Globally recognized as Victoria from the best-selling Twilight phenomenon, actress Rachelle Lefevre is helping animals, both wild and domestic, in the United States and Canada. As the face of Puppies Aren’t Products, a campaign spearheaded by Best Friends Animal Society focused on battling puppy mills and irresponsible breeding, the Canadian-born beauty has her sights set on bringing an end to the plight of homeless pets.
How did you first become involved with animal rescue?
My mother is a psychologist, and when I was 15 years old she called me from her office and said one of her patients had shown up with a dog. [The woman] lived in an apartment where the people next door were cocaine users. They would leave their door open, and sometimes the dog would get into the cocaine and end up getting out of the apartment and wander around in a stupor. One day she found the dog in the middle of the street looking kind of dazed. She couldn’t stand it any more so she took the dog. She was on her way to see my mother and told my mom the story. My mom called me from her office, and asked, “Do you want this dog?” And we took her in.
I became active in rescue and adoption when I met my manager. She got me my first membership to Best Friends as a Christmas gift and made a donation in my name. The donation came with a magazine subscription, and I started reading it. It’s thanks to her that I’ve become interested in participating on a larger scale.
Can you explain the Puppies Aren’t Products Campaign? Why did you decide to become involved, and what is your role?
When I started reading about what Best Friends was doing at their sanctuary in Kanab, I was amazed by their larger goal: that there shouldn’t be any homeless pets.
The first step [of the Puppies Aren’t Products campaign] is to have a no-kill shelter to eliminate the existence of a shelter where they euthanize animals. The second step is shutting down puppy mills to stop the cruel over-breeding that brings new animals into the world when there are plenty who need homes. The third step is to encourage people to rescue or adopt when they look for a pet. If we were able to implement these three steps, we would live in a world where there were no homeless pets. It’s so simple of a concept.
Best Friends isn’t just responsible for the sanctuary. They have different organizational branches in different cities, and they are involved with every aspect of this goal. My part is raising awareness about what it means to adopt, what it can offer you, the lives that you can save, and also educating people about debunking the myth of adopting.
What myth is that?
There are a lot of them. There is a myth that there are dogs [in shelters] who are aggressive or who have some sort of a traumatic past that you’re going to rehabilitate in some capacity. There are also dogs who are not spayed or neutered. I’m also working on debunking the myth that the only dogs you can get in shelters are all sick. People should know that chances are your dog’s going to have a little something. If you put them all in a shelter together, dogs get things from each other. The truth is, you go to the vet for your first check-up anyway when you get a dog, and the vet gives you a little bit of penicillin. You give your dog the penicillin for a week or two, and they’re fine.
When we rescued my dog, Honey, they pointed out a couple of things on her skin and on her lips that they weren’t sure about, and they said, “We think this is this, but we don’t know exactly, and you’ll have to take her to the vet and get her checked out.” We didn’t know how sick she was going to be, but we had some idea that we were volunteering for anything. We had the luxury of knowing that we could afford treatment if she got sick. Not everybody can. Medical bills for dogs are expensive, and you want to ensure you’ve got a healthy dog. If you have the luxury of being able to afford to care for a dog who needs extra care, then go for it. It is unbelievably rewarding.
Do you currently have any dogs?
When Honey died, the best way we thought to honor her would be to rescue a couple more, so we went to a shelter in East L.A., and we got two amazing dogs. We have a Cocker Spaniel named Mama Bear and a Miniature Poodle/Jack Russell mix named Jack Sprat like the nursery rhyme.
Do you bring your pets with you on set?
When I was filming in Dallas, I brought Honey with me, and I had her on set, but I haven’t traveled with Jack or Mama Bear for a couple of reasons. Number one, my boyfriend, Jamie, happens to be in L.A. right now, so we don’t travel with them unless we have to. They have their routines, and they’re so happy at home. They hike every day. To take them to hotel living with just regular walks wouldn’t be as much fun for them. The other reason is Mama Bear is too heavy. She exceeds the weight limit [for riding in plane cabins], and I absolutely refuse to put her in the cargo hold. I would really encourage people, unless you’re moving overseas, unless it’s a one-time deal and you cannot avoid it—please, for the love of God—do not put your dog in the cargo hold. They are traumatized. The temperature down there is freezing, it’s terrifying for them, and it’s so unbelievably noisy.
When you’re not filming, what do you and your dogs do for fun?
Hike. They love to, and it’s great for them. L.A. is perfect because there are canyons and hikes and trails everywhere filled with other dogs. They are social as well, so I like to take them to dog parks. We do play dates, too. It’s like having kids. My favorite thing is family wrestle. Jamie and I get on the floor with the two of them, and we all just kind of throw each other around. It’s our playtime.
Do you have any vacation plans this summer that involve your dogs?
We were thinking about renting an RV and going to different parts of the U.S.—just doing some sort of a trip where we can take the dogs hiking and camping.
How do you see your role within the animal-welfare community growing?
When I signed on to be the [Best Friends] spokesperson, I knew that I would commit to talking about [Puppies Aren’t Products] as much as possible and always try to be as educated as possible. One of the things that I’m trying to do a little more, especially when I’m not working, is local outreach and being physically present at events and adoptions—trying to participate on a smaller scale as well as a large scale. It helps support the local chapters and local outreach.
I’ve really started to relish the chance to go to local events and get involved at a grassroots level. I love meeting people who are so committed and relentless in their efforts; who dedicate unbelievable amounts of their time. I really admire their tenacity. I’ve also been working with the Humane Society of the United Sates (HSUS) to try to stop the Canadian seal hunt.
What was it about the seal hunt that spoke to you?
The HSUS got my attention because I’m a Canadian, and so they approached me saying, “Did you know that this is going on in your country?” And I didn’t, and it’s the largest mammal slaughter in the world. They asked if I was interested in becoming involved and I told them I was. Now, I try to stay in touch with what’s going on and raise awareness that this is happening.
I’ve tried to be involved [with animal rescue] as much as I can just because I think it’s so important. I think the way we treat our animals is a sign of a healthy society. In many, many ways, we’re not doing so well. We need to get better.
Do you think it’s helpful to have a familiar face, a celebrity, to promote your causes?
Thanks to the Twilight franchise, I am definitely known as an actor a lot more than I was before, but it’s not like I’m some big, über-famous movie star. I’m not the most high-profile person around by a long shot, and so I hope that one of the things that shows is that you don’t need the celebrity to be able to get involved; you don’t need to have 200,000 Twitter followers to do something. You just have to do, famous or not. You just give your time. You give your five bucks. Whatever it is, just do.