Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank is on the phone, sounding positively chirpy. Or perhaps that’s a parrot in the background. “Yes, that’s my African Grey; I have two parrots,” says Swank. “Let me give you the great news. From October 1st (2009 through January 4th (2010), Iams Home 4 the Holidays adopted nearly one and a half million animals!” (1,363,638 to be exact).
“Whoo hoo!” she cheers. “That’s pretty amazing, and not only dogs and cats, but rabbits, birds, turtles, horses. That’s the thing; some people might not want only a dog or cat. Or they may want a purebred dog. Well, 25 percent of animals in shelters are purebreds.”
Iams Home 4 the Holidays began a decade ago, and millions of animals have found homes as a result of the initiative, arguably the most effective pet adoption drive in history. Last year’s drive tallied 1.2 million pets adopted.
The 2009 campaign spokesperson was Swank, who called the decision to get behind the pet adoption drive “a no brainer.”
“Finding animals loving homes,” she says. “What’s there not right about this? I’ve been a huge animal lover my entire life,” says the actress, who earned Best Actress Oscars for “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby.” “I think one of my first words was ‘dog.’
I’ve had many pets, and I’ve rescued many animals. I think they know they’ve been rescued, and are so grateful to you,” she says.
One of Swank’s dogs was rescued from the streets of South Africa. “I saw a little puffball on the street when I was making a movie (“Red Dust”) in 2004,” she says. “He was just 8 weeks old, and the veterinarian said, ‘If you don’t take this dog, he’ll die on the streets.’ So, of course, I took him. He’s probably a Jack Russell/Corgi mix, and other breeds, too.”
She named that dog Karoo, for the National Park of the same name in South Africa.
Last October, Swank adopted a Home 4 the Holidays dog in Los Angeles. The owners apparently lost their house, and their dog became homeless, too. Swank named the Golden Retriever-mix Rumi, after her favorite poet, the 13th Century Persian poet and theologian.
Her bird continues to squawk in the background, louder and louder. “Well, that’s an African Grey for you,” she says. Swank points out that large birds need rescuing, too. Their 40- to 65-year life spans might exceed their owners’.
Swank’s Grey does sometimes talk. His favorite expression is “What the?” Parrots only repeat what they’ve heard. Apparently, Swank may be using those two words followed by a third word, a common phrase perhaps when speaking to movie producers. She laughs and adds, “Maybe (talking to) family, too, but at least the bird doesn’t swear.”
As for Mike Arms, president and CEO of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, who created the Home 4 the Holidays program a decade ago, he’s proud of what he’s done so far. Arms says the adoption campaign has exceeded anyone’s expectations. But he’s hardly content. “We’ve only just begun to find orphaned animals’ homes,” he says.
One of Rumi’s poems is called “Beauty from the Heart.” The poet didn’t write about pet adoption back in the 13th Century, but this line certainly fits how adopters feel: “The beauty of the heart is the lasting beauty.”