Do you love dogs enough to step out into the busiest intersection in Los Angeles, stop 10 lanes of traffic, and scoop up a helpless pup in order to get him to safety? Technically, comedian Whitney Cummings doesn't either, because when she did two-thirds of that heroic feat at the largest intersection in the heart of Hollywood, she found that the "puppy" was actually a helpless, directionless, empty plastic bag.
It's a joke she's told before on Ellen, and one that makes it into her upcoming Netflix special, Whitney Cummings: Can I Touch It?, but according to Cummings, she really is that obsessed with saving animals.
The actress, comedian, author, and director has made headlines for rescuing a pig from the Southern California wildfires and nursing him back to health by hand; possibly having her upcoming wedding at an animal sanctuary; putting a Malibu winery on blast over their treatment of their prized giraffe during the Woolsey Fire; and writing letters to stop the East Texas practice of "hog baying." Cummings also has three dogs and a horse of her own and spends a lot of her Instagram real estate on promoting humane selfies, a.k.a. animal photos that don't include drugged predators like bears or tigers.
Refinery29: You've always been passionate about protecting animals, but how did that first develop?
Whitney Cummings: "I think it's two-pronged. Growing up — I don't think I'm the only person whose parents probably dropped the ball — but I really only had animals around me, so I developed a bond with animals kind of early. And then, I wrote about in my book, but I'm a sexual assault survivor. When you have something like that happen, seeing something that's voiceless and innocent being forced to do something it doesn't want to do doesn't sit well. I'm predisposed to get enraged when people abuse animals."
And what made you start taking action?
"We're training the next generation to not have empathy for the voiceless and the powerless. Something that I feel like could move the needle is fighting for what kids see, and when kids see us abusing animals, that's where they get the idea to abuse and exploit that which is powerless. So, animal rights is very much a human rights issue."
And now you've directed this series, about pet care and rescue animals. Why was this project something you wanted to take on?
"The VCA has saved many of my dog's lives and it's a brand that's important to me; they do adoption drives and they encourage rescue and adoption instead of buying through breeders. So when this kind of came across my desk, I knew someone was going to do it and I just wanted to make sure no animals were harmed in the making of it. Of course, I knew the VCA would be supportive and they would never allow that. I was excited to be able to work with animals on a TV set and have the people writing the check be supportive of not forcing the animal to do anything they didn't want to do. We got to do as many takes as we needed, we got to take breaks. We didn't use any abusive tactics. None of the animals were drugged and the animals weren't put in dangerous situations. That was really appealing to me and just in general, using it as a opportunity to spread the word about adoption and making a vet sexy and funny was kind of a no brainer."
Animals make you the best version of yourself.
Can you tell us about the first dog you rescued?
"So I was on my way to a rescue center in Burbank and on the way to the shelter I see a matted mess of ratty fur limping across the street and I was like 'No universe, that’s not what I meant!' But I got out of the car saw he had broken legs ad was an older dog in such bad shape and my heart melted and I said 'Okay, I guess this is my dog!' So I took him home and once I brought him to the vet we actually found out he was chipped and a runaway so I ended up helping an older woman get her dog back. I look back that moment with my heart being so full and realize that animals make you the best version of yourself. It’s like, so I’m not a total shallow, self involved narcissist! It didn’t matter that this dog was ugly, old, and its eyes were falling out. It wasn’t an Instagram star dog, but he still stole my heart."
What do you love most about being a dog mom?
"I love being around dogs because your priorities just get very clear very quickly. Having dogs is practice for having humans and being in human relationships. If we were just able to treat our loved ones with the same openness and compassion, we’d all be better people for it!"
This story has been updated.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.