Elaine Hendrix on her off-screen mission to help animals

Blonde Ambition
Elaine Hendrix on her off-screen mission to help animals
The full-time actress & activist talks about celeb life and dog rescue

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Elaine Hendrix has the kind of intense, dramatic beauty and commanding personality that makes heads turn when she enters a room. It's what's kept her as an in-demand actress in Hollywood for the past 20 years.

Best known for her roles in the remake of The Parent Trap and movies like Inspector Gadget 2 and Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, the Tennessee native has also appeared on dozens of hit TV shows, including Beverly Hills 90210, Ellen, Charmed, Friends, CSI, Married with Children, Anger Management, Castle, and Ghost Whisperer. She’s currently starring alongside comedian Denis Leary in the new FX comedy series Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.

But despite her impressive on-screen resume, it's her work behind the cameras as an animal rescuer that she believes is her calling.

“I have two full-time careers. I'm an actress full-time and I'm an animal activist full-time,” she tells Modern Dog from her home in Los Angeles.

When she's not shooting or spending time with her five—yes, five—rescue pets, the ambitious blonde is traveling across North America advocating for stronger laws protecting animals and working with organizations to champion the cause of homeless pets.

An outspoken anti-fur lobbyist, the exuberant 44-year-old has dedicated countless hours to fostering, speaking, demonstrating, educating, and building habitats on behalf of animals.

“I'm so utterly blessed to be doing the two things I love to do at the level I'm able to do them,” she says.
Elaine's formal journey into activism began two decades ago after accidentally stumbling across a video of an undercover investigation into a fur operation.

Her reaction to watching a video of a dog skinned alive was almost as visceral and violent as the horrifying footage itself.

“I doubled over as if someone kicked me in the stomach,” she says. “I started crying uncontrollably—I was freaking out. From that moment I knew I needed to do something.”

Already a vegetarian, her first step was ridding her life of any products that harmed animals. She adopted a vegan lifestyle and threw out all beauty and cleaning products tested on animals. But that's not all.

“I sold my car because of its leather interior,” she says, adding that the decision was viewed as “a little extreme” by her boyfriend at the time.

Publicly supporting animal rescues came next. With a friend working at Beverly Hills-based The Pet Care Foundation, the busy actress started hitting farmers markets every weekend to preach the joys of adopting.

“That's where I started seeing I had a knack for talking to people about shelter adoptions. I started pairing people up with homeless pets,” she says.

That talent and passion for matching potential pet parents with four-legged companions pushed Elaine to launch the multimedia project and website The Pet Matchmaker (thepetmatchmaker.com) three years ago.

With a motto that “homeless pets make the best pets,” the site shares the stories of love, rescue, and adoption with a mission to get more animals saved from living—or dying—at overcrowded and underfunded U.S. shelters.

The Pet Matchmaker editor-in-chief Nora Lynch says unlike many Hollywood actresses, Elaine is all heart—and no ego—when it comes to their pet project.

“It's always about the animals. She's tireless, passionate, driven. If she can help an animal, she'll move mountains to do it,” Lynch says, adding that the goal for the site is to raise people's awareness of the “staggering number of homeless pets.”

Difficult animal issues are at the front and center of Elaine's new weekly Pet Matchmaker podcast. Drawing in experts, animal advocates, trainers and rescue parents, there isn't a subject off the books.

“We also talk about animals that don't make good pets—like primates,” Elaine says. “I want it to have personality and be fun as well as being spontaneous.”

That includes guest appearances from her Hollywood heavyweight friends. Margaret Cho, Debra Wilson, Morgan Fairchild, and True Blood's Kristen Bauer van Straten are recent guests, and Elaine plans to have the entire cast of her new FX production on soon.

Married with Children's David Faustino came on to chat about his rescue dog Molly, the pooch he adopted as a result of Elaine's wry matchmaking skills. Elaine placed Molly with the actor, and she was also at the event where he adopted his other two pups.

“If you're my friend, you love animals, that's pretty much how it goes. That's how it has to be,” she says, laughing. “I've placed a lot of animals with my friends.”

She played doggie matchmaker to pal Jennifer Love Hewitt, setting up the Ghost Whisperer actress with Duke, a rescue pup sprung from a “hellish” high-kill shelter in San Bernadino, California.

“She was just so passionate about it. I had never had a rescue before,” Jennifer Love Hewitt told Modern Dog about Elaine’s work with rescue dogs.

But the adoption didn't just save the Australian/German Shepherd cross, it helped elevate the actress's spirits during the difficult period after her mother passed away.

“I have been somebody who felt very lost. Very abandoned by the universe. And very much like how these dogs must feel: like, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just not found yet,” Jennifer says of her decision to take in the rescue pup. “He lifted me up.”

Elaine says Jennifer’s life went through a “stunning” turnaround after bringing the shelter pup into her home.

“Jennifer went on to say 'Elaine, that dog changed my life,'” she says.

“She credits Duke for some amazing changes in her life. And as dog lovers, we know that power dogs can have. How they can transform your life.”

Indeed, rescue has been a transforming force in Hendrix's personal life. She shares custody of an aging Korean Jindo with a former boyfriend, “a great co-parent.” She named the dog Rossmore after the L.A. street she found him on, cut up and emaciated. He's at least 12 years old now, blind, going deaf, and “just such a sweet boy.”

“I didn't try that hard to find his parents,” she admits.

Rounding out the canine clan is Bixby, a “hilarious little love bug” Chihuahua/Whippet/Beagle mix adopted from Los Angeles rescue Bark n' Bitches, and Ellie, whom Elaine describes as “her soulmate.”

“She's my everything,” she says.

Ellie was one of six German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix pups Elaine fostered after receiving an urgent call from a local shelter about a pregnant dog that was about to be euthanized. She took them all into her home and, of course, had no intention of keeping any of the pups. But when all of Ellie's litter mates were adopted, the soft-hearted animal lover had a revelation: “She couldn't find a home and I was like 'yeah, that's because she always had a home. She was home.'”

There's also the feline family members: Goodie Cornbread, a black domestic shorthair cat that came off the street during filming in Georgia, and a gray tabby named Kimbo, she adopted to keep the first cat company.

“I'm just so grateful everyone gets along,” she says of her brood.

If rescuing shelter pets is Elaine's lifestyle, it is her life's mission to dispel myths about them.

She gets fired up when people suggest only “defect” dogs end up in shelter, and would rather purchase one from a pet store.

“It's backwards,” she says. “The pet shops, that's where the inbred dogs are, the sick dogs. If you go to a shelter you’re more likely to adopt a dog that’s healthier, has it’s shots, is microchipped, and, in some facilities, even has basic training.”

Ditto for those who want a purebred pooch and believe you can only get one through a breeder. 25 percent of pets up for adoption in shelters are purebred, she says, “and there is a pure breed rescue for just about every kind of dog under the sun.”

The biggest misconception she hears—and tries to quash—is that getting a champion purebred will somehow make for a better-behaved companion.

“Dogs get sick. Dogs change, just like we do. The true reality is you never know what you're going to get.”

Passionate about her convictions, Elaine hasn’t shied away from using her celebrity to champion the animal rights causes she believes in—no matter how controversial.

She’s marched against puppy mills in protests in Los Angeles and waved signs denouncing dog meat at public demonstrations.

It's a risky move for a high-profile actress, but for her, the rewards outweigh the risks when it comes to using her visibility to take a political stance on animal rights.

Earlier in her career, Elaine lost several acting jobs because she refused to wear fur—and even fake fur. But those experiences only made her convictions stronger.

“There are two things I just won’t do: gratuitous nudity and wear fur. It’s like ‘yeah, fire me.’ I don’t worry at all about my career,” she says.

Now a mentor and teacher to young actors, that’s the message she’s passing on to the next generation of Hollywood up-and-comers: “I tell people to have a cause, to stay strong,” she says.

With her FX series filming in New York, Elaine—with 50-pound Ellie in tow—will be logging a lot of air miles this year. Despite the busy shooting schedule she has no plans of slowing down when it comes to her involvement in helping animals.

In addition to growing The Pet Matchmaker site and podcast, Elaine is filming a web series called “Dog Boss” and public service announcements about the plight of pets. This fall she’s also launching an app for pet parents to set up doggie playdates in their area.

And if that’s not enough, Elaine is launching an initiative called HARRT–Humane Animal Rescue & Response Team–to rescue animals.

“I love acting and I'm so grateful for all that it affords me, but my animal organization is something that I'm planning on retiring into,” she says.

“Any spare minute I have I’m giving back to animals. The important thing is just don’t stop, don’t stop.”

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