Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
On Saturday, October 20th, Buddy Hackett will come out of retirement for a rare live performance hosting the 3rd Annual Night of Comedy to benefit Singita Animal Sanctuary. With appearances by some of the best comics around including (at press time) Harvey Korman, Steve Landesberg, George Segal and Sonia, Sandy Hackett, Jeffrey Ross, and Paul Rodriguez, and based on last year's event, I can personally tell you that your sides will hurt you'll laugh so much! Responsibility for much of that side-splitting humor goes to host Buddy Hackett.
"It's very, very difficult for me to go on this one time. I just don't like being out there anymore. I'm doing this because it makes sense to me. Doing something you don't like for money doesn't make sense to me," Buddy explains. "Sherry is the one who instigates and gets involved in these things, and then I help by performing once in a while."
Sherry, Buddy's wife of 46 years, had the idea to start Singita, "The Miracle" about three years ago after they took a trip to Africa. "We already had 22 acres," Buddy explains, "and we have one building up already. When it's finished there will be five buildings. One is just going to be for the help to take care of all the animals."
Described as the "first new no-kill, cage-free animal sanctuary built in Los Angeles County in over thirty years," Singita will be a place where literally hundreds of cats and dogs will be able to live out their lives in a clean and caring environment.
Its mission is to:
- provide shelter and care for homeless, abused and unwanted animals
- seek permanent homes for animals through adoption programs
- provide spay and neutering services
- conduct educational programs to promote respect and compassion for all animals
According to Sherry, "by 2004 we will definitely have a complete facility for cats, and some growth in the dog situation. There's no guarantee…. there's nothing in writing… but that's the plan."
One might think that Buddy Hackett is involved in this comedy night only because it's his wife's "pet project." But Buddy has been an animal lover since he was a little boy.
"I had one puppy who had a lot to do with the way I'm involved right now. His name was Happy. He was all white and someone poisoned him. I was up in the country, and we had no car, so someone gave me a lift so I could take him to the vet. He told me Happy was in great pain, had been poisoned, and that it would be $4 to put him to sleep. I was about 11 years old - 66 years ago. I watched him put my dog down, and told him that I didn't have the $4 but would work for him until he told me we were even. I walked 3 ½ miles each day to his clinic. Sometimes I hitchhiked, but sometimes I walked the distance until he told me I was even. I don't remember how long it took, but I got interested in watching surgery and learned about dog diseases like distemper."
When Buddy and Sherry got married, they took in a stray sheltie-mix puppy named Kewpie who lived to be 17 or 18 years old. But these days the only dog around their home is Ralph. "That's my dog now over there- Ralph," Buddy says, pointing to a statue next to his fireplace. "He has his leash on 'cause he always wants to go for a walk. Ralph lived in a house in Aspen for about 23 years, and then he came to live here about a year ago. He's very happy here. He's a big dog, but he only eats clay. And he's the perfect watch dog. He's up all the time, he never sleeps, and he loves you very, very much."
Buddy confessed that when he performs, half the time he doesn't know what he's going to say. "I let it roll when I'm out there. I'm kind of interested myself in what I'm gonna say," which may shed some light on the impromptu introduction of Ralph during our interview.
The Hacketts also have cats which include Muffin, Molly Tamale, and Charlie Chaplin, who came from a shelter in Palm Springs. "We had just lost our cat, Me-You, who lived with us for a long time. At the suggestion of the late, great author Harold Robbins, we went to the local shelter and got Charlie Chaplin for $6.00. There were many cats in cages… but as soon as I walked in, Charlie put his hand out and touched me. I said, 'You've got the job!.' He sat in Sherry's lap all the way back from Palm Springs and kept his hand in my lap the whole ride. But when we got to Beverly Hills, Charlie was very depressed. In Beverly Hills, a $6.00 cat is not very important. He had a limp, so we took him to the vet, who said his right hind leg was out of the socket, but the surgery to repair it would be very expensive. I figured I had to protect my $6.00 investment, so we should do the surgery, which was $600.00. That made Charlie a $606.00 cat, which was very respectable for Beverly Hills. Charlie is now about 13 or 14 years old."
Buddy's philosophy on raising his cats? "Now that I'm retired, I treat the cats and my grandchildren pretty much the same. I let them grow up by themselves and try not to interfere with them. This morning, I was sitting outside and Charlie rubbed up against me. This made me feel real good, because Charlie knows that Sherry feeds him. He's very close to her, and I don't get much attention. I got very excited, and said, 'Come here, boy', but he didn't. He sat down and looked at me from a distance, as if to say 'I like you, but I don't like being handled.' He likes affection, but he's afraid when I pick him up. Last time I picked him up, they cut open his leg and put a bone in place. He has all those memories imprinted."
While Sherry is the one who spoils the cats, Buddy is usually the one who takes them to the vet. "It's good to go to the vet early in the morning. Sherry, when she gets up early, doesn't move so good for a while. But I'm a very early riser. I get up like every day is a shoot. And if I'm the one who's going to feed them, I don't give them any exotic food. I don't think it's good for them. I give them cat food. I read the can to make sure it has a mixture of vegetables and fiber. But Sherry spoils them with very expensive food."
Buddy also has advice for people who want animals. "Some people want exotic pets. They'll get ocelots and baby lions, and they'll keep them until they get too big and they don't want them any more. Or they will declaw them or take out their incisors. They are mutilating an animal that can never go back in the wild again. I say to you, if you're going to have a pet, have a standard pet. Have a cat or a dog or a bird. And if you have a pet, you will live longer. If you have a pet, you'll eat less because you'll share your food with your pet. If you're poor, you'll even give your pet more. I say an animal will give you love..."
Although Buddy didn't discuss animals in his routines when performing on stage, he did talk about his dog when he appeared on Jack Paar or other talk shows. "Now I only talk about my animals when we're doing events to raise money to build the shelter."
Given the current climate, I asked Buddy what he might say to people who feel money should be donated to the World Trade Center victims rather than to a fundraiser to benefit animals here in Los Angeles.
"People have to spend their money or donate their money where they feel it's best. I don't try to influence people. If they want to send their money to the relief fund for New York, that's their call. I'm not a salesman. I go out and do my job and don't try to sell anybody on buying tickets or making donations to Singita. Last year we had almost 1000 people at our comedy event. Come to the show. Enjoy yourself. The money goes to a good cause. If you feel like making a donation, make a donation!"
(By now Buddy is probably really furious with me, because so much of this is about him and not the animals.) But Buddy is very much a part of his wife Sherry's dream for Singita. And what better vehicle is there to raise funds for this new, much needed no-kill shelter for LA animals than a night of comedy? If you're a fan of Buddy Hackett's and you love animals, this is a no-brainer.
"When people come to see me do a benefit show for Singita, it's the ONLY time they can see me perform live," says Buddy. "I have the gift of laughter. I can make people laugh at will. In good times and in bad. And that I don't question. It was a gift from God."
(Lord knows, we can all use a little laughter. And that you can count on, when Buddy Hackett hosts the 3rd Annual Night of Comedy to benefit Singita Animal Sanctuary, Saturday, October 20th at 8pm at the Wilshire Ebell Theater, 4401 W.8th St. One block south of Wilshire at Lucerne. Tickets are $75, $125 and $200 and may still be available by calling 310-275-1432. For those unable to attend who would like to help make this dream a reality, donations may be sent to Singita, 800 Whittier Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.)
First published in August of 1999, The Pet Press has become THE only local resource for
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