updated 06/12/2012 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 06/12/2012 AT 2:20 PM ET
All it took was a little Meatloaf for Josh Duhamel to become a convert.
Six years ago, the actor and his wife Fergie were looking to provide a companion for their 1-year-old dachshund Zoe, so they searched online and found another dachshund through a rescue.
“Meatloaf was truly a beautiful dog,” Duhamel tells PEOPLE of the aging dachshund he brought into his home. “He was the most lovable, appreciative, soulful little dude. He just turned out to be such a great pet, such a great friend, and ever since then I’ve been an advocate of rescuing.”
True to his word, Duhamel has partnered with PetSmart Charities’ High-Five for Pet Adoption campaign, which celebrates the five million pets that have been adopted at PetSmart Adoption Centers since 1994.
Still, many millions more need homes. “I wanted to make aware how much of a problem it is in this country,” he says. “I can speak from experience: [adopting] was the smartest thing we’ve done when it comes to owning a pet.”
Rescue hadn’t been on Duhamel’s radar when he brought home Zoe while working on the NBC drama Las Vegas – and a disappointed colleague took it upon herself to educate the actor.
“When she found out that we bought Zoe, she gave me an earful, and that’s when I first heard about pet adoption,” Duhamel says. “Ever since then, I tell anybody who’s going to get a pet that that’s the way to go, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because they make incredible pets.”
Meatloaf was one of them. “From the very beginning, Zoe was taken well care of,” Duhamel says. “We call her the spoiled little Brentwood dog because she never knew any hardship, unlike Meatloaf, who totally appreciated everything. He was just so loving and he was always so consistent.” In his advancing age, the dachshund became afflicted by a degenerative brain disease and died on April 1 in his sleep.
“We have his ashes in a box,” Duhamel says. “We were going to bury it and put a little memorial out, but we decided we wanted to keep it on the mantle at home because – I dunno, we just couldn’t bury him for some reason. We just wanted to keep him close.”
The shelter dogs that Duhamel has met since working with PetSmart Charities have also reminded him of Meatloaf. “They all seem to have that same characteristic of gratitude,” he says. “I can only imagine what it’s like in some of these shelters. When they do get a loving home, they truly appreciate it.”
To contribute to the adoption programs provided by PetSmart Charities and its many rescue partners, go to PetSmartCharities.org/donate or text PETS to 80888* to donate. Click here to share your own adoption story.