While starring in a play about a pet, the actress helps Kansas City strays find homes

Actress Cindy Williams shares her Woodland Hills, Calif., townhouse with three rescued animals: Pharaoh the cat, Louie the Bichon Frise, and Polly the terrier-Chihuahua mix. But that didn’t sway her from adding another one last summer, after she spotted a dog on the street who had been abandoned without food or water in the heat.

“I can’t stand to see anything suffer,” says the former Laverne & Shirley star, who has also donated time to numerous animal causes. “I planned to try and find a home for him, but I couldn’t; we just bonded.” Williams named the pup Eddie.

That rescue was on her mind when she received a call from Richard Carrothers, who was preparing to direct her in an Overland Park, Kans., production of Sylvia, A.R. Gurney’s comic play about a man who brings home a stray dog, sparking clashes between him and his wife over his affection for the female pet. Carrothers has five rescued dogs himself. He assured Williams she’d done the right thing by taking in Eddie. Then Williams offered up an idea: Maybe they could bring a stray onstage after every show, and ask if anyone in the audience would give it a home?

Carrothers agreed to the idea, so after each curtain call, Williams introduces a dog from the the no-kill Animal Haven shelter.

“I had tears in my eyes,” says theatergoer Lori Howard, who watched a December performance and afterward adopted one of two sibling miniature Pincher-Chihuahua mixes who had been abandoned in a home foreclosure. (Her roommate adopted the other one.) “It’s like they were supposed to be with us,” says Howard, who named her new pet Kai. “They just needed some love.”

Williams, 63, has happily spread that love around. In Howard’s case, Williams and another cast member even donated half of the $120 adoption fee from Animal Haven, which has partnered with New Theatre Restaurant and last year placed or returned about 3,600 dogs and cats. (The theater, where Sylvia is being performed through Jan. 16, covers the other half for any audience member who responds to Williams’ appeal.) By the end of December, 61 dogs presented on stage had found homes. And there have been other matches: After a local newspaper ran a photo of Williams with two shelter dogs coincidentally named Laverne and Shirley by the shelter’s staff, the pets were reunited with their owner. They had escaped through an open gate.

That reunion alone made Williams’ day. “What I hope is that every dog we bring out finds a beautiful home and family,” she says. “I know there’s a need there, and I want to help in any way.”

She adds, “I would love to have a huge compound where I could have animals running free, but I don’t. This is my way of having that big backyard and taking care of all those beautiful little souls.”

Read about other actresses with a passion for rescue animals on PEOPLEPets.com:
Actress Yvonne Strahovski Becomes an Angel for Animals
Lea Michele’s Secret Side Gig? Animal Rescue!