Photo Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com
In her blog for the iVillage blog series CelebVillage, actress Katherine Heigl (who stars in the upcoming action comedy One for the Money, in theaters Jan. 27) writes about why she's on a mission to save millions of adoptable pets from being killed each year.
I recently watched a wonderful movie directed by the great Lasse Hallstrom about a remarkable dog named Hachi. I couldn’t shake the effect the film had on me for weeks after and even now when I pause a moment and reflect on it, I find tears welling up in my eyes. Hachi: A Dog’s Story (which stars Richard Gere and Joan Allen) is a beautiful movie about the unique connection between humans and dogs. It’s clearly the kind of story that appeals to me since I am an animal lover and activist.
My mother Nancy and I began the Jason Debus Heigl foundation about four years ago in my brother’s honor and we have been fighting diligently to change policy, bring awareness and stop the unnecessary euthanization of healthy adoptable dogs in the city and county of Los Angeles.
The message of Hachi is one of true unwavering loyalty, devotion and love -- and that’s just from the dog’s perspective. This emotional and spiritual connection between humans and companion animals comes as no surprise to me since I have had the great privilege of fostering just such relationships throughout my life. But I wondered if it came as a surprise to others. I began to think about the abandoned, the forgotten, the abused animals Nancy and I fight so hard for and asked myself, “Who is responsible?” Is it just the abusers or the reckless or the thoughtless that we should be pointing our fingers at, or are we as a society and community culpable too?
At first I thought I wanted this blog to speak to those capable of cruelty, neglect, and disregard but I realized I cannot speak to that. I do not and never will understand such a mind or such a soul, so I have nothing constructive to say to those people. What I have to say can only be understood by those who respond to a movie like Hachi as I did, who recognize and understand on a deep and personal level what it means to love a companion animal and be loved by them in return.
The great news is that there are millions of people like me in the world. Over $50 billion was spent in American in 2011 on companion animals, and that’s during a recession! Clearly there are many, many people in the world who feel as strongly about their pets as I do and it’s to these people I speak now. There is a crisis going on for our beloved friends and they need us. We can help, we can make a difference, we can change the outcome for millions of voiceless, innocent creatures who have done nothing more to deserve their outcome than be the product of a neglectful society.
It was only four years ago that I became aware of the dire situation in our shelter systems and since then it has been immensely important to me to inform others who, like me, adore and respect their pets and would do anything to protect and shelter them but who are unaware of all the others in our country about animals suffering and dying needlessly. It wasn’t that I didn’t care or even that it felt too big to take on -- it was just that like most I didn’t know.
The numbers are staggering and will take your breath away: Four million healthy adoptable companion pets are being killed every year in our shelters due to overcrowding. I have faith, however, that animal lovers and activists at heart band together, we can change the statistics. The solutions can be complicated and seem impossible, but the reality is that there is something each one of us can do to help:
-- We can encourage our family, friends and neighbors to rescue a pet versus buying one.
-- We can promote and support spay/neuter programs and education in our towns and cities.
-- We can donate time, money (even a dollar matters!) or supplies to local shelters.
-- And, most importantly, when you curl up on the floor, sofa or bed with your most loyal friend, you can remember that the best way to honor the gift they are in our lives is to help their kind any way we can. Every little bit matters, no kindness is too small. One saved life matters, one unnecessary death avoided matters.
It’s easy to lose sight of humanity’s capacity for compassion, but in the world of animal rescue I am reminded over and over again of how most people are inherently good and well-intentioned. That’s what I force myself to focus on when despair and hopelessness starts to creep in. I choose over and over again to see people’s character and integrity as my dogs do. They have set the bar high when it comes to faith, compassion, patience, loyalty and unconditional love and when I pray at night, I ask that I can follow their example more often. These remarkable creatures have put so much trust and heart into the human race: Now all we have to do is deserve it.