James Garner rescued his first dog, Ginger, as a boy growing up in Norman.
The famed actor, born James Bumgarner in 1928, was rarely without a dog by his side, his daughter Gigi said. Toward the end of his life, they were especially important companions, she said.
“My dad always had dogs, he loved dogs,” Gigi, who appeared with her dad in a 1986 Superbowl commercial, said. “His dogs were with him all the time. They were a great comfort to him."
His love of dogs was something James passed on to Gigi. She’s been rescuing dogs for decades and currently is caring for two rescues: Rocky and Angel. Earlier this month, she launched the James Garner Animal Rescue Fund (or JGARF, for short) with the goal of honoring her father’s legacy and helping out the four-legged friends that meant so much to him.
“I wanted to start some sort of charitable foundation in my father’s honor, and I’ve been rescuing dogs for 30 years,” she said. “And it just dawned on me that this would be a perfect fit.”
Gigi plans to raise funds to assist rescue operations, shelters and veterinarians she’s come into contact with and vetted during her time saving dogs. She wants to focus on Oklahoma — it’s her dad’s home state, and shelters in the state need this kind of support, Gigi said.
“I just grew up around dogs, and I have an affinity for animals,” she said. “Sadly, I’m allergic to cats, so I can’t rescue cats. Dogs are my kids — I don’t have children — somehow, dogs that needed to be rescued just kind of showed up in front of me.”
That’s another thing she shares with her father, who traveled the desert in the 1990s in an attempt to quit smoking cigarettes. An abandoned dog — a shepherd mix — found him in the dessert. James named him Nicky.
James Garner was a Hollywood fixture for five decades, best known for characters like Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford. He died in 2014 and was laid to rest without a public funeral or memorial service. Gigi has spent the past five years looking for ways to honor her father and give his fans a way of paying their respects.
“I want to keep my dad’s legacy alive,” Gigi said. “I know Oklahoma will not forget him. Oklahomans… those were his people, that’s where he came from, and he never forgot that.”
For more information or to support the fund, visit jgarf.org.