When not in front of the camera, actors Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries, Lost) and Nikki Reed (Twilight series) are working behind the scenes on something very close to their hearts: animal welfare. The popular celebs are not only huge dog lovers, they also devote large amounts of time to helping furry friends in need.
On Valentine’s Day, Somehalder and Reed appeared as Celebrity Grand Monarchs in an adorable pooch parade held for the past 21 years in Mandeville, Louisiana, a few minutes from Somerhalder’s hometown of Covington. The charitable event — the Mystic Krewe of Mardi Paws — features dogs walking alongside their humans in a zany, stuff-strutting Mardi Gras-themed display of creativity and caring. Dachshunds wear dresses, Bulldogs wear bowties, and in this year’s parade, a Doberman even wore a hippie wig.
Moments before Somerhalder and Reed took to the streets, they stood in a tent alongside scenic Lake Pontchartrain. Young fans pressed against barricades to catch a glimpse. It was special to the actors because not only was Mardi Paws about to start, it was also their first Valentine’s Day as a married couple.
It was Somerhalder’s second time participating in Mardi Paws (he was there in 2014), but it was a first for Reed. They opted — perhaps wisely, considering the crowd of many thousands — to leave their dogs at home.
“We like to stick with our dogs, but I think in this setting, it’s kind of impossible because we’re doing so much work,” Reed said, adding she wouldn’t have wanted to leave any of their pets unattended during the event.
And what they were doing was work. They weren’t participating just for kicks — they were doing it for dogs. One of the main beneficiaries of the Mardi Paws parade is the actor’s charity, the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF), which supports environmental awareness and animal welfare projects.
The popular stars’ participation assured a hearty turnout, and a portion of the entry fees will help fund myriad projects designed to aid animals, both wild and domestic. ISF efforts include everything from spay and neuter to animal rescue to providing medical care for injured or homeless dogs and cats.
Reed and Somerhalder often share photos of themselves on social media, enjoying their pets. But how many do they actually have?
“Ten,” Somerhalder said.
“And fosters also,” interjected Reed.
“It can be upward of 10 to 15,” said Somerhalder, changing his number to account for the dogs who are only there for a temporary layover.
Just as he did in 2014, Somerhalder sounded passionate about being at the parade. But this time, Reed was at his side.
“I haven’t been back [to Mardi Paws] for two years; now I’m coming back here with Nikki,” he said. “To be in the sunshine with a lot of amazing little critters and to be together, to share this together, is really special.”
About two years ago, Somerhalder purchased 100 acres of pristine southern Louisiana wilderness, filled with cypress trees and a meandering bayou. The hope is the land will be developed at some point as a wildlife preserve.
Somerhalder didn’t want to give a timeframe for when this sanctuary for animals will take shape, but a member of the ISF board, Katie Evans, referred to the preserve as a “long-term dream.”
“We have a lot to do,” said Somerhalder.
He and Reed were more concerned, at least on Valentine’s Day, with speaking about cute puppies in costumes — and the meaning of love.
Reed spoke at length about Valentine’s Day. Just before, she and Somerhalder had paused in conversation for a moment and looked into each other’s eyes, as you’d expect of any newlyweds.
Reed said the holiday isn’t really about romantic couples, it’s about something much broader.
“I actually was just about to post something about love and bees because bees are literally the messengers of love,” said Reed. “So, I think whatever you wake up today and think about, as long as you’re focusing on the positive aspects of love and what it can do… This [Mardi Paws] is a literal, tangible metaphor for that. All these people with their animals, with their friends or kids or dogs or whoever they’re with, this is just a lot of wonderful energy. I think that’s what this Sunday is about.”
Both were mum on any career news or discussion of the future; they wanted only to enjoy each other, their hordes of fans, and the hundreds of wagging dogs, who were there to celebrate puppy love for a noble cause.
“[Today] it’s all about the dogs,” Somerhalder said, in an entirely fitting response to a question about his future acting career plans.
“And all about love,” he added, for good measure.
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About the author: Kara Martinez Bachman — who owns two mutts saved from a local shelter — is a freelance writer and editor. She has read her work on NPR (National Public Radio) and it has appeared in dozens of literary magazines and consumer publications in the U.S. and abroad, including The Writer, Funny Times, American Fitness, American Blues Scene, Rock and Gem, and many more. She is a former staff and current freelance entertainment journalist and community columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Nola.com. For more information, visit her website.