For as long as she can remember, Hilary Swank has wanted a dog. A self-described outsider, Swank always felt dogs saw her for her true self outside all circumstances.

New responsibilities

Today, she’s a dog owner of two. But when she learned that every year 8 million animals—25 percent of which are purebred—enter animal shelters, and half of them are euthanized, she felt the urge to truly become a voice for the voiceless. This year, Swank made a huge stride toward achieving that goal, starting a foundation that unites at-risk youth and rescue dogs.

“No one—animals included—should feel discarded by society,” Swank says. “If you instill a little bit of hope inside someone, it can grow deep roots.”

Helping to heal

The ultimate goal of Swank’s new project, called the Hilaroo Foundation, according to Swank, is to “make sure every living being can have their rightful place in this world.” The foundation had its inaugural program in August, and the actress saw firsthand just how powerful animal and youth connections could be.

“'Animals are more than just companionship; they can be healing.'”

She recalled an adolescent in her early teens who had been suffering from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A foster child, the youth was united with an animal through Swank’s foundation and the effect of the relationship was instantaneous.

“When she saw an animal discarded and kicked to the curb like she had [been], there was an instant connection,” Swank recalls. “Interacting with this dog that she had chosen to take care of, that still hadn’t gotten her forever home—it was calming to her. She went home and her mom said that she was calm ad focused and engaged in a way that she had never been before. It just shows that profound healing effect an animal can have on someone.”

Adopting a new perspective

While some people may be reluctant to add a cat or dog to their family, Swank contends that owning a pet is just like any other responsibility, in that people will make time for what they feel is important to them. In her eyes, the decision to own a pet was simple: “Changing these innocent lives and changing the path of a soul isn’t something I could turn away from..”

“Animals are more than just companionship; they can be healing” adds Swank. “That’s what we’re working towards doing with these underserved kids and at-risk youth, and we’re already seeing profound effects.”