When Doris Day turned 95 on April 3, many fans wondered what America’s Sweetheart has been up to since she left behind Hollywood in 1973. However, the beloved screen star has been keeping busy pursuing her lifelong passion.
“When she left Los Angeles, she moved to Carmel. The main reason was she wanted to focus on animal rescue,” Day’s business manager and close friend Bob Bashara told Fox News. “She was already rescuing animals in Beverly Hills.
"They called her the Dog Catcher of Beverly Hills because she’d be on her bike riding around Beverly Hills and if she saw a stray, she would try to find it a home. And if she couldn’t, she’d take it home and get it rehabilitated. But she would keep it herself a lot of times. But she really couldn’t do what she wanted to do concerning animal welfare in Beverly Hills.”
Day, who first got her start as a big band singer, made her film debut in 1948 with “Romance On the High Seas,” which led to numerous popular rom-coms highlighting her signature sunny serenades.
The beloved actress also became a pop star with the help of musical hits, such as 1953’s “Secret Love” and 1956’s “Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera).”
However, when her third husband, film producer Martin Melcher, died in 1968, Day eventually withdrew from the public eye and completely devoted herself to animal-rights work. Bashara claimed those who knew Day best wouldn’t be surprise by her decision. In fact, Day’s determination to rescue animals started long before she found fame.
Day, a child dancer in her native Cincinnati, had her career interrupted in 1937 at age 14 when a train struck a car she was riding in with friends. Her right leg was completely shattered and she was in a cast for nearly two years.
According to Bashara, while Day took singing lessons to occupy her time, she found comfort in her dog Tiny, who never left her side.
“Unfortunately, the dog ran out to the street and was killed,” explained Bashara. “Doris believed it was important for people to keep their pets on a leash. She always had an interest in animals since then. Even at the height of her career, she was known for picking up dogs off set.”
Day’s love for animals almost cost her the chance to work with filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock in 1956’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” opposite James Stewart.
“They went to Morocco and she didn’t like how the animals were being treated [on set]," said Bashara. “She told Alfred Hitchcock if they didn’t treat the animals properly, she wasn’t going to continue with the film. So they made sure the animals were cared for. It was always on her mind.”
That same year, Day made a film called “Julie,” which was filmed in Carmel, a beach city in California that was miles away from Hollywood. Day fell in love with the town and when she retired, Carmel became home.
“She found a piece a property in Carmel Valley and she found a home there that she renovated and restructured to a facility where she could house animals,” said Bashara. “She was out picking up animals, people were leaving them at the door. If an animal needed to be adopted, she would go to the homes first and made sure it was a good environment for the animal before she would let the people have it.”
In 1978 Day formed the Doris Day Pet Foundation, which kept her busy finding loving homes for animals in need. She then formed the non-profit organization Doris Day Animal League to tackle animal overpopulation. Bashara said it’s still in operation today and has merged with the Humane Society of the United States.
“She lives in California on the same property,” he said. “She can’t really go out and rescue animals. But people still leave them on the doorsteps. Or if a feral cat wanders on the property, she’s bound to take it in and care for it. Someone even left an animal outside her gate in a box because they knew she would care for it. She still looks for organizations that her foundation can give money to and rescue animals.”
Still, Day hasn’t forgotten her fans. Bashara added the star gets hundreds of letters a month and she answers them all.
“A few years ago, we had a big birthday party for her and about 200 fans came to dinner,” said Bashara. “Even though she doesn’t really make public appearances very often, she did that night. She made sure to greet everyone who attended.
"She still has a close circle of friends who visit her. She loves go out to the ocean… All those years in the public eye, she’s very happy with her beautiful property, being with good friends, and her animals. And at 95, she’s in pretty good health.”
Over the years, Day has been asked to come out of retirement and scripts have even come her way. And while she’s not interested in returning to the spotlight, Day hasn’t completely given up on her love for music.
“She loves singing,” insisted Bashara. “She sings around the house a lot and her voice is terrific. We keep telling her she could record again if she wanted to. But she’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m rusty.”
And Day continues to have fond memories of one particular co-star.
“She and Rock Hudson were very, very good friends,” said Bashara. “He used to come visit her at her Malibu house. They loved working together. They were great friends until the day he died.”
The screen idol died in 1985 at age 59 from AIDS.
But despite her lasting success, Day is perfectly content focusing on rescuing animals and has zero plans to slow down.
“She’s said this before… she never really wanted to be a movie star,” said Bashara. “She wanted to get married, have a family… She loves living the simple life. I don’t think she was ever really interested in the celebrity side of it. She wanted to work with animals and she wanted to do that in a more private setting.”