As the owner of a beloved rescue dog named Paulie (above), helping unwanted animals has always been a cause close to actress Kyra Sedgwick’s heart. So she’s teamed up with Hill’s Science Diet for this weekend’s Change a Pet’s Life Day, a national free adoption drive that helps shelter cats and dogs. As a part of the program, the cost of adoption is free at participating shelters and adoptive parents get a starter kit, which includes pet food and tips on how to be a great parent. The Closer star chatted with PEOPLE Pets about the project and how important the pets she shares with husband Kevin Bacon are in her life.
Q: Why did you get involved with this project?
A: A huge part of my life has been dedicated to the welfare of unwanted cats and dogs simply by virtue of the fact that I have had rescues my whole life. All the cats and dogs I ever had were rescues. It just seemed like a great idea. There are so many shelters that are not no-kill shelters and 8 million new cats and dogs a year end up on their doorstep and they just can’t take care of all of them. They need a place to live. And I am such a big believer in having pets and having that be a transformational thing for the person that takes on the responsibility of a pet.
Q: Tell us about your first pet. Did you know you wanted a rescue then?
A: The family went to the shelter and our first one was actually a Golden retriever but he was a full-bred, which is unusual in a shelter, but you can find them. The cat I have currently is a Russian blue, which is also a full-bred I got form a shelter. When I was 18, I personally owned my own dog. I went to the shelter in Long Island and found a Golden retriever mutt mix. Then I when I met Kev, he had Jane–what we call a “Labrador Deceiver.” She lived for 18 years and was incredibly smart and wonderful and we had the two of them. And he got her from a Martha’s Vineyard rescue and then when she and Tybilt, my dog, died we got another rescue from our vet, who sometimes gets unwanted cats and dogs.
Q: Why did you name him Paulie?
A: He looked like a little tough refrigerator…a tank. At six weeks he reminded me of Rocky (Balboa’s) brother Paulie. It made no sense. It was a spur of the moment thing. He looked like this little tough guy who the second he came into our apartment wreaked havoc. He is a very dominant dog and we had to take some time to really train him and get him to where he is a really good pet. Dogs are either dominant or submissive.
Q: How does your cat Laura get along with your dog?
A: They fight like cats and dogs. You’d think they get bored. But when one is out of the house, they mope around waiting for the other one to get home. I think it’s a love-hate thing.
Q: Are you excited about Change a Pet’s Life Day?
A: This is going to be a really great day. The cost of adoption is underwritten by Hill’s Science Diet which is also a really good dog food company. We had our dogs on Science Diet forever. They’ll also give you a free bag of dog food and a starter kit. I think it’s a great thing for people who are even at all interested in taking the initiative … of knowing that they won’t have to pay for the adoption process, [it] would encourage people to at least go and look. Once you’re in there, it’s really hard to say no. I know when the vet called and said that a box of “Labrador Deceiver” puppies had been left in this flea market and needed homes, I said, ‘I’ll just go over and look’ and my husband said ‘you’re not just going to go over and look. That’s just not going to happen.’
Q: Can you share some tips about bringing a new dog into your household?
A: I’m not really an expert but I am a huge believer in a lot of walks. A dog has to have a job. They like to run and chase things if they’re a retriever. They need a job whether it’s picking up the paper outside the door or running next to your bike. I also think training is an important part of having a dog. One of the things that Hill’s is doing is giving you some tips–like a starter kit, which you’ll get when you go to the shelter. Any shelter will probably have good tips. And a lot of love is the most important ingredient.
Q: Are you the dog disciplinarian in the household?
A: We both are. It’s really relatively simple to train a dog. You just need to keep doing the same thing over and over again and they really get it. I’m such a snob. I think dogs you get from a shelter are incredibly smart. Often the mutts or the dogs who have been through something tend to pick up things faster. As long as you’re consistent with the same rules. ‘Disciplinarian’ sometimes has bad connotations–yelling and screaming. It’s nothing like that. It’s just being really clear.
Q: How have your pets improved your life?
A: I’ve volunteered at nursing homes before. My Dad has been in the hospital for a couple of months. They bring these dogs and cats around and you just see everyone perk up. There’s some biological connection we have with animals. There’s this unconditional love. It can make a huge difference in our lives. When I come home from a bad day, my dog doesn’t care if I’m a success that day or a failure. He just loves me unconditionally. My cat will always sit on my lap and purr no matter how many mistakes I’ve made. There’s not many places in life where you can give and receive unconditional love. Certainly, a pet can give you that and a reason to wake up in the morning. There have been times in my life when I have been struggling and not happy. And my dog doing something silly or putting his head on my lap can bring a smile to my day. As my teenage kids get older and want to close the door to their room and talk on the phone with their friends … they want to hang out with their friends more than they want to hang out with me … my dog never feels that way! He always wants to hang with me. He doesn’t get bored of me. He doesn’t role his eyes when I say something stupid.