Taking things into her own hands: Alison Eastwood saves animals
By ANTHEA ANKA
For actress and director Alison Eastwood, life has been about animals as long as she can remember. Growing up in picturesque Carmel, California, with her parents Maggie Johnson and Hollywood actor Clint Eastwood, her childhood was steeped in nature. “My environment caused my love of animals to flourish,” she says. “My parents are both animal lovers and were always taking in orphaned fawns and stray animals.” As an adult, she also found herself adopting ‘the more the merrier’ approach; home in Calabasas, California is a love-filled menagerie of rats, bunnies, dogs, cats and horses: “I’ve always felt the need to take care of things that needed my help and didn’t have a voice.”
Six years ago, Alison first found a way to marry her work in film with her love of animals, while developing a TV show that introduced her to the world of animal rescue. Animal Intervention, which aired late 2012 on National Geographic Wild Channel, investigated the ownership of exotic animals as pets; stats such as "there are more tigers kept as pets than there are in the wild" give some idea of the scope and tragic absurdity of the problem.
Travelling around the US with animal expert Donald Schultz, and activist Billy McNamara, Alison saw firsthand the conditions these animals were subjected to. “A lot of these animals are not kept in humane ways or treated well,” she says, simply. “And, when you come upon a beautiful 800-pound bear that's been declawed, fed Twinkies and is living in a cramped dog run, it's time to take action. I couldn't just stand by and do nothing.”
A short time later, the Eastwood Ranch Foundation was born, working to rescue animals from high kill shelters as well as reduce pet overpopulation through education, adoption, spay and neuter programs, and events/campaigns. For Alison, the message is tantamount. “With social media, it’s so much easier now to shine the light on things that need exposure, whether good or bad. Everyone shares everything now, so you really see the underbelly.” She argues that, in this way, social media has also been great for dogs and cats, as people are much more keen to adopt and not buy domestic pets from pet stores and puppy mils.
Animal activism can be bleak and unrelenting. “Sometimes I feel like I’m part of the solution - and sometimes it feels bigger than I am,” she says. “It’s hard to keep your chin up sometimes, especially when you go to your tenth shelter and see all the animals on the kill list or see a CEO of a large animal organisation bring home a huge salary instead of putting the money towards the animals.”
She tries to stay focused on what she is able to accomplish - and urges others to do the same, whether by volunteering at local shelters, sharing stories on social media, signing online petitions, attending fundraisers, even by helping one life in need. “If you make a difference for one animal and make a connection with it, it definitively keeps the spark of hope alive.”
Never keen to ride the coattails of her famous father, when it comes to animal activism, however, Alison has realised that any door the Eastwood name opens, can only be a good thing. The ranch’s second annual Art for Animals fundraiser in 2016 was attended by Keanu Reeves, David Arquette - and Clint. “It definitely helps in the animal world, because they know how devoted [my father] is to the cause,” she says. “And fame means you can reach a few more people, and get them to pay attention a bit more. And that’s worth it.”
Eastwood hopes to buy more land for a rescue facility and adoption centre: “We would love to have a flagship rescue and adoption facility and then possibly an animal sanctuary, so that wildlife have a place of refuge,” says Alison. But the end goal? For the Eastwood scion, it’s simple: it’s about making as great an impact in animal welfare as possible. “I want to leave a legacy and I want my name to be synonymous with animal welfare and advocacy.” If passionate and commitment are any guarantee, that looks set to be a definite.