You may recognize her as the actress who portrays Dr. Lisa Cuddy—one of the fast-talking and quick-witted healers who keeps a misanthropic Hugh Laurie in check on Fox’s House M.D. Yet Lisa Edelstein doesn’t spend all her time on the set of a hit television series. When she’s not playing with her dogs Kapow and Shazam in their Los Angeles home, she’s busy championing the rights of animals in need. Tails caught up with Edelstein to chat about her volunteer efforts as a spokeswoman for Best Friends Animal Society, which runs America’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals. We also got the scoop on her views about everything from pet adoption to how celebrities and non-celebrities alike can make a difference in the lives of their four-footed companions.
Tails: You undoubtedly have a busy career starring on House. How do you balance your acting with your animal-welfare efforts?
LE: I pay attention to where my strengths are. When it comes to helping animals, my strength is public speaking—not actually going into shelters, which I find to be an incredibly traumatizing experience. I always say that, as celebrities, we have microphones constantly shoved in our faces, so we should say something that has meaning and is important to us.
So you don’t feel that your personal strengths lie in hands-on work in a shelter?
LE: When it comes to animals, I have a very thin skin. I literally can’t go into a shelter.
Yet that clearly hasn’t stopped you from doing your part to make a difference.
LE: Some people support animals by answering phones for a rescue organization. Others actually go out and save dogs and cats following a natural disaster. Not every job or volunteer opportunity that helps pets requires guts of steel, and every one of us can find unique ways to make a difference. It all counts.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but how would you answer fans that might question why you use your celebrity to advocate for animals? Put another way, what would you say to those individuals who feel that pets should be secondary to people and the issues that they face in today’s world?
LE: How we deal with animals reflects how we deal with each other as human beings. We’re all part of the same world. Animal welfare is also directly related to humanitarian issues. For example, if we didn’t advocate for the stranded and homeless pets after Hurricane Katrina, we would have had to deal with more of the health problems that arise when you have animal carcasses all over the place.
You’ve obviously built a reputation as a powerful spokeswoman on behalf of animals in need . . .
LE: Actors [like me] tend to get extra credit for doing work that some individuals don’t get any credit for at all. I know people who do much more and do it much more intensely than I do. There are men and women who literally get into the trenches to rescue animals, and they aren’t always publicly acknowledged for their efforts. I guess I don’t feel like the work I do is all that extraordinary.
In addition to your animal-welfare work for Best Friends, you’ve also cared for several special-needs pets of your own. Would it be safe to say that you’d advise prospective adopters to not judge a book by its cover? There are a lot of dogs and cats out there who deserve a second glance, even if they’re older or don’t match all the standards of perfection set for the latest designer breed.
LE: Yes, but everyone adopts for their own private reasons, so you can’t really prejudge and tell them what they should be looking for. Have an open mind when you go into a shelter, but find what you want. It’s always out there. If you’re into Golden Retrievers, simply go online and search for a Golden Retriever rescue. When a person is ready to bring a pet into their home, there’s always an animal waiting to be adopted that is exactly on their wavelength.
What about your own dogs—do they accompany you as you travel back and forth, splitting your time between House and all your volunteer work?
LE: Shazam and Kapow are generally happier here [at home]. I think that schlepping animals around can often be more fun for the [guardian] than the pet. If I fly somewhere, my dogs are too big to be in the cabin of the plane, and I can’t bring myself to put them in the cargo hold. They’re not luggage—they’re living creatures.
Are there any animal-related issues besides promoting adoption that you see yourself tackling in the near future?
LE: That’s why I’m grateful for organizations like Best Friends. They address such a wide variety of topics and give people opportunities to deal with the issues they feel strongly about in a manner that works for them, according to their individual strengths and weaknesses.
What about your co-stars on House? Are they as crazy about animals as you are?
LE: A good number of people who work on the set have pets. [For example], Hugh [Laurie] has a dog back in London, and I believe Robert [Sean Leonard] has dogs and horses.”
Do you have any final words of wisdom for Tails readers who are looking to become more proactive and aid animals in need?
LE: I’d advise people to find their voice in matters that are important to them. And remember that even little actions and choices can have a huge impact!
Interview By Katie Marsico
Photos © Grace Chon/Shine Pet Photos