We know all about the tempestuous romances and ill-fated marriages, her violet eyes, larger-than-life beauty and enormous diamonds-but who’d ‘a thunk that doggies were this girl’s best friend?

That’s right, the actress we know and love for her unforgettable roles in Virginia Woolf, Cleopatra and Suddenly Last Summer, not to mention her marriages to Eddie Fisher and Richard Burton (among others), has harboured a lifelong passion for canine companionship.

Possessed not only of great beauty but of a sharp wit, Taylor once famously quipped, "Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses." She was referring, of course, to the beginning of her career when, as a ravishing teenager, she starred in The Courage of Lassie and National Velvet.

But dogs have been such a constant in Taylor’s dramatic and often tumultuous life, one could well imagine her motto as: Look fabulous, damn the press, and put more faith in dogs than in men.

So enamoured was Taylor of her Maltese, Sugar, that in 1999 she almost refused to accept the title Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth upon learning that her pooch would have to stay at home despite her best efforts to lobby Downing Street. (Though she may now be addressed as "Dame Elizabeth" and was reportedly thrilled with the honour, Taylor quipped with typical wit and humility, "I’ve always been a broad, now I’m a dame.") And the U.K.’s draconian anti-rabies quarantine laws (recently relaxed) prompted Taylor to camp out on a yacht on the Thames in the mid-‘60s with her dogs and then-husband Richard Burton in tow.

She could well be a model for glam-girl pooch owners everywhere, and not only for her talent and beauty, steely determination and sheer survival instinct, but also for her humanitarian work with AIDS agencies. Taylor is deeply committed to the charitable work that earned her the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1992. She helped form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (www.amfar.org) after the 1985 death of her friend and former co-star, Rock Hudson. She also created her own AIDS foundation, and by 1999 had helped raise an estimated $50 million dollars U.S. to fight the disease. Taylor was a pioneer in combatting prejudice over the disease at at time when much of Hollywood avoided the issue altogether for fear of "bad press." Her own daughter-in-law, Eileen Getty, was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985.

Perhaps the link between her dogs, her charity work and her personal life seems tenuous, but not if one considers what this Dame has been through: a difficult and lonely existence as a child star; a series of rocky marriages and public condemnation for her "immorality" (although she famously said, "I’ve only slept with men I’ve been married to. How many women can make that claim?"); an alcohol-fuelled love-hate relationship with Richard Burton that was so intense and volatile that Burton’s last wife banned Taylor from his funeral; a near-death experience when she almost died of pneumonia in the 1950s; bouts in rehab clinics for substance abuse issues; and chronic health problems (she has broken her back five times, has survived a brain tumour and is currently suffering from congestive heart failure) that still plague her.

Through all that she managed to star in dozens of acclaimed movies, win two Academy Awards, and keep her sense of humour and glamour alive and well. As Taylor herself put it: "Success is a great deodorant. It takes away all your past smells." In tribute to her long career and enduring pluck, she was awarded the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1993.

Taylor recently appeared in Bruce Weber’s ethereal 2004 documentary A Letter to True, in which stories of her dogs and her life are interwoven in a moving narrative. In one scene Weber describes how Taylor called a friend of his who was dying of AIDS; with her gracious gesture, she altered the nature of the man’s final days.

Since Taylor has survived the excesses of Hollywood for all these years, it seems natural that she would embrace spiritual (she believes in an afterlife, claims to be mildly psychic and is a great friend of Shirley MacLaine) as well as humanitarian values and respect for animals. Dame Elizabeth clearly identifies with the downtrodden, the outcasts and the vulnerable members of our society.

Dogs were there for the highs and the lows of Taylor’s life-through the glam years of her riotous life with Burton in the ‘60s and ‘70s when champagne, caviar, furs, jewels and limo rides were as much a part of her pooches’ lives as hers-and through the difficult times-helping to speed her recovery from various illnesses and relationship disasters.

While Richard Burton may remain the "love of her life," it’s clear that canines have also played an important role in Taylor’s world and continue to hold a special place in her big heart. Kudos to the marvellous Dame for her lifetime of achievement, talent and good works, and a few hearty bowwows of approval from the canine crowd!