Denise Richards Dreams of Opening an Animal Sanctuary

10/14/2010 at 07:45 AM EDT

Denise Richards Dreams of Opening an Animal Sanctuary
Courtesy of Denise Richards
Denise Richards has an unexpected nickname. Friends of the actress call her Dr. Doolittle.

"I swear, if there's a dog stranded somewhere, he finds my car, and he finds me," Richards tells PEOPLEPets.com. "If anyone is looking to get a dog, they ask, 'Can you help me?'"

When Richards was growing up in Illinois, she nurtured an intense love of animals. She brought home every stray dog she could, she says, and especially gravitated toward "the ones that were homeless and had problems."

Now her home, which she shares with her young daughters Sam and Lola, as well as her father, Irv, provides shelter for "lots" of once-homeless dogs. Fans of the longtime animal lover might know the pooches from Twitter: there's golden retriever Tina, English bulldog Rosie, French bulldog Hank, Chihuahua George, onetime puppy-mill dog Princess and Yorkshire terriers Lulu and Sara.

Most of the dogs came from shelters, except for 11-year-old Tina, who was a pet-store pup.

"I though, 'Oh, I'm saving her from the pet store! She needs a home,'" Richards says. "I didn't think the pet store was connected to puppy mills. I was really ignorant."

Over the last five years, Richards has worked to educate herself about animal rescue and has dedicated many volunteer hours to the Best Friends Animal Society's Pup My Ride program. She even hopes to open her own sanctuary in the Los Angeles area someday.

"It's so heartbreaking to walk away from the shelter after seeing the ones that aren't going to be adopted," Richards says. "They've had a rough life. I hope to be able to open a sancutary to help them."

In the meantime, Richards, Irv, Lola and Sam are providing makeshift sanctuary to their adopted pets, as well as the many fosters that stop by on the way to their forever homes.

Soon, all the dogs will get an upgrade in real estate -- Richards has been remodeling her garage into a "doggie hotel," equipped with bedrooms and play areas so the pooches can feel at ease, and maybe even a little pampered.

For personal photos of Denise Richards and her rescue dogs, check out our gallery on PEOPLEPets.com.

Read more about celebrities and their pets on PEOPLEPets.com:
Maggie Q Has a Thing for 'Problem Dogs'
Melissa Etheridge Says Rescue Is the New Breed

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