Lita helps save animals while she recovers

by Phil Speer @ (8/29/02)

Vince McMahon has said that, next to saving lives, entertaining people is the best contribution one can make to society. Currently, Amy "Lita" Dumas is unable to do the latter, so she's concentrating on the former.

The former WWE Women's Champion, unable to wrestle for one year after neck surgery in May, has been volunteering for the last several weeks at animal shelters in the Sanford, N.C., area. She worked at the San-Lee Humane Society, a private, no-kill shelter, until the facility had to shut down due to lack of funding.

On Saturday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., she will be appearing outside the parking lot at Wal-Mart on Highway 421 in Sanford. For $10, fans can have their pictures taken with her, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the shelter.

"I'm helping them with the fund-raiser, and they're hoping to be able to open back up," Lita said Wednesday in an interview while she in Connecticut to shoot the cover of Jim Ross's next book.

Two months after her surgery, Lita was cleared to lift up to 20 pounds (she was originally limited to only 5-10 pounds).

"I started exploring the options of what I could do, since it broadened what I could do a little bit more," she said.

A longtime animal lover -- she donated her prize money to animal-related charities on both the "Weakest Link" and "Celebrity Fear Factor" -- Lita soon got in contact with the animal shelter. When it closed due to budget shortages, she started helping out at the county animal control center.

"Growing up, it was the only kind of job I ever had," she said. "After I worked my first job at the grocery store, it was just working at kennels, groom shops, animal hospitals -- anything in relation to animals.

"I've been helping out at the animal center just because they're short on man power. I've also been doing stuff like taking pictures of (the animals) and making fliers -- because they don't have the funding or time to do things like that -- to try to increase the adoption rate."

Whereas the private shelter that Lita initially worked for had a no-kill policy, the county center is forced to euthanize 60 percent of the animals there -- "which is really horrible and really sad," Lita said. "There's nothing wrong with the animals."

Asked about the origins of her love for animals, Lita said, "My dog has been the only constant in my life, since I've moved around so much and done so many different things.

He's the only thing that's been there through everything. They're so loyal, and they're so helpless too. They can't help that their owners don't spay and neuter them, and then they create unwanted pets. That's not their fault."

As her physical condition improves, Lita has also been sent more often by WWE officials to various appearances. Numerous times, for example, she's been WWE's ambassador at Ozzfest events around the country.

Of course, Lita's main priority right now is her surgically repaired neck.

"Physically I feel OK, but I'm just constantly making sure I don't do anything I'm not supposed to so I don't make my recovery time longer," she said. "That's the last thing I want to do."

Even though she probably doesn't have to anymore, Lita continues to wear her cumbersome hard collar when she sleeps and exercises. In a few weeks, she'll return to San Antonio for a checkup with her surgeon, Dr. Lloyd Youngblood, four months after her surgery.

"He said he won't be able to tell if my bones are healing correctly for six months," Lita said. "But I'm hoping that maybe I can get some more privileges as far as a higher weight limit or some more things in the gym that I can start to do. Since I have such a limited repertoire, it makes me not even want to do it. I don't even sweat at all. I feel like I'm doing nothing. I'd rather go to the animal shelter than go work out because I feel like I'm doing as much physical activity just walking around, carrying dogs and doing stuff than I would if I was at the gym. But if I could do more, I'd love do (work out). So I'm hoping to get more privileges."

With Matt Hardy, Lita's boyfriend, jumping to SmackDown!, many fans assume that she'll end up doing the same once she returns to WWE television.

"I don't know anything about that, and I'm not real worried about it right now since I won't be medically cleared until hopefully a year from my surgery, which is not until next May," she said. "But I would really love to be on the same show, just because our schedules would be the same. You really have opposite schedules if you're on opposite shows. So I hope so.

"But I really love the stuff that (Matt has) done. I think it's really been a good opportunity for him since he's been there to goof off and show a new side of him."

Lita chuckled and added, "I think he takes it very seriously; I don't know if it's much goofing off for him.

She has been to a small handful of WWE events since her surgery, as many as her schedule and her frequent flier miles will allow her. Most recently, she attended the Aug. 20 SmackDown! taping in Fayetteville, N.C., since it's a short drive from her home.

She even had the opportunity to work as a color commentator on Velocity.

"I always knew how hard their jobs were -- Michael (Cole) and J.R. and (Jerry 'The King' Lawler) and Tazz. I've always thought Tazz just picked it up so quickly and was really good at incorporating his personality and getting over what needed to be said about the match. But it was really hard. It's the worst thing in the world -- and I know a lot of the newer girls have had to experience this -- learning on-air. Because you're so exposed. I didn't like how it turned out but I was glad to have the experience. I'd love to try to get better at it."