Courtesy ASPCA
Kelli Bender
April 08, 2017 10:30 AM

Patrick Stewart’s dog fostering journey, which has been documented in adorable detail on Instagram, has been more than just a delight for the actor — it’s been a life-changing experience.

“I find that my relationship to the world and to the news every day in the papers and on the television has been changed by Ginger, because she has brought such a quality of patience and tolerance and fun into our lives, that it has, in a very short space of time, shifted my sense of where our world might be going,” Stewart, 76, told PEOPLE about the precious pit bull he fostered with wife Sunny Ozell through L.A.’s Wags and Walks, with help from the ASPCA.

“I literally find myself more optimistic than I was, and there is only Ginger to account for this,” he continued. “It is the impact of sharing my life for only seven or eight days with Ginger.”

The sheer magic the 2-year-old pup instilled in the Logan star’s life also inspired Stewart to seek causes that will protect dogs like Ginger from being the target of abuse.

As part of this effort, Stewart partnered with the ASPCA to put an end to dog fighting. As part of the National Dog Fighting Awareness Day campaign kicking off on April 8, Stewart and the ASPCA are urging animal lovers across the country to #GetTough on this cruel practice by posting selfies with their pets to social media throughout the month of April, flexing their muscles as a sign of solidarity to the organizations working to end this inhumane form of entertainment.

Along with sharing selfies, supporters are encouraged to post their thoughts about the cruelty of dog fighting with the hashtag #GetTough and learn more about dog fighting and how to end it at aspca.org/gettough.

Stewart himself admitted to believing the negative stereotypes that say pit bulls are violent and dangerous — until five years ago, when he moved next door to an aging pit bull named Sadie in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“I had a reaction to that, which I am now significantly ashamed of, because pit bulls to me meant only one thing: aggression, hostility, violence. I was uncomfortable with the idea of meeting this dog,” Stewart shared.

But the actor was happy to realize just how wrong he was.

“Immediately upon meeting her, something happened and I found myself simply absorbed in her whether she was paying attention to me or not,” he said of his first moments with Sadie.

Soon Sadie and Stewart formed a special bond, which still exists to this day.

“On these evenings when I came home, tired and irritable, and sometimes unhappy or stressed by the day’s work, she would sit alongside me, putting her head on my thigh, and occasionally reaching out a paw and touching my arm or my hand, and look up at me with an expression in her eyes which only said one thing to me, which was, ‘Are you okay?’ ” he recalled. “As we sat there, just the two of us on the sofa, I could feel my stress level and blood pressure going down, and the evening I had being adjusted.”

It was this soulfulness and comfort that Stewart found in Sadie which inspired him to seek out a foster dog while living in Los Angeles this winter.

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Working with the ASPCA, Stewart was introduced to the local L.A. shelter Wags and Walks, which ultimately paired him with Ginger, his first dog since he was 14 years old.

“One morning they arrived with Ginger and almost immediately something happened. First her warmth and friendliness and curiosity and good manners impressed us right away, but what we were not prepared for is what very quickly followed and that was that we fell in love.” Stewart said.

Smitten in seconds with Ginger, Stewart and his wife admitted to themselves they would probably end up adopting the dog. Unfortunately, due to breed legislation in the U.K., taking Ginger to his home in England would be almost impossible for Stewart, so he and Ozell refocused their efforts on finding the perfect forever home for the pit bull.

“We know now without any doubt that Ginger will find a marvelous home and we have a list of people we know would love to have Ginger,” Stewart said. “We know she is going to be safe, happy, content and having a great life.”

Though Ginger won’t be a physical presence in his life forever, the permanent changes she made in Stewart’s life are already starting to show. In addition to his work to end dog fighting, the actor is now dedicated to fighting the discriminatory breed legislation which prevented Ginger from moving abroad with him and colored his initial negative thoughts about pit bulls.

“The want to please is an absolute characteristic of pit bulls,” Stewart, who has been researching the breed since caring for Ginger, said. “It means that these dogs can be used trained and tampered with in a way that, in order to please their masters, makes them angry and violent, and makes them become fighting dogs.”

Adding, “I am very happy to be part of the campaign that is speaking out against this and the urgent need for the law and organizations to intervene whenever they can.”

For those at home looking for other ways to help outside of the #GetTough campaign, Stewart strongly suggests adopting or fostering a pit bull of your own. It is certainly part of his plans.

“This is not the end for us, we are now totally committed to fostering and adoption,” he said. “There will be a Ginger in our lives soon, because there has to be.”

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