Honey-voiced singer and actress Doris Day was certainly famous for her big band performances and her popular film musicals. But the wholesome blonde with the girl-next-door reputation was also a powerful advocate for animal welfare who created a foundation devoted to her favorite cause. Day, who recently turned 97, died May 13 in her California home.

Born in Cincinnati as Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff, Day turned to singing after a car accident cut her fledgling dancing career short when she was only 12, reports Biography. Inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, Day sang on local radio shows, then in New York nightclubs. She was discovered while singing at a Hollywood party and soon made the transition to the big screen, appearing in movies such as "The Pajama Game" and "Pillow Talk." She had several hit songs including "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" from the thriller "The Man Who Knew Too Much" with Jimmy Stewart.

Doris Day 1957 Doris Day, circa 1957, had a reputation as Hollywood's girl next door. (Photo: Wikipedia)

But throughout her career, Day was involved in animal rescue, having created a foundation for animals in the 1970s. According to the Doris Day Animal Foundation, she was affectionately known as "The Dog Catcher of Beverly Hills.” Because people knew she was such an animal lover, Day would often find unwanted dogs dropped off at the gate of her California home. She would often knock on doors trying to reunite lost dogs with their owners or even to make sure dogs that were reunited or in new homes were receiving proper care and attention.

According to the foundation website, "If you would see Doris on the street or at the studio, chances are you would end up with some homeless cat or dog Doris was sponsoring. She carried around photos of the animals who needed homes, and then she'd actually come over to inspect your house to make sure you were up to it."

Originally known as the Doris Day Pet Foundation, the group's focus was to rescue animals that were at high risk of being euthanized. She fostered many in her own home and leased kennel space while animals were waiting for forever homes.

Lobbying, grants and pet-friendly hotels

Wanting to do more, in 1987 she formed the Doris Day Animal League, a nonprofit citizens' lobbying organization with a mission to reduce animal pain and suffering through legislative initiatives, education and programs. The group founded what's now known as World Spay Day, which helped spay and neuter more than 1.5 million animals in the first 15 years since its creation. (In 2007, the Doris Day Animal League merged with the Humane Society of the United States.)

The Doris Day Animal Foundation awards grants, funding other nonprofits across the U.S. Some of the foundation's legacy project funding includes the Doris Day Equine Center, the Duffy Day Life Saving Program for older and injured animals, and the Doris Day/Terry Melcher Scholarship at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Another interesting pet note: If you've ever visited a pet-friendly hotel, you can likely thank Day for that, too. When she retired from Hollywood life in the '60s, she moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea in California, where she became co-owner of The Cypress Inn, reports The Cincinnati Enquirer. There, she created a pet-friendly policy, which was incredibly rare at the time. Other hotels eventually took note.

The inn's website says, "Doris's deep devotion to animals helped put Cypress Inn on the map as the 'pet friendliest' inn in the 'pet friendliest' town in America!"

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Why we should remember Doris Day as an animal advocate
Hollywood legend Doris Day was an actress, singer and animal welfare activist.