Some may know Elayne Boosler as the very first female comedian to have her own TV special (back in the ’80s, when TV execs didn’t think anyone would tune in to see a woman tell jokes). Others might know her from her many appearances on Comic Relief, her 30-plus times on Bill Maher’s TV show Politically Incorrect, her game show Balderdash, or even her recent appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Elayne has performed for presidents and queens (literally!) and has been a working comedian since the ’70s, but she has a calling beyond comedy: animals.
In 2001, Elayne started Tails of Joy. Through her national nonprofit, she offers what she calls Little Guy Grants to the smallest, neediest rescue groups that are making the biggest impact in their communities. She works especially hard to support the large, misunderstood, and most abused breeds — the Pitties, Rotties, American Bulldogs, and any dog who suffers from undeserved bad publicity. “It’s so important to provide people with the facts about these smart, loving breeds, so draconian laws like BSL can be stopped in their tracks,” she says.
According to Elayne, when she does her comedy tours, she meets the most dedicated rescuers, who are doing the hands-on, hard work while struggling to make ends meet. “You’ll find that three old ladies in Ohio save more dogs in a year than entire multimillion-dollar, bloated national organizations, which take in millions a year and waste it on sending you keychains from China,” she continues. “If you want real bang for your rescue buck, support your small, local rescues.”
In the last five months alone, Elayne’s Tails of Joy organization provided Little Guy Grants to dozens of rescue groups, which helped pay to transport dogs from high-kill shelters, provided training for hard-to-place dogs, and covered the cost of lymphoma surgery for a homeless Chow, a few surgeries for dogs hit by cars, heart surgery for a deaf Pit Bull puppy, and eye surgery for a young pup with ingrown eyelashes. The grants assisted many other dogs in need of medical care or sponsorship as well.
Although she especially loves dogs, Elayne’s organization also helps cats, bunnies, sea animals, small exotics, wild animals, rats, chimps, and even elephants and bears. To date, she has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in Little Guy Grants to nearly 200 rescue groups across the country.
Aside from accepting donations, Elayne funds her grants through the sale of pet-themed merchandise (many handmade originals) on her TailsofJoy.net and at her shows, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the animals. Items such as charms, throws, clutches, totes, leashes, greeting cards, wine bottle bags, and more are all very reasonably priced. Elayne’s goal is to send the money out to a rescue group in need as soon as those funds come in.
For the last 15 years, when Elayne tours, she partners with rescue groups in each city to help them raise much-needed funds. She provides free tickets to the show so volunteers can unwind from the daily stress of rescuing, tells the audience about her charity partner at the end of each show, and then invites everyone to go to the back of the room to learn more about the rescue, buy something from their fundraising table, or make a donation.
She also sells her own post-show merchandise, with all of the proceeds going to that night’s rescue partner. Elayne graciously signs anything and everything if it’ll help bring in a donation or make a sale. Most important, all money raised stays with the local rescue group. No overhead, no fees, just 100 percent of the funds going where they’re needed most — the trenches.
“Most comedians sell after-show merchandise, usually T-shirts or CDs. I thought, everybody loves his or her pets, why not sell great animal-themed items instead?” Elayne says. “I’m lucky enough to have talented animal-loving friends who are so generous to Tails of Joy, making gorgeous and unique items for us. And we finally have our own line of Tails of Joy branded jewelry, so after a show you can still get something with my name on it; every jewelry item has a little hydrant that says ‘Elayne Boosler’s Tails of Joy.’”
Recently, as part of Tails of Joy’s newly endowed Edith and Julie’s Spay and Neuter Fund, Elayne was able to give a Little Guy Grant to the Moreno Valley Animal Shelter to fund its trap, neuter, and release (TNR) program for feral cats. While at the shelter, Elayne also gave a grant to Linda Blair’s Worldheart Foundation to help with her rescue and advocacy work.
Elayne also helps rescue and advocacy groups across the U.S. by frequently serving as emcee or the night’s entertainment for special fundraisers. Recently, when a celeb dropped out last minute as the host of Stray Cat Alliance‘s gala fundraiser, Elayne quickly flew from New York City to Los Angeles on her own dime and did the job for free to ensure the group could earn enough to meet its annual operating costs.
Supporting animal rescuers and raising awareness about the importance of pet adoption is in Elayne’s DNA. Her opera (yes opera!) Rescue: A True Story was commissioned by Ruslan Biryukov of the Glendale Symphony, and Elayne has performed it with symphonies throughout California. With words by Elayne and music by Carol Worthey, the piece features the story of Annie, a senior dog Elayne rescued who was nearing the end of her life.
“I have such a soft spot for the seniors, who make wonderful additions to any home. When Ruslan offered me this incredible opportunity to write my own Peter and the Wolf, if you will, I knew it was going to be Annie’s story. My dream would be to perform it with symphonies all over the country and raise rescue money and awareness.”
Elayne not only believes in helping rescue groups, she also feels it’s just as important to keep an animal in a loving home as it is to find a homeless animal a new home. To that end, she’s been known to fund lifesaving surgeries for pets who might otherwise end up at the shelter when their pet parents cannot provide adequate medical care. However, the Tails of Joy coffers are too small to help everyone who asks, and that’s why she’s started a new program at Tails of Joy.
“So many Facebook and Twitter peeps have been having financial pet emergencies and coming to Tails of Joy for help. We always do what we can, but the first thing we do is this: If you need financial help for your pet, we refund every donation you ever made to us, for starters. So, in essence, you can use us as your pet savings account. We’ve been here for 15 years, and we will be here if you ever need help for your animal in the future. The more you help others, the more help there will be for your pet if the need ever arises.”
Elayne is not one of those celebs who is merely a figurehead for her organization. On the contrary, she reviews the grant applications that come in to Tails of Joy, selects the rescue partners in each city where she tours, and does whatever it takes to ensure the animals have a vocal advocate in their corner.
“I love comedy, but eventually in life you have to also dedicate yourself to something bigger than your work,” Elayne says. “The surprise gift rescue gave me was that my fans and I now connect on a much deeper level than before. It’s made comedy new to me again.”