When Diane Keaton showed up for a tour of the Helen Woodward Animal Center, a revolutionary facility in Rancho Santa Fe, California, general manager Mike Arms knew about as much about the actor, director and producer as you and I.
But after chatting together as they walked around the Center’s spacious grounds, Mike discovered the talented celebrity really loved animals, and he knew he’d found the important spokesperson he’d been looking for.
“It wasn’t just words; you could feel how much she loved the animals,” explains Mike. “When I asked her if she would be willing to be the spokesperson for our Home 4 the Holidays program, without hesitation, she said ‘Of course’.”
From that moment on, the actor found herself speaking out on behalf of all the animals sitting in shelters who needed new homes, drawing attention to their plight and encouraging people to adopt during the busy holiday season rather than buy from pet stores and puppy mills. Not surprisingly, Mike Arms was thrilled with Diane’s commitment. “She was tremendous with helping to get the message out. Even though I knew how busy she was, she never said no. That’s just the type of person she is.”
Modest about her role with the HWAC, Diane feels thankful for what animals have brought to her life. “Animals bring you a sense of wonder,” she says. Helping them is second nature to her.
To recognize the star’s efforts on their behalf, the HWAC awarded Diane with the Helen Woodward Humane Award this past July. With a raft of acting awards and nominations under her belt, including an Academy Award for Annie Hall and a Golden Globe for Something’s Gotta Give, you might think this latest accolade paled in comparison. But the actor says she was honored by the event. “I’ve received so many awards in my lifetime,” said Diane, “but this is the one that I want my children to remember me for.”
In addition to her adopted son and daughter, Diane shares her life with Red, a Corgi mix who was found on a street in Austin, Texas, and Sweetie, a Newfoundland that she adopted through Newfie Rescue.
Her feelings for animals go way back, she says, to her childhood, when various members of the family would bring strays home. This desire to rescue animals stayed with her throughout the years.
“I wanted to have my own shelter with my sister,” says Diane. “But I realized I could never raise the needed money.” When a friend recommended HWAC, the actor felt compelled to check it out.
The rest, as they say, is history, and Mike Arms couldn’t be more ecstatic. “Diane’s helping us raise awareness by doing interviews and Public Service Announcements encouraging people to adopt. Last year, with her help, we had over 1,800 shelters around the world registered for Home 4 the Holidays, and we did 313,000 adoptions.”
In addition to her work with HWAC, Diane also took time out of her busy schedule to shoot a public service announcement aimed at helping out the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina. Her simple and heartfelt plea for the animals displaced by this terrible disaster struck a chord with animal lovers everywhere.
“She’s so intelligent, so bright, and so full of energy,” says Mike. “No matter how busy she is, she’ll always make time for the animals.”
About the Helen Woodward Center
The HWAC is much more than a shelter. In addition to taking in and adopting out animals (about 2,000 annually), the Center offers therapeutic riding for the physically and mentally challenged, and runs a pet therapy program. “We go into hospitals, hospices, youth centers and bring that unconditional love that only the animals can deliver,” says Mike. “In some elderly centers, a dog might be too big for a senior lady to pet, but a little bunny sitting in her lap might be perfect. Harriet, the cockatoo, brings that unconditional love to people who are paralyzed from the neck down, because she’ll rub against their faces.”
The Center also teaches children about sharing the earth with animals through their summer camp program. This year, they had to cut off enrollment at 1,055 kids. “This is what facilities should be doing all over the country,” says Mike, “because if we don’t start with the children of today we don’t do anything about changing tomorrow.”
Club Pet, the Center’s boarding facility, raises revenue to help orphaned animals, while the Center’s small animal hospital, which it owns but leases out to a referral practice, provides care to locals. Beside the small animal practice is a large equine hospital, which is used by about 50 accredited equine vets.
In the main facility, staff run another program called Animeals, a take-off on the Meals for Wheels program for humans. Animeals provides pet food for people who currently receive Meals on Wheels. Mike and his staff created the program after discovering that shut-ins were eating only half of the meals they received, so they could share the other half with their only source of companionship – their animals. Volunteers collect food donations from bins in big food stores and HWAC delivers the food to about 270 Meals on Wheels recipients. “Nobody goes hungry,” says Mike. “This program should be all over this country.”
Finally, the Center acts as a resource to other facilities, sharing what they’ve learned through their Animal Center
Education Service. Every other month, groups from all over the country visit HWAC to learn how to be more successful at what they’re doing.
The HWAC’s Home 4 the Holidays program, a seasonal international adoption promotion, has grown exponentially since it’s inception in 1999. “For many years, many shelters wouldn’t adopt out during the holidays because they said it was impulse adoption, and the animals would come back post holidays,” explains Mike. “But the adoption return post holidays is actually lower than at any other time of the year – we checked that. If someone comes to your facility to adopt, you have the opportunity to educate them and to match them up with the right pet, and to make sure the animal is spayed or neutered. By turning people away, you don’t stop them from getting a pet. You only stop them from where they’re going to get the pet.”