Newly Single Drew Barrymore Says She Wants 'That Unspoken, Amazing Bond'

Drew Barrymore Talks Dogs at ASPCA's 19th Annual Bergh Ball
Drew Barrymore
Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for ASPCA

04/15/2016 AT 08:30 AM EDT

At the ASPCA's 19th Annual Bergh Ball, Drew Barrymore told the black-tie audience that rescuing dogs helped save her life.

At the podium, after Martha Stewart gave Barrymore the Humanitarian award inside the Plaza's Grand Ballroom on Thursday, the actress spoke at length about life and children – but mainly dogs.

Speaking of the "unspoken gift" that animals had given her, Barrymore talked about the first time she adopted a dog – or rather, two dogs – and how writing about her beloved pet Flossie caused her to cry while writing her latest book, Wildflower.

"I feel very humbled by this award," Barrymore told the black-tie crowd. "I'm not a big speech preparer. I try to just speak from my heart. I was 19 when I started adopting dogs. I moved out on my own when I was 14. So I just figured I'd get that ball rolling ā€¦ how to fake yourself out!

"I didn't know to throw things away, how to build a cute bookshelf, all that stuff. And then when I felt I completely had my sā€” together, I would go and start saving others. I had saved myself, it was time to turn it all around and start, you know. . . get outside myself. I can take care of things now, and I knew that I wanted to adopt and rescue.

"I waited almost a year," she continued. "It was the early '90s. I circled the paper and called people and went to shelters. Finally, I knew I wanted – much like my own children – I knew that they should have a friend. If there was one thing that was really tough growing up – no parents, boo hoo – I wanted my children to have someone to share the whole thing with."

Barrymore added, "I don't care if we were beating the crap out of each other. I just want someone different to disagree with. I just want that unspoken, amazing bond, much like you have with animals. So I was determined that I would get two dogs at the same time. I never make it easy on myself. God forbid I start with one pet. I was like, I want two.

"So I finally found these two puppies that needed to be rescued," she said. "And they were brother and sister, 6 weeks old. There was never more poo on the planet – what a joke.

"That lasted about six months, until things started to coalesce. And I remember waiting to name my dogs. I want [the dogs] to tell me – Flossie took four months. I wrote a book recently called Wildflower. And I wrote about my daughters and my two philanthropic endeavors – which have always been animals. And then before I started having children, [my cause] became children, organically, and magnetically, and psychically. I think, because there is something so core there and undeniable, and it does magnetically pull you in.

"And somehow, writing this book, the chapter that made me cry the hardest while writing, I couldn't even type on the keys, because I couldn't get clarity in my eyes from the tears just falling, was a chapter called 'Flossie,' about my dog who I had for 16 years," she continued. "You have a relationship with animals that is unspoken, without words. So there is a simplicity, sure we can probably all do with [fewer] words in our relationships. I think that for our language, we should just follow the dogs.

"But there also is such profoundness in just connectivity and energy and altruism that we have with our animals," Barrymore said. "Especially rescue animals. And they give it back. And there is some level of symbiotic gratitude, because you do save each other, and that is important. Currently, I have a small dog named Douglass. I remember taking him out of the pound when he was 8 weeks old. He had been left in a box on the side of the road. He was very shaken up and he looked like a Chihuahua. And I said, what am I doing? Adopt that Chihuahua. I love you, but I've been a big dog girl my whole life. And I didn't know what I was doing, I just felt empathy for this dog. I loved him so much that I took him home. And he grew. He must have been a whippet and a chihuahua and . . . he ate so much.

"He can sleep with me for 18 hours without even having to go to the bathroom," she said. "Seriously!

"I've fostered dogs, I've found dogs, I adopted a pregnant dog. That was a trip. She had a C-section. I watched it. That was scary.

"Again I will resort to the unspoken gift that have animals have given me," she added. "It has been a right of passage, and a humility, and a purpose, and a kindness, and a lack of cruelty. I don't have it in my heart to be rude, mean, cruel, unkind to any person on the planet, let alone an animal.

"And I wonder if animals were a big part of that teaching. I think they are. I really truly do. I give them all the credit in the world and for it. They will forever have my deepest respect, as will the humans. Thank you so much."

Barrymore then returned to her table, where she sat and chatted with her date, InStyle Editorial Director Ariel Foxman. She latter snapped up a trip to Turks and Caicos for $19,000 in the live charity auction.

Barrymore's night out came just a little less than two weeks after she and her husband Will Kopelman announced that they are getting a divorce. The couple, share two children ā€“ Olive, 3, and Frankie, 1 ā€“ and had been married for nearly four years.
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