Hilary Swank Helps 1.3M Pets Find Forever Homes
Hilary Swank, with her two adopted dogs, Karoo, left, and Rumi, right, and Mike Arms, founder of Iams Home 4 the Holiday and president of the Helen Woodward Center in Rancho, Santa Fe, Calif., with the results of the 3-month-long adoption campaign.
NEW YORK -- Snuggled between her two adopted dogs, Hilary Swank has always been an animal lover. With Rumi drifting off into a happy doze and Karoo, looking up at the two-time Academy Award winning actress with eyes filled with thanks, Swank knows first-hand the special bond between homeless animal and human.
"I am a really big advocate for speaking up for animals that need to be adopted, and when you think about the statistics, to me, there is no other option but to adopt," Swank said of the estimated six million homeless dogs and eight million homeless cats, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
"And when you hear of four million (cats and dogs) that get put to sleep, how can your heart not go out to them," Swank asked rhetorically in an interview with Zootoo Pet News.
As the ambassador of Iams Home 4 the Holiday, in various media outlets, including talk shows and magazines, Swank helped spread the word of the Oct. 1 to Jan. 4 campaign. As a result, countless families gave more than 1.3 million pets forever homes during the 2009 holiday season -- including, Lauren Steiner and her husband, Bob, who adopted Rocco, a one-year-old black Lab-mix from Love Astray in Avon Lake, Ohio.
"It's a wonderful thing to use the holidays to benefit homeless animals," said Steiner, of Bay Village, Ohio. "People are more charitable around that time of the year, so it is a nice fit."
'The St. Nick of Homeless Animals'
The power of the holiday spirit was the exact theory Mike Arms, Home 4 the Holiday founder and president of the Helen Woodward Center, tested in partnership with Iams to prove that animal organizations could find homes for pets over the holidays and do so responsibly, without correlating return rates. From that trial run in 1999, the campaign reached the national level in 2003 and continued to expand into its current form as an international seasonal effort.
Now with the collaboration of 3,500 animal organizations from 17 countries, the world's largest pet adoption program proved its 10th year to be its most successful with 729,357 dogs, 588,265 cats and 46,016 rabbits, reptiles, horses, birds and other animals finding homes during the holiday months.
“Every year I continue to be inspired by the outpouring of love and commitment I see as millions of people experience the joy of pet adoption,” said Arms, in a statement announcing the results last week.
Arms, who could easily be called "the St. Nick of homeless animals" with his twinkling eyes and a heart laden with love, spoke to Zootoo Pet News in October about his dream, where one day he hopes his granddaughter will crawl up into his lap and ask him to tell of the days when people used to kill pets because there were no homes for them.
'She Adopted Us'
Last fall, before the 2008 IH4TH campaign began, Swank went to the Helen Woodward Center to find a playmate for Karoo, a Corgi-mix. As it turns out, she got more than she bargained for -- while there she first learned about the campaign and thought what "a wonderful way to spread the word" and to get people to go to a shelter. Yet before she left the center, she says it was Rumi, a Golden Retriever-mix, who picked her.
"The theme that comes out of this program -- from our spokespeople to those adopting -- is so true, (they say) 'she adopted me,' " said Kris Parlett, an Iams spokesman and IH4TH adopting family. "Well, Houdi adopted us. She is, quote unquote, a failed foster."
At the end of a three-agency, five-hour adopt-a-thon in Dayton, Ohio, where 63 pets found homes, Houdi was one of two left still homeless. Parlett agreed to take in the Portuguese water dog-mix just for the holidays with the special mission of having the family of four children promote the 11-month-old through Facebook and Twitter -- it was "with good intentions, but her heart and soul took us over, and the rest is history."
"So we had a family meeting about what this means for us as a family, more responsibilities and how to add her into our lives -- with the organized confusion," chuckled Parlett, noting that the family already has one dog, Maddie, who was adopted in 1999. "There was no way she was going back, and the transition has been amazing."
Laura Schaeffer, of Santee, Calif., had a similar experience as Swank at the Helen Woodward Center located in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
"We actually went online, to PetFinder, and looked at several places, including animal control -- just everywhere and when we went to Helen Woodward -- it's a little bit of a drive -- we were in love with the facility itself," Schaeffer said. "But when we saw Roxy we knew it. We took her to the play area, and she was just so loving -- all over us, licking us, giving us kisses -- she had a special bond with us right away."
Now the 8-month-old black lab has adjusted to home life, and has taken to the family 8-month-old kitten Harley, like two peas on a pod.
"We were nervous with our kitten but they did a cat-check at the facility," Schaeffer said. "And right away they -- almost immediately -- they (Roxy and Harley) got along. It was cute."
The success of the program stems from the collaboration of animal agencies working together to find pets homes, and the screening process which is also accompanied with an Iams adoption kit and DVD loaded with information about nutrition, training and proper care.
“All of us at Iams are committed to helping orphaned pets and we’ll continue to aggressively work with participating animal organizations to make sure they have the tools and support they need so that more animals find loving homes,” according to Dan Rajczak, senior vice president of Global Snacks and Pet Care.
But for Swank, whose two dogs and two rescued parrots, Angel and Seuss, travel with her everywhere, the partnership was such a good fit because "I've adopted many, many animals in my lifetime and I have been to shelters all over the country, and to me it is part of my life. The beautiful thing is that it just raises more awareness."
Her parting words, as the 2009 Iams Home 4 the Holiday ambassador: "If you are wanting an animal, go to your local shelter and bring home a pet that needs a home -- and they will be grateful forever."
The 2010 program will kick-off on Oct.1, however there are plenty of ways to get involved now. To learn more about participating Iams Home 4 the Holiday shelters, volunteering or making a donation to support animal organizations, visit IamsHome4TheHolidays.com. To learn more about the Helen Woodward Center, visit AnimalCenter.org.
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