Hilary Swank to unite homeless animals, needy kids

Hilary Swank walks Kai, her rescued Jack Russell Terrier, around Europe

What is it with dogs, Romania, and those who make films about full-contact sports?

Longtime adoption advocate — and oh yeah, Oscar winner — Hilary Swank visited Bucharest last week to check out an innovative program that creates relationships between stray animals and institutionalized humans. Started in 2004 by nonprofit Vier Pfoten (Four Paws), the group literally rescues dogs living on city streets and trains them to work with special needs individuals.

Makes sense that Swank, Iams’s Home for the Holidays adoption program spokesperson and guardian to rescue dog Kai, would be interested. But the actress took things a step further.

After speaking to the press about the importance of spay/neuter in controlling the homeless animal population — upwards of 35,000 strays roam the Romanian capital — Swank announced plans to create a similar organization here in the United States. Called Hilaroo (the name is a hybrid of Hilary and Karoo, her late dog), its mission will be to unite disadvantaged kids with companion animals. The goal: a mutually beneficial relationship that inspires a lifetime of respect and compassion.

If Swank brings her characteristic determination to Hilaroo, the woman famous for brave roles in movies like Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don’t Cry, may leave an even longer-lasting legacy. One that’s way too immense to fit on a mantel.