Saint Willie

Willie Nelson has been a star for the animals on behalf of Best Friends. His first “outing” with us was a very effective 2007 PSA to get the loopholes out of Georgia’s dog-fighting laws. His latest foray into the issues is his support of House Bill 14, an Ohio bill spearheaded by Best Friends that will reform the state’s vicious dog law that declares every pit-bull-type dog to be vicious literally at birth. HB 14, drafted by State Representative Barbara Sears, with the assistance of the Best Friends legislative team, is a breed-neutral public-safety bill that will protect dogs and people.

HB 14 really gets it right and will move Ohio from worst to first in the area of breed-discriminatory laws. It has the support of the County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio, the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association, and the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, as well as Best Friends. In addition to Willie Nelson, Maggie Q (“Nikita”) did a PSA for the campaign and Ian Somerhalder (“Lost” and “Vampire Diaries”) rallied a legion of fans and the Ian Somerhalder Foundation Kids Army to the cause.

I first met Willie on his tour bus at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006. Silva and I were guests of the Barbie sisters and the wife of the late Richard Pryor. It was Silva’s birthday and the first time in memory that we did something other than work on her actual birthday.

It was, to say the least, a memorable experience. We made our way to the performers’ parking lot and hung around outside Willie’s famous bio-diesel bus and then were invited onto the rig by Willie’s daughter, Amy, who tours with her own band, Folk Uke. Willie was gracious and gave us a surprising amount of time.

The whole bus thing was pretty cool and Amy arranged all-access backstage passes for us, so we had the opportunity to meet the entire Willie entourage and watch the concert from the wings of the Hollywood Bowl, the green room, or pretty much anywhere we wanted to other than on the stage itself!

We also shot the PSA for the Georgia dog-fighting bill on the bus, this time at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. Always the consummate pro, Willie nailed it on the first take, and his famous voice moved the dial with voters.

Earlier this year, Willie responded to another Best Friends’ request and sent a letter to each of Austin’s City Council members encouraging them to support Austin Pets Alive!’s bid to operate the Town Lake Animal Center as an adoption center when the animal center relocated to a new location. That plan was subsequently approved.

Amy helps to guide her dad’s involvement in various animal causes, especially on behalf of wild horses and companion animals. She, too, is highly committed to helping animals.

They are part of a remarkable family and Willie is the real deal. Since the ’80s, his Farm Aid concerts have raised $39 million to help American family farmers stay on their land.

Saints come in strange packages, but as the Bible says, “You will know them by their fruits,” and that puts Willie right in the running. He turned 78 earlier this year and when asked if he planned to hang up his guitar anytime soon, he observed, “Retire? Why? I don’t do anything now.”

Francis Battista