BUCHAREST, Romania -- Thousands of Romanian street dogs have found a friend in Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank.
Swank, who won for her portrayal of a waitress-turned-boxer in "Million Dollar Baby," visited Bucharest last week and showed a different kind of skill: fighting for animal rights.
Swank, who says travel has been her best education, rarely leaves home without Kai, a devoted Jack Russell stray she rescued in Los Angeles.
In the Romanian capital on Friday, she visited projects set up by the animal welfare foundation Vier Pfoten that encourage interaction between stray dogs and institutionalized people.
Bucharest has 35,000 strays and their fate has sparked a fierce debate here. Some believe they should be put down, others advocate putting the dogs in shelters, while others want strays to be sterilized.
Swank spoke to The Associated Press about her devotion to animals, her belief in sterilization and the ways street dogs can help disadvantaged people.
'I believe that is so healing to these kids who don't trust people anymore," she said. "The unconditional love of an animal is very healing and teaches them about not just unconditional love but about a relationship, about responsibility, about anger management."
Swank said she is starting a U.S. charity called Hilaroo to bring needy children and animals together. The charity combines her name and that of her late dog, Karoo.
'I've seen firsthand how it changes the path of the soul, for the animal and for the child," she said.
Visiting a retirement home, she talked about one special dog that changed the life of an elderly woman.
`'There was a woman didn't get out of bed, and after a few weeks of the dog coming to visit she's up walking," she said. "The dog literally got her out of bed."
Last week, the 37-year-old actress was in Paris for the Salvatore Ferragamo Cruise Collection 2013 show.
Next month, Swank begins work on "Martha and Mary," an HBO movie with Brenda Blethyn about two women trying to eradicate malaria. Directed by Phillip Noyce, it will be shot in North Carolina and South Africa.
Before leaving Bucharest, she urged people to neuter unwanted dogs and cats rather than kill them.
"I believe in a `'No-Kill" policy," she said. "Hopefully (we are) getting to a place where we have "No-Kill" universally and just a more caring attitude in general to all animals."
Click through the slideshow below to read more inspiring stories of celebrity activists.
No. 1: Justin Bieber
Being a "Belieber" means so much more than just fawning over the teen heartthrob's sweeping hairdo -- it also means keeping up with the pop star's constant charity giving, from <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/justin-bieber-donates-cus_n_1018326.html" target="_hplink">auctioning off his bike</a> to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/06/justin-bieber-scores-1000_n_949589.html" target="_hplink">playing in a basketball fundraiser game.</a> The pop star's most recent generous endeavor was launching a charity campaign along with his holiday album</a>. It benefited seven charities, including <a href="http://www.pencilsofpromise.org/" target="_hplink">Pencils of Promise</a> and <a href="http://www.cityofhope.org/Pages/default.aspx" target="_hplink">City of Hope.</a> "I know firsthand that if you believe in your dreams, everything is possible," <a href="http://www.justinbiebermusic.com/believecharity/" target="_hplink">Bieber said on his website.</a> Find a charity you "Beliebe" in <a href="http://www.justinbiebermusic.com/believecharity/" target="_hplink">here. </a>
No. 2: Lady Gaga
For her outspoken support and advocacy for members of the LGBT community, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/20/lady-gaga-trevor-hero-award_n_1103896.html" target="_hplink">Lady Gaga was honored with the Trevor Hero Award</a> earlier this month. "Our young people are at the center of a health crisis, and vocal leaders like Lady Gaga...have stepped up to help change our culture," David McFarland, interim executive director and CEO of the Trevor Project, <a href="http://www.pressparty.com/pg/newsdesk/ladygaga/view/35896/" target="_hplink">said in a statement.</a> One of the many "You and I" singer's charity initiatives this year included <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/13/lady-gagas-nude-portrait-_n_1145661.html" target="_hplink">auctioning off nude photos and a naked portrait of herself on eBay to benefit her Born This Way Foundation. </a> Learn more about Gaga's charity, launching in 2012, <a href="http://bornthiswayfoundation.org/" target="_hplink">here. </a>
No. 3: Bono
Determined to end the famine that took the lives of nearly 30,000 children in Africa, Bono, who is a HuffPost blogger, commissioned the help of big-name celebrities to produce <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bono/famine-africa-sudan-_b_992939.html" target="_hplink">The F Word: Famine is the Real Obscenity</a>, a short film that informs of the famine's devastating effects. Sign ONE's petition <a href="http://one.org/us/actnow/fword_splash.html" target="_hplink">here</a> to call on world leaders to help.
No. 4: Scarlett Johansson
It wasn't enough for Scarlett Johansson to just a write a check for those suffering from hunger and drought in East Africa. The actress, an Oxfam ambassador, chronicled her experience through a<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scarlett-johansson/food-crisis-in-east-africa_b_979003.html" target="_hplink"> series of exclusive HuffPost blogs</a>. She described the conditions, learned about long-term solutions and met with pastoralists and farmers who described a sense of hope amid heartache -- ultimately galvanizing others to get involved in the cause. To help Oxfam continue to save famine victims, donate <a href="https://secure.oxfamamerica.org/site/SPageNavigator/donate_East_Africa_Crisis.html?utm_source=Scarlett&utm_medium=Redirect" target="_hplink">here. </a>
No. 5: Angelina Jolie
Ten years after getting inspired to help refugees while filming "Tomb Raider" in Cambodia, Angelina Jolie is still fulfilling her mission to raise awareness for global humanitarian issues with the UNHCR. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/04/angelina-jolie-honored-fo_n_995369.html" target="_hplink">Jolie was honored for her decade of service</a> in October and was asked to take on the expanded role of "special envoy" to the nations that are struggling the most. Help give a voice to refugees by donating to UNHCR <a href="http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c368.html" target="_hplink">here. </a>
No. 6: 50 Cent
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson made an about-face in 2011. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/curtis-50-cent-jackson/50-cent-street-king-hunger_b_1016830.html" target="_hplink">The HuffPost blogger, </a>motivated by his struggles growing up, launched a line of energy drinks that provides meals for families in Africa.<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/26/50-cent-discusses-new-boo_n_1033290.html" target="_hplink"> Jackson also wrote a book this year on bullying </a>-- acknowledging he was once part of the problem. Help 50 give back by visiting his site <a href="http://www.streetking.com/giving-back/ " target="_hplink">here</a>.
No. 7: Matt Damon
To teach kids how important it is to advocate for countries that don't have clean water, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/09/matt-damon-teaches-kids-a_n_1138760.html" target="_hplink">Matt Damon dressed up as Santa Claus for Christmas</a> and told the children perched on his lap how wishing for a Water.org bottle this season could hep bring potable drinking water to those in need. Support Water.org's holiday campaign <a href="http://water.org/gift/" target="_hplink">here. </a>
No. 8: Ben Affleck
When the historic Congo election came with ballot stuffing, intimidation and a lack of support for women and illiterate voters, Ben Affleck headed out there in December to investigate what was happening on the ground. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-affleck/averting-disaster-in-the-congo_b_1135572.html" target="_hplink">This HuffPost blogger returned with a three-part series, co-written with Cindy McCain</a>, about the injustices people in the region face.
No. 9: Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher
In true form, Ashton Kutcher mixed entertainment and information, aiming to reach a wide audience in April when The Demi and Ashton Foundation launched a huge campaign to spread awareness about sex slavery. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/11/ashton-kutcher-demi-moore-trafficking_n_847291.html" target="_hplink">The launch video for the campaign, featuring Arianna Huffington</a>, spurred conversation about the issue and brought to light the harsh facts surrounding trafficking. Take action to fight sex slavery by visiting the <a href="http://demiandashton.org/action-center" target="_hplink">DNAFoundation here. </a>
No. 10: Ellen Degeneres
Ellen DeGeneres was named the Obama administration's new secret weapon this year in the fight against AIDS. DeGeneres was deemed the new special envoy to raise global awareness, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/08/degeneres-named-aids-envo_0_n_1082000.html" target="_hplink">the <em>Associated Press</em> reported</a>. Sec. of State Hilary Rodham Clinton cited DeGeneres' "sharp wit and big heart, and her impressive TV audience and 8 million followers on Twitter." The TV host also supports animal, poverty and breast cancer organizations, among dozens of other charities. Support DeGeneres and the work of the <a href="http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/donate/" target="_hplink">Global Fund here</a>.
No. 11: Sheryl Crow
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/03/slideshow_n_991609.html#s384087&title=Betsey_Johnson" target="_hplink">To help breast cancer sufferers facing the disease that she overcame</a>, Sheryl Crow helped found <a href="http://www.pinklotusbreastcenter.com/sheryl-crow-imaging-center/" target="_hplink">the Sheryl Crow Imaging Center</a> -- in conjunction with <a href="http://www.pinklotusbreastcenter.com/" target="_hplink">L.A.'s Pink Lotus Breast Center</a> -- which offers the latest advancements in digital screening and diagnostic imaging technologies. The only one of its kind in the country, the center provides free treatment to uninsured women. Want to help a patient in need? Donate <a href="http://www.pinklotuspetals.org/" target="_hplink">here.</a>