If the many model-actress hyphenates out there, Isabella Rossellini is arguably our most established; in addition to being David Lynch’s original muse, she has steadily starred in fashion and beauty campaigns since the ’80s, from Lancôme to Sies Marjan last year (the latter alongside her son Roberto). But unlike most model-actresses, Rosselini is also a bona fide dog whisperer.
Rossellini has helped raise 10 dogs to become lifesaving companions for the blind and visually impaired as a volunteer for the Guide Dog Foundation, which works to place eight-week-old future service dogs in homes across the eastern United States. “I was looking for a way for my children to give back by doing something that was pleasant and interesting for them,” says Rossellini of her path to dog husbandry—as if eight-week-old puppies weren’t enough of an incentive.
Of course, you need not be a model or actress to volunteer for the Guide Dog Foundation. “A lot of people say, ‘I could never [volunteer] because I take the train,’ or ‘I commute.’ I tell them, I take the dogs everywhere: restaurants, the train, the theater, the set,” says Rossellini.
The trainees, she goes on to explain, are allowed to follow the trainer wherever he or she goes, just like an on-duty service pup. But, she adds, fellow pedestrians should never pet a guide dog. “He [the dog] shouldn’t be distracted. He’s on duty and following the instructions of the handler. And if you offer him a treat, he’s not taking it [laughs]. He’s working,” Rossellini says.
Compared to the rest of Rossellini’s qualities, the label of “animal rights activist” may not seem especially exotic, especially in Hollywood. But, as one learns when attempting to label Rossellini, there is always another layer to this demigoddess’s work. After she became an icon of film and fashion, Rossellini went back to school to study animal behavior and conservation at Hunter College—which naturally comes in handy when training her high-achieving furballs.
“The [dogs have] to be very well behaved,” she says. “You cannot allow them on sofas. You cannot feed them at the table. They even have to pee on command.” (Puppy raisers are required to teach basic obedience, according to the foundation’s website.)
Outside of her causes, Rossellini has made her love for animals a part of her acting career. In Green Porno, her must-see 2008 short film series for Sundance Channel, Rossellini dons full-body suits to reenact nature’s most bizarre sexual rituals (e.g., the sadomasochism of snails). The lesson? Mother Nature gets graphic and that’s just part of life.
As a dog foster-parent, Rossellini has also learned this lesson firsthand; the Guide Dog Foundation offers volunteers the opportunity to become dog doulas. “It’s called ‘whelping,’” Rossellini explains, “which is helping the mother have the pups and then keeping everybody for about eight weeks.” After that, reenacting the birth in a short film is optional.
Learn more about the Guide Dog Foundation at guidedog.org.