’s beauty called to Doris the first time she visited, and she knew someday it would be home. The actress and third husband Barry Comden purchased a spectacular 10-acre estate in 1978 and began renovations.  It would come to include not only a guesthouse, but also another house just for dogs, complete with kitchen. Unfortunately, her marriage to Comden would not survive the remodeling, but Doris and her beloved dogs moved up to her new home in November of 1981.

Since her arrival, Doris began to shape Carmel into the dog-friendly mecca it is today.  She purchased a hotel where dogs and their people were both welcome, a leading-edge concept in 1985. It took her business partner, Dennis LeVett, a little time to warm to the idea, but he eventually came around, to the delight of Doris and thousands of dog-lovers who have stayed at the charming Cypress Inn over the years.

As one of the most famous residents of Carmel, Doris has moved into her ninth decade still dedicated and going strong. The beloved actress and animal-rights activist sums up her life’s passion: “I’m all about the four-leggers.”


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