Doris Day and her history of helping animals

Legendary actress and singer Doris Day didn't just love animals—she was one of the first celebrities to recognize that star power could be used to advocate for change.

Doris Day, FOunder Doris Day Animal League

A trailblazer in many respects, Day was one of the very first stars to become what is now known as a “celebvocate,” using her name, voice and ability to command the attention of adoring fans to champion the cause of animal welfare.

As a young woman, the Ohio native was known for her gracious dancing, until an accident forced her off the dance floor and led her to cultivate not only a beautiful singing voice, but also a lifelong devotion to animals. During her recovery, she found both comfort and companionship in her family dog, Tiny.

Day found fame as a singer, recording hits in the 1940s. An emotional performance of one of her hit songs in front of an audience in Hollywood led to a contract with Warner Brothers, followed by Day starring in musicals in the 1950s. These successes led to acting roles, including the starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 production of "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Even then, Day was a champion for animals; while filming in Morocco, she insisted on better treatment of the animals on and around the set and even helped feed emaciated animals in the surrounding community.

In the 1970s, Day became a founding member of the organization Actors and Others for Animals. She then founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation in 1978, now known as the Doris Day Animal Foundation. Day then went on to create the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) in 1987. DDAL is still a successful national nonprofit citizen’s lobbying organization today, dedicated to protecting animals through policy initiatives, education and corporate engagement.

Day and her son Terry Melcher formed DDAL after realizing that the animal welfare movement needed a lobbying group to make an impact on Capitol Hill and in state houses. Campaigning for the hearts and minds of the public only got you so far when governments were responsible for animal testing requirements that caused unimaginable suffering compared to today’s more enlightened and scientifically advanced methods. These and many other animal welfare problems could only be addressed by direct engagement with lawmakers.

In the early days when DDAL was a fledgling organization working hard to grow and get the attention of elected officials, Day didn’t hesitate to make good use of her Hollywood connections and her own star power to bring other A-listers into the cause, including Rue McClanahan, Jimmy Stewart and Victoria Principal of the television show "Dallas" fame, who lobbied against the cruel Draize test in state and federal legislatures.

Those who knew Day and worked with her described a charismatic and passionate personality determined to make a difference in the lives of animals.

Holly Hazard, who served as Executive Director of DDAL and as Senior Vice President of Programs and Innovation for the HSUS, was an attorney working in the nation’s capital when she was recruited by Day to become the first Washington-based representative of DDAL in 1987.  

Hazard traveled to meet Day at her famed and historic Cypress Inn in Carmel, California, which was one of the first luxury hotels to open its doors, at Day’s insistence, to the four-legged family members of hotel guests.

“When I first met her, I was struck by how much she cared about every individual animal in need,” says Hazard. “I was told that what everyone realizes about Doris is that while she had every opportunity to socialize with the rich and famous, she would rather spend her time finding a home for a dog in need, and she did so time and time again.”

DDAL grew quickly, hiring Hazard full-time to run the Washington office and bringing on others who continue to carry on the organization’s work. In 2006, DDAL joined forces with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and continues to operate as a political affiliate of the HSUS, though it remains a separate legal entity.

In 2009, a grant from the Doris Day Animal Foundation enabled the HSUS and its affiliate, The Fund for Animals, to open the Doris Day Equine Center at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas.

In a statement about the center’s opening, Day said, “Cleveland was a great friend and humanitarian, and we often talked about ways to help even more horses.” The center has stayed true to the mission Day and Amory envisioned, becoming a national resource for equine facilities interested in developing their own training programs and increasing the capacity of organizations around the country to take in horses with past traumatic experiences.

Many of the issues that the HSUS and our affiliates work on today were also priorities for Day, including horse welfare, stopping animal testing on cosmetics, spaying and neutering, pet adoption and puppy mills. In every case, advocates are making great strides and cruelties that were insurmountable when Day began lending her name and star power to the cause are now being addressed, thanks to her efforts.