Happy birthday, Doris Day: the iconic star’s life as an advocate for animals

For many people, America’s sweetheart will always be Doris Day, the singer of classic songs like “Que Sera, Sera” and one of the biggest box-office stars of the ’50s and ’60s.

Her famously wholesome image extended to her real life as well: the star was famous for her deep love of animals, and spent decades advocating for them through a number of charities and organizations.

1960: American actor Doris Day with mutt co-star Hobo on the set of director Charles Walters’s film, ‘Please Don’t Eat the Daisies’. Also pictured is an unshaven toy poodle standing up on his hind legs. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In honor of what would have been the late singer’s birthday, read about her inspiring life as an animal advocate.

Doris Day – early life and career

Doris Day was one of the biggest stars of her era, launching from a successful music recording career in the big band era to being one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the ’50s and ’60.

Day was born as Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Day originally had aspirations to be a professional dancer, but those hopes were dashed after her leg was crushed when a car she was riding in was struck by a train.

But while recovering from that injury, she became interested in singing and started taking voice lessons. She was soon discovered and began working with band leaders from the age of 15.

As Day’s music career took off, she scored #1 hits with her recordings of “Sentimental Journey” and “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time” with bandleader Les Brown.

Doris Day, US actress and singer, wearing a light blue, short-sleeved woollen blouse, with two dragonfly brooches, circa 1955. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

She also launched a successful film career: beginning with her film debut in 1948’s Romance on the High Seas, she became one of the most successful actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

One of her most memorable on-screen appearances was a starring role Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much, which also introduced Day’s signature song, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).”

She was also known for her romantic comedies opposite Rock Hudson, beginning with the 1959 film Pillow Talk, which earned her an Academy Award nomination. Day was voted Top Box-Office Female Star for four straight years in the 1960s.


Day also had success on TV with her own sitcom The Doris Day Show, which ran for five seasons.

Doris Day – animal advocate

But Day was almost as well known as a lover of animals — so much so that friends in Hollywood called her the “Dog Catcher of Beverly Hills,” because she would go out and rescue strays and convince fellow stars to adopt.

It was the 1970s, and nearly 17 million animals were being killed in the US every year. Spaying and neutering pets wasn’t common in those days, so many unwanted pets were tossed into the street over overcrowded shelters.

Day was one of the few people looking out for these unwanted pets, and her love for animals inspired her to start the Doris Day Pet Foundation in 1978, which evolved into the Doris Day Animal Foundation. She also formed the Doris Day Animal League, a non-profit lobbying organization, which later merged with the Humane Society of the United States.

(Original Caption) Segio Fantoni, Doris Day and Rod Taylor are shown on the set as they amuse themselves with a wolf between scenes of Do Not Disturb in which the trio co-star.

Her interest in helping pets reportedly came from a sad personal incident: she received her first dog, Tiny, as a 15-year-old while recovering from a car accident. But when she took Tiny for a walk without a leash while she was still on crutches, the dog got loose and was killed by a car.

According to the Doris Day Animal Foundation, Day felt she had “betrayed” Tiny by not being more careful, and dedicated her life to rescuing animals.

(Original Caption) “Since you’re such a good doggy, suppose you just sit up here and have your picture taken?” purrs Doris Day to this fortunate canine. Oh for a day’s life in the day of Doris Day!

Another incident that inspired her to take up the cause was filming The Man Who Knew Too Much in Morocco in 1956: according to PETA, she became distressed after seeing how the goats, horses, cows and other animals used in the filming were treated on set. She refused to continue working until they got better treatment, and set up a feeding station for them and supervised their care.

Day was also among the first stars to condemn the use of fur in fashion, appearing in anti-fur newspaper ads alongside actresses Mary Tyler Moore, Angie Dickinson and Jayne Meadows.

CARMEL CA, – JULY 16: Doris Day with one of her dogs at a press conference at the dog friendly hotel she owns in Carmel, California July 16, 1985 ( Photo by Paul Harris/Getty Images )

Another lasting impact Day had was founding “Spay Day USA” in 1995 to promote the spaying and neutering of animals. The annual event continues as “World Spay Day,” held on the last Tuesday of every February.

She also helped start a sanctuary for abused and neglected horses, the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center.

She remained an active and passionate champion of animal rights until her death in 2019. Even after her passing, her legacy is still used to help animals: a posthumous auction of Day’s belongings raised $3 million for animal charities in 2020.

And on her birthday last year, which would have been her 100th, the DDAF held a fundraiser in her memory, the #DorisDay100 Challenge, with a goal of raising $100,000 for her foundation.

Happy birthday to the late, great Doris Day — an incredible singer, actress and lover of animals!

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