Monday, December 6, 2010

One Small Voice Can Teach the World a Song

The greatest thing about working in the film industry is the fabulous and interesting people I get to know. Although meeting Steven Spielberg and Julia Roberts have been two of the highlights of my career, I'm actually referring to the crew I get to work with and not the celebs. For instance, there's Tim, the driver, who can cure any ailment with his selection of fresh juice recipes, or Tamsin (Happy Birthday!), my favorite craft services girl who can whip up the best snacks in no time. Is there a better place to learn hair and make-up tricks than from the gals and guys working hard inside that warm, and coffee stocked, hair and makeup trailer? I could go on and on about the many great people I learn from everyday, but recently I am inspired by my friend and colleague, Julie O'Neill, who has been working hard at raising awareness for one of my favorite causes: animals.  I met Julie while working on various feature films over the years, such as: Mean Girls, Get Rich or Die Tryin'...etc. Months ago after a much needed break from looking at peoples' baby photos and Florida vacation albums on Facebook, I clicked onto Julie's profile and was taken back by the beautiful photos she had posted of the work she has been doing at an animal shelter in India called Animal Aid. My curiosity got the best of me and I contacted Julie to find out about her passion. I am so grateful that she agreed to do an interview with me for my blog because as a true animal lover and recent vegetarian, I'm a firm believer that a little enlightenment can go a long way.
Julie O'Neill has been around dogs her whole life and has always felt comfortable around animals. "My mother was a dog breeder and we usually had a litter or two on the go at all times. I spent more time playing with puppies than I did with other children. As I got older all of my school projects were about animals and those that devoted their lives to saving them." Before even setting foot in India, Julie had been a vegetarian for many years, after the realization in her 20s that she was basically eating meat because everyone else was, "I decided to follow my heart instead of the crowd." Now a decade later after spending time with the cows in India, and coming to the conclusion that they often suffer more than animals that are killed for their flesh, Julie has become a vegan.
Julie's biggest inspiration growing up was Dian Fossey, an American zoologist who undertook an extensive study of gorilla groups in the mountain forests of Rwanda for 18 years before being murdered in 1985.
Julie jumped at the chance to volunteer at Animal Aid four years ago while traveling in India, after discovering their website online. Just as her two week stint was coming to an end, Julie fell and broke her foot while taking photos of a passing parade. Realizing she would not be able to continue her travels through the country until her foot healed, Julie was invited to stay at the home of the founders of Animal Aid, Jim and Erika. "I witnessed first hand the trials and tribulations that come along with devoting your life to saving animals in a country where it is not anyone else's first concern. After a month of living with these wonderful people and spending everyday surrounded by so many sweet angels, I was hooked." When Julie's cast finally came off, she decided to stay put at the animal hospital in the tiny village and before she knew it a year had gone by before she returned home to Toronto. Now Julie goes back and forth from Canada to India approximately every six months. As I have learned from some rough times that I have gone through with my own dogs, animals cherish their lives just as much as humans do, if not more. Julie too has been privy to witnessing many animal miracles. "I have learned in India that animals can recover from incredible things if given the chance. The biggest miracle that I have witnessed is the miracle of love. Most of the animals that come into Animal Aid have never experienced love from a human before. I can not count the number of animals that looked as though they would not survive and after receiving some love from the staff and volunteers at Animal Aid, their conditions completely turn around." Julie also adds that there have been many lost human souls that have staggered into Animal Aid and the reverse can happen. "The same can be said for humans. Animal Aid has received many humans with wounded souls that the love of an animal was able to treat." In the four years Julie has spent going back and forth to Animal Aid, there have been huge changes. One of her biggest goals was to get the Indian staff to be more comfortable with the animals. "Even inside the animal hospital the local staff were frightened to touch or to get too close to even the cutest and weakest puppies. I decided to do all that I could to change this. I promised myself I would stay until I was comfortable leaving the animals in their care. Well that goal was accomplished long ago, but I am just too in love with the animals, the people, and the place to leave for good." Julie sites the most important aspect of Animal Aid's work to be education others. It is true that the most effective way to bring about change is to make other people aware of what is going on and how to help out. "The plight of animal suffering needs to be brought to people's attention before things will change. Although Animal Aid is doing amazing work rescuing hundreds of animals each month, the real goal is not have to rescue any."
Unfortunately, the cost to run a division of Animal Aid out of Toronto, which Julie hopes to do one day, is extremely expensive. First hand, I know from the negative experience I had with Toronto Animal Services after my dogs and I were attacked by a German Shepherd, that they too are extremely understaffed and in need of more funding. It can be very daunting to think about how much more work needs to be done to keep animals safe even in a city like Toronto. However, someone like Julie, who doesn't sit around thinking about what she can do to help, or talking the talk, but actually is paving the way to make change happen is a true inspiration. "Volunteering for Animal Aid has changed my life. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to help animals. I just didn't know how to go about it. Or maybe I just wasn't ready to give up too much of 'my life'. Now that I am involved in helping animals, 'my life' is so much more full and meaningful." 
It is the perfect time of the year to stop and think about others, whether they have two legs or four. I feel so privileged to know someone that is really taking matters into her own hands to help create a better place. "I am not sure what kind of impact my actions have on changing people. I know that animals suffer needlessly everyday because of the choices people make. If spreading awareness about these issues can ease the suffering of animals then I sure am going to try."
If you are interested in learning more and donating to Animal Aid this holiday season, please go to:
It is a very worthy cause. Also if you have further questions for Julie about Animal Aid or are interested in volunteering there, please contact her at:  Remember as Elmo and all of our other furry animal friends from Sesame Street sang "Just one small voice can teach the world a song."

Love and Silver Linings
Andrea Dana

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