Beyond being famous for her film work—which has earned her two Academy Awards—Hilary Swank has also made a name for herself as a leading advocate for animals. On Thanksgiving night (Fox, 8 to 10 p.m.), she’ll bring her talents and humane passion to a special program celebrating rescue dogs: Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Special. She is co-producing this groundbreaking show with Michael Levitt, producer of special programming and a leader in dog rescue. Jane Lynch will be the co-host. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Swank about her animal advocacy and this extraordinary television show.
Claudia Kawczynska: What drew you to rescue/shelter dogs?
Hilary Swank: Every year, nearly 8 million animals end up in shelters, of which approximately 4 million never make it out. We want to do the work [on this program] to make people aware of the extent of the problem, because I don’t believe that anyone’s life should be cut short. Up to 25 percent of homeless animals are purebred, if people are looking for a purebred. There are puppies; young, already trained dogs; and senior dogs. If people are made aware, they will know that their four-legged family member is waiting for them at a shelter or rescue organization. So many people want a dog but are either misinformed or simply unaware of these facts. Rescuing a dog shouldn’t be arduous or difficult, and this program will bring to light just how simple the process truly is if they have the right tools.
CK: How important is training to the success of an adoption?
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HS: Sometimes people are disappointed when their dogs don’t behave, and yet they haven’t given the dog the skills to know how to behave. Dogs want to make you happy and want to know what you expect from them. For this reason, I believe in positive reinforcement training. It’s been such a joy to train my dogs and help them realize they have a place they belong.
CK: How did you become such a great advocate for dogs?
HS: I’ve always had a special place in my heart for all animals, but dogs especially; I just love them. As early as I can remember, I wanted a dog—they just look at us and see us for who we really are, when we sometimes feel that no one is able to do that. I feel there’s a connection between dogs and humans that is super profound. That is something I experienced when I moved out of the house at 18 and rescued my first dog, a black Lab/Shepherd mix I named Lucky. Besides the dogs I’ve rescued and shared my home with [Lucky, Karoo, Rumi and Kai], I’ve also found forever homes for thousands of dogs.
I have worked with humane societies in New York and LA and places in between, going in shelters during my days off [from filming], volunteering and connecting dogs with people who were ready to rescue. With the passing of Karoo, who touched my soul profoundly, I decided to start the Hilaroo Foundation.
CK: Tell us about the Hilaroo Foundation.
HS: Hilaroo is my name and Karoo’s name put together. The goal of the foundation is to bring together youth who have been given up on and animals who have been abandoned, to help heal one another through Rescue, Rehabilitation, Animal Adoption and Responsibility Training. Every soul needs someone who cares and believes in us, and this will be the goal and mission of the Hilaroo Foundation.
We will rescue animals who have been abandoned and rehabilitate them, both physically and emotionally. Youth who, whether by choice or circumstance, have been given up on by society will be paired with animals to help in that rehabilitation endeavor. The two souls will set out on a journey together to find healing.
When the animals are ready, we will adopt them into forever homes. Through their time at the foundation, youth will be given responsibility training so that they can go out into this world to make it a better place for themselves. Simply stated, the mission of the Hilaroo Foundation is to “change the path of a soul.”
CK: Tell us more about Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Special. How did it come about? How long have you been working on and planning this program?
HS: Michael Levitt brought it to me about a year ago, and the Fox television network loved the idea and gave us the opportunity, for the first time in history, to make a two-hour special that celebrates dogs and the dog-human connection. This is going to be an entertaining, joyful family show with a lot of fun and lots of dogs; prizes will be given for best tricks, best howlers, celebrity lookalikes and best viral dog video, and we’ll celebrate the people who have done good work to help dogs and organizations that are doing good things. We’ll be sharing all those stories. The program will also be an education effort, informing people about the importance of rescue/adoption and spay/neuter, among other things. Knowledge is power, and we are so excited to see what lives will be changed by this program.
CK: You’ve gathered quite a cast of celebrities. Tell us about them.
HS: So many people are stepping up to help by lending their time, their name and their talent: Jane Lynch (co-host), Channing Tatum, Miley Cyrus, Amber Riley, Kristen Bell, Betty White, Kristin Chenoweth, Carrie Ann Inaba, LeAnn Rime, Masterchef, Jr. Contestants: Mitchell, Natalie and Sean, David Arquette, Max Greenfield, Emmy Rossum, Olivia Munn, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Paula Abdul, Jerry O’Connell, Randy Jackson, Josh Duhamel, Rebecca Romijn, Julianne Hough, Sharon Osbourne, Kathy Griffin, Wayne Brady, Kelly Osbourne, Wendie Malick. There are so many dog lovers out there, and it’s been such a blessing to see them coming together—for that, I am so thankful.
CK: Since this program will be pre-taped, how will the adoption process be handled?
HS: We’ll be working with many wonderful, experienced dog rescuers who have been vetted by our own “canine unit” to make sure that everyone is doing their due diligence. All the dogs on the show (who will also be highlighted on our website) will come from approved 501(c)(3) rescue groups that have agreed to an established code of conduct. Our website will also introduce people to the dogs on the program and others in their geographic area who are looking for homes.
For those who cannot adopt, we’ll give them the opportunity to foster as well as donate time and/or money; everyone will be able to help in many ways. Potential adopters or fosterers will be thoroughly vetted and asked to fill out a pre-adoption application that will include reference checks, site visits and, very importantly, follow-up visits (that is a big thing—helping people with that transition is super important). All of the dogs will come from the ranks of grassroots rescuers.
The donations will be handled through a well-established charitable foundation, which, in turn, will dispense the funds to the individual groups through a granting process. So people will be able to call in or text and give to organizations that are doing extraordinary things for animals.
It is a really great opportunity all around, and I’m really proud to be part of it, and to help shepherd it. It is our hope that this coming-together with viewers will be such a great success that we’ll be able to do it every year. There is no better day than Thanksgiving to air this program, because of all the thanks we have for our four-legged friends, who bring us such unconditional love.