“All these pets are just sitting there waiting for someone to give them a home,” says Academy Award winning actress Diane Keaton. “What a great thing to do over Christmas. You can give them a home!”
Keaton is positively ebullient about the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, CA and their campaign “IAMS Have A Heart: Home 4 The Holidays.” Originally a local effort (beginning in 1999), now a sweeping national campaign which includes more than 1,300 shelters around the country, and the expected adoption over more than 300,000 animals this holiday season.
“Our goal has always been to give orphan animals a chance,” says Mike Arms, president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center.
“Home 4 The Holidays” flies in the face of how animal shelters have been operating over the past decade or so. Many facilities intentionally process fewer adoptions around Christmas, and it hasn’t been unusual for them to close all together. The customary thinking has been that people who adopt around Christmas are making an impulsive decision, and as a result are more likely to return the animals.
It turns out that recent data demonstrates it’s no longer true that people who adopt from shelters at Christmastime are more likely to relinquish the animals. In fact, the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy from 2000 indicates that pets purchased as gifts are, in fact, less likely to be relinquished by their new families.
Arms explains, “Years ago, shelters didn’t screen clients as shelters do today. Also, if there was some problem or question with the pet, shelters didn’t have the resources they do today to help people through any issues.”
Of course, years ago people weren’t as likely to go to shelters in the first place. They more than likely might to go a pet store and ask ‘How much is that doggy in the window?”
Arms says, “We’re in the business of saving lives. If people are going to buy an animal for little Johnny or Jill anyway, I want them to visit our shelter; I want to keep our doors open and enthusiastically say ‘Come here!’ Shelters who close give people no other choice than to go to a pet store or a backyard breeder. Of course, those choices don’t save lives, and they’re not the best choices for people seeking a pet.
“You try taking an animal back to a pet store if there’s a problem,” says Keaton. “No, that’s not going to happen. So, if people had a problem with the pet, they’d just dump it somewhere or throw it in the pound.”
In fact, Keaton’s current dog, Red, was a dumped dog. The actress, who was nominated for an Academy Award for “Marvin’s Room” (1996) and “Reds” (1981); and won the Oscar for Best Actress for “Annie Hall” (1977), and this year for “Something’s Gotta Give,” was working on a movie “The Only Thrill” (with Diane Lane and Sam Shepherd) in 1997 when she found Red.. The movie was being made in Austin, TX, and Diane was simply walking down the street when Red ambled up to her.
Keaton says, “I thought, ‘I’ve gotta get rid of this dog.’ I had another dog at the time, a dog named Jonesy who had been with me about 12 years. I tried to get somebody else to take Red. I offered incentives to people on the set, like you know, money, cash. No one took Red. I’m so glad they never did. I love Red dearly; and he was just the found dog no one wanted.”
Red is likely a shepherd/corgi mix, according to Keaton. “Okay, he’s a horrible looking dog. I know that. He has the body of a shepherd and the legs of a corgi,” she begins to laugh.
Red is a senior citizen canine. Keaton says she has a thing for older dogs. “They’re least likely to find a home, and frankly I love them. They’re dogs who frequently have been at homes; they’ve done nothing wrong " their owners have maybe passed on or moved and not taken the dog. It breaks my heart to think they’ve been passed over.”
About to celebrate her 59th birthday, critics thought she was likely too old to win an Academy Award. Is the way we view age in our society detrimental to older people as well as senior pets? “Yes,” she says. “In life, there are young people and there are older people. I don’t have to be the star, but I’m moving on to playing older people. Well, I mean I feel I do not go gently into the dark night. I mean you have to fight all the way in your life for things that matter. Stay active and never concede.”
She continues, “Look what I gained from my old dog Josie. I was given Josie as a gift. No, she was not the dog I had in mind. But I fell in love with Josie. I learned a lot about my capacity for love from Josie.”
She credits the confidence she gained by caring for Josie to encourage her to make the leap to become a parent relatively late in life, adopting when she was in her 50’s.
“If you open your hearts and let them in, animals can do a lot,” she adds. “We can all learn from them. What’s so heartbreaking is that so many are in need of homes. I hope people adopt now. Give yourself or your family the gift of love.”
IAMS is giving a $100,000 in grants to twenty participating adoption centers. Participating shelters will give adopting families food samples, coupons, and a five percent discount from Veterinary Pet Insurance.