Image: Ray poses with her faithful companion Isaboo.
Courtesy of Nutrish
Rachael Ray poses with her faithful companion Isaboo for a photo shoot for Nutrish, the pet food line she founded last year. Ray donates all the proceeds to animals and pets in need.
NBC News
updated 8/13/2009 11:16:49 AM ET 2009-08-13T15:16:49

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Emmy-award-winning talk show host and Food Network's "30 Minute Meals" maven Rachael Ray about her work with Rachael’s Rescue, an organization that raises money to help at-risk animals through adoption, medical care, education, training and outreach.

Ray partnered with Dad's Pet Care to launch Nutrish, an all-natural dog food line whose proceeds support animal-rescue efforts. In just a year, proceeds from Nutrish have raised almost half a million dollars for Rachael’s Rescue. Funds are distributed to a variety of animal-rescue organizations and animals in need. In addition, Ray is in the midst of launching Mutt Madness, a contest to help raise money for animal-care charities.

Ray has been the host of her own daytime show since 2006. Her television success has translated into many best-selling cookbooks. She received a 2006 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Service Show and a nomination for Outstanding Service Show Host. The following year, Ray won a Daytime Emmy Award and was nominated for six others for the show "Rachel Ray." In 2008 she won the Outstanding Talk Show - Entertainment Emmy Award.

Question: Can you tell us a little bit about the organization and Nutrish pet food?

Rachael Ray: Nutrish got started by the people at Dad’s coming to me. They were the only dog food company that was completely unscathed by that horrible animal food filler incident. Chinese filler that was being added to animal products was causing deaths in cats and dogs — and these people have a great reputation. So, they come to me, it must have been close to two years ago. They said, “We love your article that you do in your magazine every month about cooking for your pet, and we just find it such an inspiration the work that you do for pit bulls, and that you have a pit bull, and that you cook for your dog and we’d love to do something with you.”

And so they brought me these prototypes — they’d done some of the recipes from the magazine. My dog, Isaboo, lived with them for a few days and loved them, and I said, “OK, we can work together, this makes sense. But I don’t want any money. I want to use this as a vehicle for animal activism and animal rescue.” They said, “Well, fine by us. We can just do that with a portion of it.” I said, “No, I want 100 percent of anything I do to go back to the animals.” So, that’s how it started, and we worked for a long time on the prototypes, what the name would be and all that.

We called it Nutrish because I’m always saying “Delish.” It’s one of those “isms” that people associate with me, and it’s also extremely nutritious food. They literally have all tried it themselves, everybody who works with Dad’s. It’s human-quality food. I’ve tried it; I’ve actually eaten a kibble, and it’s very tasty. And every ingredient in it you can read just as if you were reading a menu at a human restaurant.

I started researching where I wanted the money to go and so, we came up with this idea to start Rachael’s Rescue, as kind of an umbrella term for the proceeds. They’re all put into this funds account, and then from that, we pay out to some people on a regular basis. There’s a roster of them, which includes North Shore Animal League, for all the great work they do with saving puppies from mills and ending puppy mills.

It’s something that I’m not only proud of but I really worked very, very hard on. I never go out there and toot my own horn and tell people “Please buy this product of mine, or that product of mine,” but I do when it comes to Nutrish because it’s doing such important work and 100 percent of my proceeds go toward, literally, saving lives.

Now, we want to get even more attention to the food line. We want to expand it, and do a cat food line and all that. So, we’re launching this thing called Mutt Madness. It’s basically like March Madness. People can go online and we’re going to take all these different small groups that write to us and say they really want our help and some of our funding. We’re going to narrow it down to 64 groups, and all 64 of those groups will each receive $1,000 donation. And then from there, the brackets will get smaller and smaller and smaller, from 64 to 32 and so on and so on. The winning organization will get a $50,000 grant from us and the second-place team will receive $25,000.

Q: Since launching Rachael’s Rescue, what are the daily responsibilities?

Ray: Promoting events and supporting all of the charities that we work with and give money to so that I can help increase their visibility. We review on a constant basis everything that comes into the Web site or even through the traditional mail system, all the stories that come in, and we try and help every organization or every individual in some way, whether it’s a donation in food or a donation in cash money.

It’s a labor of love and usually fun. The hardest part is when you go to visit some of the shelters and you meet some of the animals and you see what humans have done to some of these poor creatures, some of the puppy mill survivors. There’s just so much evil that’s done to these innocent little creatures. It’s animal abuse and child abuse that are just two things I really can’t wrap my head around. They’re just so innocent and so loving and just here to be loyal and share love. How could you torture these creatures? How could you abandon them or chain them to trees or never let them touch their feet to ground?

Q: Is there a favorite part of working with the organization, something that is most rewarding to you about doing all of this?

Ray: It just gives me such piece of mind at the end of the day when I come home and I look at my own dog and she’s given so much to me. I just feel good putting my head to the pillow at night, knowing that no matter what else I did that day, no matter what ratings are, whatever awards you get or don’t get, or how good a book sells or whatever. At the end of the day, I did something that day to make the planet a little bit better for literally a group that cannot speak for themselves. It makes you feel really good at the end of the day.

Q: What is the most memorable moment you can recall that stuck with you through all of your work with Rachael’s Rescue?

Ray: I think that the first memory that comes to mind hasn’t really occurred since Rachael’s Rescue, but it’s just the memory of the pain that I felt when I lost my first dog, Boo. She was a pit bull. It was so sudden and I was so devastated. I didn’t realize how much an animal could mean to a human and what the loss is like, and the love and devotion she taught me for animals is really the reason I do this work. It gives you the strength when you look at an animal that’s been tortured to share with them and connect with them, and she taught me that language.

That’s certainly the first thing I think about when I think about any of my work with animals, my dog Boo and how much I miss her and the fact that she opened up this whole world to me. She’s the one that taught me to connect with animals and that there’s no such thing as an evil animal. Animals aren’t born bad. I’m so grateful that my first animal was a red nose pit bull because it taught me that there is good and love in every little creature on the planet.

Interviewed by Lauren Kramer, NBC News

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