Breaking ground, building kindness

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The Buddy Hackett Singita Animal Sanctuary

By Yayoi Lena Winfrey/Special to The Malibu Times

On Saturday, Singita will break ground for what will become Southern California’s largest, privately funded no-kill animal shelter. Renamed The Buddy Hackett Singita Animal Sanctuary, when completed, the cage-free shelter will be located on 22 acres of land in Angeles Forest and house more than 300 abandoned cats and dogs until they can be adopted.

After years of putting plans to paper, president and co-founder Sherry Hackett is thrilled to see her and husband Buddy’s efforts come to fruition, although the loss of her husband last year adds a bittersweet flavor to their achievement.

A Kiswahili word, Singita means “the miracle.”

“Buddy and I were in South Africa, not too far from Johannesburg,” Hackett explained. “We stayed at a game preserve called Singita.”

When they discovered the word’s meaning, they asked permission to use it.

The Hacketts endeavor to help stray animals came after the couple moved West. Initially, Sherry Hackett did not want to leave the East Coast, where she was born and raised, to relocate to Southern California.

“I fought it tooth and nail,” admits the longtime Malibu resident and former interior designer.

But her late husband, comedian Buddy Hackett, needed to be closer to Hollywood in order to continue appearing in movies. For 30 years, the couple maintained a beach house “up from Broad Beach Road,” Hackett said. “My husband loved the beach house,” she said, adding that they often watched whales and other sea life from their property. “He just adored it out there.”

Buddy adored animals, too, and a wild doe soon befriended him.

“We called her Jane Doe,” Sherry Hackett laughed about the deer that wandered through their beach house parties.

Any animal in need of assistance got it. The Hacketts even saved a pig once that someone brought them by driving it in a truck to MASH, a horse rescue group in Riverside. “My husband was a big animal lover,” Hackett said about the sow named Becky. “She loved Buddy and Buddy loved her.”

On a road trip, the Hacketts encountered two large turtles attempting to cross the highway. They stopped, grabbed the turtles and deposited them at a camp 10 miles down the road. At home, Buddy would sing to his cat Muffin, an “angry” rescued cat that would bite him for his troubles. The Hacketts’ dog, Cupi (also a stray) ended up living with them for 20 years.

In 2000, the Hacketts decided to formalize their work by creating Singita to recover abandoned and homeless companion animals, eliminate overpopulation through education about spaying and neutering, and place animals in loving homes.

The organization also provides assistance to other animal rescue groups and, recently, it helped build kennels and catteries for cats and dogs that otherwise would have been left out in the winter’s cold in Acton, California.

Another Singita endeavor, The Paw Project, was instrumental in getting the No Declawing Initiative passed by the West Hollywood City Council and continues to provide education about the devastating effects of declawing. Buddy Hackett attended a Malibu City Council meeting, when the city was discussing whether to pass a similar initiative, shortly before he died.

Last year, Singita rescued more than 1,400 animals.

Hackett has nothing but praise for Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich for helping to see the project through. Antonovich, whom Hackett calls “a good friend to animals,” will co-host Saturday’s star-studded, groundbreaking event alongside Hackett.

Once the new sanctuary is built, the organization hopes to increase placement for animals from last year’s number of 210 to 1,000. The shelter will include a kitten nursery and infirmary for cats and dogs, as well as onsite education programs and adoption fairs. The space will also be available for meetings and conferences for nonprofit animal welfare groups. Another educational goal is teaching animal owners to leave instructions about pets in their wills.

“Owners must make provisions for their animals in the case of their demise,” Hackett said. “People die and (their relatives) come to us and ask, ‘What do I do with these six cats?'”

Children, she said, should be taught to handle animals with kindness.

“We plan to have educational programs at Singita for children,” she clarified. “We are going into schools for field trips and to teach kindness and empathy to children about our animals.

“But like with everything else, we need money, ” Hackett said.

A number of fundraisers have taken place for the nonprofit organization, including a yearly community event at El Capitan Theater.

“Last year, we raised $1,000,000,” Hackett said. “We hope to do another one in fall.”

More information can be obtained by calling the Singita hotline at 310.275.1432 or visiting the Web site, www.singita.org.