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“I am an Advocate” -Jonathan
Animal Activist and parent to 13 adopted pets.
Interview by Marc Birnbach, Photography by Russ Levi
TPG: We would like to start by thanking you, Jonathan, for your time. Since our pets can’t talk, or at least not in a language we can understand, we want to say thank you on their behalf for your passion and advocacy for pets.
Jonathan: It is my pleasure! I am literally sitting between my cat and my dog right now. I am living the dream!
TPG: We agree! Over the past 18 years The Pet Gazette has interacted with countless non-profits, mostly run by everyday people, with a sole focus on pets. So, seeing someone with a platform, choosing to help benefit pets, that’s awesome!!
Jonathan: Oh, thank you! That means a lot. I really appreciate that. Animals are definitely very high on my list of priorities.
TPG: So, to get started, we would love to know about your background, including where did your first pet come from? What was your first experience with a pet? And how do you believe that sparked this interest for you?
Jonathan: It’s a sort of typical answer for an actor. I was a very weird kid. I found it very difficult to talk to other people. I was just very shy. But, animals always responded very strongly to me. I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania and I would often find baby birds that had fallen out of nests as well as stray kittens on our property, and as a kid I had a desire just to care for these creatures who were otherwise helpless. Then two days before I moved to New York City, I found a cat that had been dumped by my parent house. A skinny, worm riddled, parasites laden, tortoiseshell cat…and I was like, “Wow! I guess I have my first cat!”
Then, from there, I’ve always rescued. I adopted a dog a couple of years after that. Then I was doing a show out of town and I rescued a pig. She died, at almost 18 years old, and then I rescued another pig.
I do try to limit myself though to animals I know I can take responsibility, between myself and my husband. But, it is difficult because the need is always there. In fact, someone literally just reached out to me because they can no longer take care of their tortoise. So, now there is a tortoise here! It’s just a passion of mine and it always felt like a place from where my energy comes.
TPG: It is interesting that you brought up your husband. How was he introduced to your passion for animals? And as far as support, how important is it to receive unconditional support to fuel what you are doing?
Jonathan: It’s funny, actually, Michael always likes to laugh. He came into this relationship with just one parakeet… and I had five pets! He met them all shortly after we started seeing each other and loved them. Ella, my first dog that I had as an adult, had a very abused background and Michael, who has stores of empathy, saw Ella, this formally broken dog gazing back at him and wanting to trust … and he was just kinda’ in. I had found my other dog in Central Park in NYC. She had been out so long that she had grown into her collar. She became this sweet dopey girl. Then there was my pig, who was very complicated, as all pigs are. All together it was two dogs, a cat, a pig and a bird. And one parakeet. Then together, we rescued so many since. Michael loves animals and always grew up around animals.
TPG: Can you tell us a story of a pet you rescued together?
Jonathan: Shortly after we got serious, we were approached by a woman, who’s friends had bred two Lapso Opso, a brother and a sister. They didn’t know why one of them was born without eyes, but they were going to euthanize this puppy at 4 weeks old. We talked for about 15 seconds and then we got him and then he was our dog. We had him for 14 years before he got a brain tumor. Pets have just been a part of our relationship from such an early point.
TPG: That is great!
Jonathan: I will say, as much as I was a shy kid and found my comfort in animals, it is important for me, as a rescuer, always to continue developing human relationships as well. I think that we can strand ourselves with our animals and I definitely want to make sure I maintain my connection with the world around me, even while doing the rescue work that I do.
TPG: Good point. Generally in Hollywood, it seems like when people have a pet that they use them as an accessory to build up their fan base. It doesn’t seem genuine. But, here you are, going beyond that of an average person who “likes pets,” focusing on health consciousness topics.
Jonathan: Thank you.
TPG: You seem to have found out that this is something you’re passionate about early on. Please tell our readers how did you get into the rescue aspect? Do you have your own rescue?
Jonathan: No, but I will volunteer with any rescue that asks me to. To date, I have spent some time out at Farm Sanctuary and also Best Friends out in Utah and some volunteer work with them locally. I have done mobile adoption events and I always do the shelter dog events because the dogs that are fosters go back to fosters and dogs that are in shelters and going back to shelters, so I try to focus some of my energy there. But, once you start being an advocate for animals, people kinda find you.
For instance, we had a cat for years and she had been run over. Every bone in her body had been broken. She lived on the streets and she looked almost animatronic the way she moved. She had one working lung so she could only do half of a meow. She was left on the steps of a friend of someone I knew and the first thing they did was call me. Another time, we were out to dinner and met a nice woman and she was telling me that she has a pig which she just cant take care of. I can’t say, “I’m sure it will work out,” I say, “Great, how do I help?” If I am driving down to the street and there is a dog, I will stop. My work always jokes that if I am ever late it’s because I am chasing a dog through traffic. I think it can be really easy to not notice these things, so I just don’t trust that someone else is going to do it, because I have seen so many people pass by that situation. I’ll be driving down the streets and I will find a kitten, with two broken legs who had been thrown over the freeway retaining wall. And I think you look at the world in a different way. I find animals. I think once you become sensitive to them then you see them and you get to make a difference. Definitely ups your workload, but it is totally worth it.
I think when you have that reputation, people start reaching out you and asking you for help, when they don’t know how to handle, a dog, or a cat, or the seven kittens that were just born under the porch…or whatever the situation may be.
TPG: You said, “It is really easy to not notice these things,” and that is very true. Until you are aware, you are not really aware.
Jonathan: I am very outspoken about my passion for animals. I am an animal lover and I love my pets, but I am very much an animal advocate. It extends into what I wear and what I eat. And the difference I want to make in this world and choices that I want to make as consumer in this world.
TPG: What is the legacy you want to leave behind for others to value.
Jonathan: Ah, such a big question. I would say the most simple answer is that just helping one animal can make a lot of difference. You can make a huge difference by making some very simple choices.
TPG: It’s evident that you have a better calling when it comes to the pets and I think that’s maybe fascinating to discover.
Jonathan: There are lots and lots of opportunities to make a difference. And I am kind of curious to see where I end up as well.
TPG: So, obviously you have gone through Method acting, correct?
Jonathan: No, I had no training. I sort of went to work and just absorbed what I thought talented people did and I taught myself while learning on the job.
TPG: Well, the idea is ‘first thought – best thought.’ Like answering from your gut. So, I want to propose two words to you. I just want you to finish the sentence however you want, but without thought, if that’s cool?
Jonathan: Okay! Yea, it’s a little scary, but sure, we will give it a shot.
TPG: That is the beauty, because this is you. So the words are: “I am…”
Jonathan: I am… an Advocate.
TPG: Beautiful!! All of us at The Pet Gazette feel honored to have met you and so appreciate your time and your advocacy for all pets.