Doris Day with a beloved pet dog.
Hollywood icon Doris Day was a lifelong advocate for all animals.
Courtesy of Doris Day

Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and executive director of the Doris Day Animal League

The humane movement lost a dear friend and lifelong supporter when Doris Day passed away in May at the age of 97. She was famous for her decades-long careers in film and music, but she most wanted to be remembered for her compassion for animals. I had the privilege of working for her for 18 years at the Doris Day Animal League, which she founded in 1987 as one of the first lobbying organizations devoted to passing animal protection legislation at the state and federal levels. She had a unique way of using her stardom to influence lawmakers and even the White House. In the 1970s, Doris was among the first celebrities to use her fame to raise awareness of animal protection issues. At a time when the number of homeless pets exceeded 13 million and no one batted an eye when someone wore fur, she spoke out about the importance of spay/neuter, the cruelty of the fur trade and many other issues. Her advocacy continued throughout her life, including a $1.6 million donation to the campaign to end greyhound racing in Florida last year, which helped secure a landslide victory in that historic ballot campaign. In many ways, the work that we carry out today is Doris’ most lasting and meaningful legacy. I am honored to continue the work that she envisioned more than 30 years ago.  

Marian Probst, former HSUS board member

What I remember most vividly about Doris Day is how completely genuine she was. Fighting cruelty to animals was bone-deep in her makeup, and it would today be tough to find anyone—and certainly anyone on the level of her international fame—who was as effective as she was in fighting cruelty. Her friendship with Cleveland Amory, founder of the Fund for Animals, flowered in the years when she went beyond merely “speaking out” and was in the process of founding the Doris Day Animal League. In California, she would meet us in the Beverly Hills version of the neighborhood diner, and the two of them would together bemoan the glacial pace of progress of the animal movement. Doris would arrive in blue jeans, on her bicycle, and after a cursory bite to eat, she would pedal off on what was a three-times-a-week animal rescue patrol. She was always friendly, funny and well-informed, and she never behaved like a “star.” She was just one more animal activist trying to make an awful situation better, and she was that rare combination—a person of massive talent who was at heart a sincere, caring woman.

Holly Hazard, former HSUS senior vice president of programs and former executive director of the Doris Day Animal League

We were at a suburban strip mall parking lot, waiting anxiously for the owner of a sedan to return before we smashed a window to help the dog inside. I was on a job interview with Doris, who was tapping people on the shoulder to politely ask if they’d left a dog in their car. The owners returned—and she promptly gave them a stern talking-to. This was the first of many experiences I would have with Doris in which she took the right—not easy—path to save an animal. By the time I met her in 1986, she was happily rescuing animals, one by one. Her son Terry Melcher encouraged her to use her fame to help more animals—or “four-leggers,” as she called them—through policy work. She fought against cosmetics testing on animals and horse slaughter in the U.S., and she helped create Spay Day USA to inspire our culture to move from one in which spay/neuter is the exception to one in which it’s the rule. Terry told me that she once stood up to Alfred Hitchcock because she thought the horses on the set were treated inhumanely. That she would confront such a formidable figure over an animal issue explained why she was so at ease questioning strangers in the parking lot when we first met. The four-leggers, and everyone who cares for them, have lost a significant ally. However, Doris’ legacy lives on in the animals she saved, the culture she changed and the policies she inspired.

From our magazine

This story originally appeared in our award-winning magazine for members, All Animals. Get informative and inspiring content like this delivered right to your door.

Learn MoreSubscribe
Thumbnail