Jodi Lyn O'Keefe on Her Rescue Bulldogs, Animal Shelter Dreams

'The Vampire Diaries' actress talks about juggling her passions and her dream of starting a shelter someday.
By: Gerry Strauss
Jodi and her Bulldog

Jodi Lyn O’Keefe has been in front a camera for as long as she can remember, launching a modeling career at just 8 years old before transitioning to acting alongside Don Johnson on the popular show “Nash Bridges.”

Her first love, however, has lasted even longer. With a passion she shares with her father for caring for animals, the television star known for her roles on “Prison Break” and “The Vampire Diaries” has helped pets in need for many years.

With a home full of dogs, Jodi found time to chat with us about juggling her passions, fostering and her dream of starting a shelter someday.

PawCulture: When did animals first become an irreplaceable part of your life?

Jodi Lyn O’Keefe: I think since the first time I laid eyes on one. I can remember being very small and wanting a dog so badly. I grew up with cats. I adored those cats so much but I wanted a dog.

My mom would always say, “we’re not getting a dog.” We actually tricked her one day. It was her birthday and she said, “today’s my birthday. I can’t make any decisions.” My sisters and I ran to my dad and we said, “Dad, can we have a dog?” He said, “Absolutely. Let’s go right now.” There was nothing she could do. She said, “You guys got me fair and square.”

PC: From that point on, did you always have a pet in your life?

JLO: Always. Always have, always will. It feels like things aren’t complete without them.

PC: How many animals have you had at one time?

JLO: Three is usually the number. I think it’s not going to be three and then it goes right back up to three again immediately. Two of my dogs passed away within a year of each other. Then I had just my little guy, George, and I said, “Okay, we’ll do this for a moment.” Then another foster came into my house and I said, “Well, you’re staying.” Then another one arrived and now I have three Bulldogs. They are the most wonderful, beautiful characters in the whole wide world. Their personalities are incredible. Every single morning, I look at them and I just say, “Thank you for being here.”

PC: Was the idea of fostering and adopting always a priority for you?

JLO: Always the case for me. My dad and I have had a dream to have an animal rescue that we’ve been talking about since I was a little kid. All we want are the 13-year-old to 15-year-old dogs that really need a home. I told him, “Dad, we’re going to need a lot of money to pull this thing off.” He said, “That’s why they call it a dream but we’ll get there.”

My dad comes home on the regular with another dog from another rescue he’s found. My mom threatens him with his life. He’ll say, “there’s Greyhounds and they were racing and now they can’t race anymore and now they need homes,” and my mom is just like, “Jack, don’t bring any more dogs in this house!” Then he calls me and we’re like, “It’s going to be okay because one day we’ll do it and we’ll be able to bring all the dogs.”

PC: Has it been a struggle for you to merge your devotion to pets with your acting career when you’re on set for weeks?

JLO: It’s actually been pretty great. I have my dogs at home and then if I have a break from filming that’s when I will usually see if there’s another dog in need that I can help if I’m home for at least two to three weeks.

My stable of three live at home whenever I’m on the road. They’re well taken care of and someone is with them. They’re happy. I just want to make sure that I never take another dog that’s a foster who may be skittish or anything like that while I’m away. I just do it when I can be in town in Los Angeles.

PC: Have you found that there’s a growing community of people within the entertainment world who are involved and trying to rescue and help animals?

JLO: I’ve seen it grow a lot since I’ve been in LA. It seems like every second person now is doing something, which is incredible. I’m not affiliated with any one rescue or anything like that, so if I hear that there’s a dog that desperately needs foster for a few weeks and I’m around and available, I’ll do it.

PC: How is your life better with animals in it?

JLO: I don’t think my life would ever be the same without having animals in it. I think of them as my fur children. It’s a game changer to come home at night and see those little faces. It just makes my day better. Oh and I always give my dogs people names. Always.

PC: First and last?

JLO: Yeah. They need dignified people names. I have George, Moses, and Vivian right now.

PC: They sound like a nice group for a Sunday brunch.

JLO: Definitely. Barreling through the living room with their giant, wide shoulders. (laughs)