By Duncan Strauss
In a recent Talking Animals conversation, actress, director and animal advocate Alison Eastwood provided what some might consider breaking news.
The interview had come together chiefly to enable Eastwood–who had already founded the five-year-old, Southern California-based animal welfare and rescue organization Eastwood Ranch Foundation–to discuss a newly launched animal venture, FosterFurkids.com.
In the first moment of our chat, I observed that with people who are animal advocates or start animal organizations (and both descriptions apply to her), it’s often instructive to explore what shaped that sensibility.
“Well, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a really beautiful place, Pebble Beach, California, which is in the Central Coast,” Eastwood answered in the March 1 interview.
“We always were surrounded by nature and animals, and my parents were animal lovers. We even took in orphan baby deer when we were kids. We’d bottle feed them, raise them and protect them.
“We always had lots of critters around, and were always engulfed in nature. So I think that had a big effect on my adult life, and what I’m doing now.”
Alison Eastwood discusses the formation and purpose of FosterFurKids
I wondered what sorts of animals, beyond the orphan deer, populated the Eastwood household. Eastwood started describing an unusual assortment, explaining that her dad has “been allergic to animals for quite a while, specifically dogs and cats.”
And then, the bombshell: “A lot of people are sort of disappointed when they hear that my dad is actually allergic to horses, since he’s obviously quite famous for being a cowboy.”
Clint Eastwood is allergic to horses! Boy, that’s pretty difficult to wrap my head around.
“Yeah,” she said, “that’s one of those Hollywood moments, like ‘Ah, really? The Hollywood Cowboy?'”
Clint’s equine aversion didn’t keep Alison from riding during her formative years (“the horse stayed at the barn”), or growing up with an array of unusual critters (“we didn’t have traditional pets”), including rats, birds, bunnies, fish, even a hermit crab at one point.
At that point, the critter die was cast, so that even as she moved out of the house and into her 20s, she still lived with animals, even while juggling the globetrotting demands of forging a career as a model and actress.
“I did have two cats,” she recalled, “and when I moved to France for a year to work, I took my cats with me, which was quite an adventure.
“And then, when I settled back down in Southern California, I had a dog–several dogs, actually. So I managed to always have pets.”
Always having pets, and the lifelong passion for animals that it reflects, propelled an Eastwood fauna-oriented showbiz venture: Animal Intervention, a 2012 TV show she co-created and co-hosted airing on the Nat Geo Wild network.
The short-lived program involved visiting roadside zoos and family homes where exotic animals were living under poor, and sometimes illegal, conditions–and seeking to persuade the owners of the lions, bears, bobcats and other animals to relinquish them to a sanctuary where they could experience better, somewhat more natural lives.
“We weren’t always successful,” in their bid to rehome the animals, Eastwood said. “We did six episodes, two stories per episodes, so 12 stories. Maybe half the time we were successful. The other half, for whatever reason, the people didn’t want help or to give them up, or didn’t feel the animal was mistreated.”
Eastwood looks back on the Animal Intervention stint with a mixture of resignation, disappointment and appreciation; the appreciation is less about the TV experience than for what it spawned.
“It was a tough show to do, and a tough show, sometimes, to watch,” she said. “And that’s probably why it was only around for one season. It was not easy for people to watch: there were a lot of animals in peril, and people who were in bad shape.
“It was really hard to do, but it led to something beautiful for me, to come back to Southern California and start a nonprofit, and to find a way to really help animals.”
By which she means Eastwood Ranch Foundation, launched in 2012 and chiefly focusing on dog and cat rescues from high-kill shelters, currently operating without benefit of an official physical space, but Eastwood is contemplating a longer-range plan of building a “bricks and mortar ranch or sanctuary for unwanted animals, whether they be domestic or exotic, or wildlife.”
For now, though, the main mission is pulling animals out of Southern California shelters–plagued by a major overpopulation problem–especially those slated for euthanasia. For those cats and dogs, there’s a loudly ticking clock, so Eastwood and her colleagues place a premium on springing those animals before time runs out, which often means improvising a solution involving interim boarding facilities, transporting the dog or cat in question to a different area, or arranging for people to foster those animals.
On her Nat Geo Animal Intervention program, Alison Eastwood discusses some of the dangers and challenges of private ownership of exotic animals
It’s that last one that consistently proves to be the most reliable solution, and not coincidentally, the one that accounts for the birth of FosterFurkids.com, a website that connects rescue groups and animal shelters with a nationwide network of pet fosters and transporters.
“My rescue partner [Maissa Dauriac] was the one who came up with the idea, saying ‘It’s really hard to find fosters,’” Eastwood said. “And we could save some more animals, and I think the animals would do better–the ones that we’re saving–if we could find more fosters. It was kind of born out of necessity.
“It’s a free website, an informational website that connects people across America. You can put in your zip code and either find rescues near you that need help with animals to foster, or you can transport animals in your zip code or in your surrounding zip codes.
“It’s a pretty simple, straightforward way of connecting people across America, who want to help or participate in helping a shelter animal in need. A lot rescues take dogs and cats and different animals from shelters and put them right into a boarding facility.
“That’s sort of how you do it, in order to keep the faith. Boarding facilities aren’t really the most optimal place to take an animal that’s come out of a traumatic shelter environment.
“Fostering, to open your home to an animal that’s just coming out of a stressful environment, so that it can have a chance to receive some love and attention, is a much more beneficial way of helping an animal than taking it from one kennel to another.
“So that’s what fostering is really important for–you can get a really good sense of temperament. The foster parent can help the new adoptive parent with any behavioral issues or personalities or quirks, anything like that. It really personalizes the situation for the animal.
Alison Eastwood discusses the Eastwood Ranch Foundation and her own foster pets
When I point out that, across the country, an enormous number of rescues, shelters and other organizations operate foster programs, Eastwood quickly agrees, noting that she doesn’t view FosterFurkids.com as an innovation or replacement for those programs so much as a supplement to those efforts, with a more national scope than some.
So, while she is careful not to overstate the impact or innovation of FosterFurkids.com, she’s steeped enough in the world of shelters, rescues and like-minded individuals dedicated to finding home for animals that she knows her new enterprise can and will serve an important purpose.
“It’s really just a place for people to come together and meet,” she said. “It’s really up to the rescue and the shelter and the people in the community to work with each other when they find each other…fostering saves lives.
“If a rescue has no place to take it, no boarding, no more room in their garage, and they want to pull this [imperiled] animal from a shelter, but they have nowhere to take it–just one person fostering can save a life that day.”
About the Author: Combining his passions for animals, radio, journalism, music and comedy, Duncan Strauss launched Talking Animals at KUCI in California in 2003. Since late 2005 the show has aired on Tampa’s WMNF. Producer-host Strauss lives in Jupiter Farms, FL, with his family, including four cats, two horses and one dog. He spends each day talking to those animals, and maintains they talk right back to him, a claim as yet unverified by credible sources.