Hollywood legend Doris Day is as enamored with her fans as they are with her. “The amount of fan mail she still gets is crazy,” her friend and biographer Pierre Patrick tells Closer. “When I was at her house for her birthday, there were bags, and bags of mail in the garage, and she’s great at answering it all.” Even when her admirers get a little wild, the legendary actress and animal advocate welcomes them with open arms. “If a feral cat wanders on her property,” says Bob Bashara, Doris’ business manager and close friend, “she’s bound to take it in and care for it.”

It’s just one of the things that makes her so happy. “I’ve been blessed with good health, wonderful pals, lovely fans, and so many precious four-leggers. What more can I ask for?” Doris asks Closer on the eve of her 96th birthday on April 3. Her positivity is contagious, as proven by the star’s three-day celebration that’s now tradition in Carmel, CA, her home since 1981.

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“The whole city is booked! People come in from all over the world and bring her gifts,” Pierre beams, and all the proceeds from the festivities benefit the Doris Day Animal Foundation, a passion project she’s run for four decades.

In fact, Doris is as active as ever, refusing to slow down or be limited by her age. “There’s a little Doris Day empire, and it’s very, very busy,” Pierre says of his friend’s indomitable spirit.

A beloved star of 42 films (Calamity Jane, Pillow Talk), Doris was also a top-selling recording artist from 1949 to 1967 with hits such as “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” and “Everybody Loves a Lover.” When she left Hollywood, though, her priorities shifted from show business to devoting her life to animal rescue and welfare. “I loved my singing and acting career, but my greatest accomplishment is the important work I do for my two charities,” she says of her foundation and the Doris Day Animal League.

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Pet Causes

The work is her fountain of youth. “She’s very healthy,” Pierre assures. “Doris sleeps well and eats well, and her life is really focused now on taking care of her [animal groups],” he says, adding that her foundation has a scholarship for veterinary students named for her “and she reviews many applications for it throughout the year.”

As a lifelong animal advocate, Doris was dubbed the Dog Catcher of Beverly Hills during her years in LA. While filming 1956s The Man Who Knew Too Much with James Stewart, America’s sweetheart got tough with director Alfred Hitchcock. “She didn’t like the way the animals were being treated [on set],” Bob shares, so she gave an ultimatum: things change or she walks.

When she wasn’t working, she’d bike around town and rescue strays to find them homes. “If she couldn’t,” Bob says, “she’d keep them herself a lot of times.” Her growing menagerie is what led her 300 miles away to Carmel, where she could have more space for her animals.

Today, she still surrounds herself with furry friends. “My household is full of dogs and cats,” she says of her own pets, who are often joined by special guests. “She can’t really go out and rescue animals,” Bob says, “but people still leave them on the doorsteps.”

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Doris in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Doris adores her small circle of human friends, too, and they visit her often at home. “She loves to go out to the ocean,” Bob says, “and she loves singing. She sings around the house a lot, and her voice is terrific! We keep telling her she could record again if she wanted to. But she’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m rusty!'”

Her voice can still be heard in many current film and TV projects, however, and the legend is actively involved with choosing which ones get her stamp of approval. “Licensing is a big deal,” Pierre says. “Her song ‘Dream a Little Dream’ was just featured in I, Tonya, and ‘It’s Magic’ was featured in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. It’s a very important part of the show, played right before the first crime is committed.”

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An insurance company also uses Doris’ “A Bushel and a Peck” in its commercials, which are played all the time, Pierre adds, noting that Doris is as hot today as she ever was. “It’s amazing to me how often I still get offers to appear in various projects and to record,” Doris says of her eternal popularity. Adds an insider, “She’s flattered producers try to lure her out of retirement all the time, and there have been offers for her to guest on everything from Black-ish to Mom.”

Sentimental Journey

Her decision to stay out of the limelight is one she doesn’t second-guess. “I have no regrets,” Doris tells Closer of her bold decision to choose animals over acting so many years ago. “I’ve always believed things work out exactly as they’re supposed to.”

She’s certainly earned the right to follow her bliss. As kindhearted as she is, life has often treated her cruelly. Three times divorced, Doris’ third husband, Martin Melcher, passed away in 1968, leaving his wife shocked to find that he’d squandered away her fortune.

And her only son, Terry — from her first marriage to trombonist Al Jorden and later adopted by Martin — died from cancer in 2004 at the age of 62. “My son was the love of my life. We talked every day, and I miss him very much,” Doris says of the painful loss. Still, she refuses to let the grief consume her. “We can’t change the past,” she insists. “I think you have to get through the bad times to appreciate the good things in life. I’ve had my share of both and I always say, I’m like one of those dolls with the round bottom: If life deals you a blow, you just have to bounce right back!”

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Doris and her son, Terry in 1987.

It’s a philosophy that’s served her well, and won her respect, and admiration from some famous fans. “Clint Eastwood is her neighbor in Carmel Valley, and he’s signed a few things that will be sold at her birthday auction,” Pierre says. “He was the one who gave her the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes in 1989. He drove her to Beverly Hills because she wasn’t sure about going, and that was her last big LA appearance.”

During her acceptance speech that night, Doris said she was humbled by the honor and the adoration she was always given from the industry and her fans. “I don’t understand it, but I love it and I’m very grateful for it,” she gushed, adding, “It’s been a wonderful life, and I’m not finished yet. I think the best is yet to come!”

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Doris and Clint at the Golden Globes in 1989.

Twenty nine years later, she’s striving to live up to that promise. “I’m so proud of the strides we’ve made — and continue to make — in the animal welfare community,” she says of the noble way she uses her stardom.

Lea Price, director of communication for Doris’ foundation, tells Closer, “Much of our focus over the past several months has been on emergency disaster relief from all the recent hurricanes and California wildfires. It means so much to Doris that her fans come to Carmel from all over the world to help raise money for the foundation. It makes her happy to know that everyone is having such a good time while helping the cause closest to her heart: her ‘precious animals.'”

Doris admits she’s never been much for birthday celebrations, so selflessly using hers for charity is the perfect way for her to connect with her fans. “It means more to me than I can say,” she says of their generosity and support year after year, “and I love them all.”

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