On August 17, NBC and Telemundo-owned stations are teaming up with hundreds of animal shelters and rescues to host Clear the Shelters, a nationwide pet adoption drive to find homes for animals in need.
In celebration of “National Adopt A Shelter Pet Day,” which aims to bring awareness to pets that are available for adoption, participating shelters will be offering discounted or waived adoption fees in order to find more homeless animals loving homes. More than 250,000 pets have found their forever homes with the help of Clear the Shelters campaigns since 2015.
“I’m on board,” said Christopher Meloni, the iconic actor who can be seen playing High Commander George Winslow in Season 3 of the Emmy Award-winning drama series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “You’re not just getting a pet, you’re saving a life. You may find, in the end, that the life you’re saving is your own or one of your family members. It’s a great way to connect with another life and do good by it.”
Having been employed as a construction worker, bouncer and personal trainer before getting his big acting break, Meloni achieved stardom from his roles as NYPD Detective Elliot Stabler on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and as inmate Chris Keller on the prison drama “Oz.” These and other roles have enabled him to build up a reputation for being the charismatic and brawny tough guy with piercing blue eyes.
Outside of his acting work, Meloni admits to being a softy who holds a special place in his heart for animals. He also understands the importance of rescuing an animal that can give so much to those who rescue it from a life of being homeless.
“Yeah, I’ve got a soft side, and I don’t know what it’s about,” he said. “When I was a kid, I had one dog growing up, and the day before I left for college, my dog died. I had never cried so much in my life. I cried all day long. And I said to myself, ‘I can’t stop crying. I can’t believe this is happening.’ And even more, it was the first time I saw my dad cry. It really shows that there’s some very deep connection between you and your pet.”
When Meloni and his wife, Sherman, decided to have kids, they thought it would be good to have a dog that could teach their children about responsibility and empathy. He remembers how the couple had been going to several shelters, but hadn’t yet found the right pet.
“We’d seen a lot of dogs, and we were trying to make up our mind,” Meloni recalled. “We didn’t want too big a dog. Then all of a sudden, we saw Frieda. [On] her front left forepaw, one of the bones had been broken right at the growth plate, so her front left paw was bent and misshapen. But she had such a sweet disposition in spite of this. My wife and I thought it would be great for the children to engage with something, love something and see beyond something that on the outside could be viewed as broken, like a broken toy.”
Thanks to Frieda, the couple’s two children, Sophia and Dante, were raised to appreciate the love given to them by a pet and to enjoy giving back to it. Sadly, Frieda passed away two years ago, but not before the family adopted another dog, Scottie.
“Love is love,” Meloni explained. “It comes in a lot of forms, and Frieda was great. [Adopting Scottie] was great for both dogs. They had a very unique relationship. Scottie was also a shelter dog, but he was shipped up from the South. I don’t know what he went through, but he was a traumatized guy. I look at him and can tell he’s suffering from PTSD. But he’s been great. He’s such a character. Scottie is the zen master. He’s such a chill dog. He’ll kind of slink up to you and hang out with you. He’s such a calm guy, that you’re like, ‘All riiiiiight,’ and you get into it with him and then give him the ol’ belly rub.”
Meloni admits that he’s always bonded with the dogs in his life, from his childhood days when he would take his dog on walks and hikes to nowadays when he seeks out his dog after a stressful day shooting a scene on the set.
“They always calm me,” he explains. “They’ve just got this ability to calm me down. Yeah, they’re a great decompression. It beats taking pills.”
Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Cat’s Pride are sponsors of NBCUniversal-owned television stations’ 2019 Clear the Shelters campaign on August 17 at participating animal shelters and rescues throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Pet lovers can keep up with pet adoption campaign by following @ClearTheShelter on Twitter and #ClearTheShelters and #DesocuparLosAlbergues across all social platforms.
“Cleartheshelters.com – look it up,” Meloni implored. “It’s a great cause. Please make the effort. What you’ll get back will be tenfold of what you’ll be putting out there.”
Feature image: Meloni with Frieda, who passed away two years ago.