One evening on a night shoot in Toronto, I received a text at an hour you wouldn’t expect anyone you know to be awake. I figured it was someone in a different time zone who’d just woken up. As predicted, it was an old friend living in Asia who urgently needed help.
Five Golden Retrievers were intercepted on their way to slaughter in China, and the rescue needed a place for the animals to go while they recovered from ill health and psychological trauma. You may be asking yourself why an actress on a film set is getting this message in the middle of the night—and not someone else. Well… let me introduce you to my life! These calls happen ALL THE TIME. There’s not a day, a week, a month where an animal is in distress and I am not contacted. It’s a thing. I feel blessed that people understand I will do everything in my power to help.
I immediately contacted everyone I knew in that area of China and, more importantly, those who would understand their efforts would literally be saving lives. I tried to focus on work that night, but in between takes, I was back on my phone casting my net to get those five dogs to a safe place. It was all I cared about.
My friend promised to send photos as soon as they got to the rescue and I was eagerly awaiting them!
As luck would have it, I did know a person not far from where the dogs were being treated who had a peaceful property—perfect until we could find them their forever homes. Making that happen consumed the rest of my week. That weekend, I flew back to LA briefly for work.
At the Toronto airport, I saw all of the familiar Air Canada faces who’ve seen me fly back and forth more times than they could count. An airline employee named Ann came over to speak with me and pet my service dog. Most people would rather see my dog than me, and I am very happy in that knowledge. We got into a conversation about rescue animals and how life-changing they are. I watched Ann with my girl and saw the joy in her eyes. I couldn’t help thinking of the Goldens who had just been rescued off that meat transport truck and what their lives could look like given a second chance and true unconditional love.
Ann began to tell me about her dog she recently lost and what a huge loss it was for her. My dog reminded her of her late rescue, so I asked what breed the animal was. Border Collie, she said. Ah. Made sense. My dog was half Border collie and had all the colorings of one. She sat with us and reminisced, teary-eyed. She told me as painful as it has been, she thought she was ready for her next one. I perked up. I asked if it had to be another Border Collie and she nodded. I think so… it’s the breed I love. I told her the most powerful thing was to say it out loud as a testament to what she wanted back in her life—and that I was on the lookout for her. I still remember the gratitude on her face. The hope of new love and the prospect of lifting her sorrow with another life that needed her.
Landing in LA, I switched on my phone to the usual beeps and buzzes and saw that I had photos and a video sent by my friend in China. I clicked on the photos and I gasped. They were the most beautiful dogs I had ever seen. Some were the color of honey, some bright yellow, and there was a large male that was almost cinnamon. Tears started to well as I thought about what they’d been through. Each photo was better than the next and then I played the video. All five were in a large wire cage in the back of a truck, eager to jump out to their freedom. I scanned their faces thinking about possible homes for each.
That’s when I saw it. A tail. An unusual tail that did not belong to a Golden Retriever. Ask anyone who knows me, I am an encyclopedia of dog breeds and I was certain this tail didn’t belong to any of the five dogs I was looking at.
I called my friend. Whose tail is that in the video? It’s one of the Goldens, she replied. It’s definitely not, I told her. I asked if there was another dog in the cage. She said it was only the five Goldens. Impossible. I asked her to call the rescue and request another video. Surely they took another of all the dogs jumping out of the cage and arriving, right? They did and they sent it.
The text read: “Maggie… how did you know?”
I quickly opened the video. One after another, joyful Golden Retrievers leaped from the cage into the arms of the rescuers as if this was always the plan for them. I kept watching. The last and largest Golden lumbered to the door and behind him… a Border Collie!
I requested more photos and emailed Ann from the airport. The title of my email simply said, “I found your dog.” The immediate response: “THAT IS MY DOG!! I will take her! I will give her the best home!!”
Six weeks and a LOT of care later, cleared of rabies and healthy enough to travel, all the dogs were found loving homes. Because Ann worked for Air Canada, she insisted on flying all the way to China to bring her new baby home. (I managed to get a few Goldens on the same flight so they could be united with their new families, too.)
Ann named her Shanghai, since she was rescued just outside of the city. Shanghai was the oldest dog of the group and it showed. She was gray in the face, arthritic and bore the mistreatment of the years before her rescue. She barely had any teeth, worn down from years of chewing on a cage, her kidneys were challenged, she had worms, skin infections—you name it. Shanghai was likely overbred her whole life so a human could profit from her puppies. When the factory of her body started breaking down, she was sold to slaughter. For me,Shanghai was the epitome of human dominion over animals gone wrong. She was not seen as a magnificent being. She was treated like a machine and thrown away like trash.
But guess what Ann saw? Beauty.
Ann looked into those cataract eyes and her heart expanded. The soul of Shanghai had finally been recognized. She was FINALLY seen. She could finally go home.
I got an email the day after Shanghai arrived in Toronto. The description of her homecoming still brings me to tears, even now as I write this. As Ann’s car turned onto her street, her neighbors— who’d all heard the story of the dog destined for slaughter—lined the sidewalk with signs that read WELCOME HOME. Imagine that. It was never about whether this animal’s life was worthy. It was always about who would find it worthy.
Shanghai passed away peacefully in Ann’s arms last week, at the age of (we believe) fourteen. A tumor on her heart took her, after two glorious years together with Ann. In that time, Shanghai made hospital visits to Ann’s mom, became a neighborhood celebrity, and the love of Ann’s life.
Who knew what an unexpected tail could turn out to be and the many lives that tail would change forever.
R.I.P. sweet Shanghai. Lead us to more like you…