Katie Cleary's a successful model and actress -- including four years as the beauty who held case number 11 on "Deal or No Deal" and an "America's Next Top Model" finalist -- but the Glenview native always had her mind set on something else.
Cleary is using her years of modeling jobs and small movie and TV roles as a steppingstone to do the work she considers her true calling: rescuing and protecting animals.
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"(Modeling and acting) was fun when I was young, and it was exciting to meet all of these models and actors. But I always thought, 'What am I going to do with animals, my passion?'" said Cleary, who turns 32 later this month. "If you're in the spotlight, they give you the platform."
She's now using that platform to raise awareness for animal causes in a variety of ways, including a documentary film, a radio show and headline-making campaigns to stop grocery stores from selling palm oil, which threatens orangutan habitats.
Last year, Cleary and fellow model Joanna Krupa, a "Real Housewives of Miami" cast member who grew up in Lombard, led a successful campaign to stop Kardashian-owned retail clothing store DASH from selling animal fur.
The base of Cleary's operation is her nonprofit animal welfare group, Peace 4 Animals. It's with them that she produced the celebrity-filled documentary "Give Me Shelter," a film meant to raise awareness about animal abuse around the world. Directed by Lake Forest native Kristin Rizzo, the movie will be released next month and features Alison Eastwood, Michael Vartan, Charlotte Ross (a Winnetka native) and others.
Cleary also is trying to raise public awareness about endangered species and other animal issues on her new online radio show, WorldAnimalNews.com. It airs at 1 p.m. Thursdays on Tradiov.com. Like the movie, it will cover a broad range of issues and feature celebrity guests. Chances are they'll mention the new globally conscious jewelry line Cleary's working on to benefit endangered tigers.
Cleary's passion for animals was evident since she was a kid and during her years at Glenbrook South High School. Raised by an animal-loving single mom and grandma, they together rescued countless stray kittens, baby squirrels, raccoons, birds and other animals. Sometimes they even bottle-fed them until they were strong enough to return to the wild.
"We were the animal people in the neighborhood," joked Katie's mother, Rose Cleary, who now lives in Mount Prospect. "When (Katie) was very young, all she talked about was being a vet. She volunteered a lot at all the animal clinics. We had a friend who was a vet, and she would ask tons of questions and just want to know everything there is about the animals."
Cleary was a student at Carthage College in Wisconsin when, on a whim, she sent in a video to a new show called "America's Next Top Model." She got a call from the show's host, Tyra Banks, inviting her to be on the show and her modeling career took off after that.
Her first Hollywood audition was for the game show "Deal or No Deal," where she landed the job as "Briefcase Beauty #11." She kept that job for four years.
"It was really long hours, but it was worth it," she said. "I still keep in contact with some of the girls ... and (host) Howie Mandel's wife is my manager."
Today, Cleary lives in Los Angeles with her husband, four dogs and three cats, and spends almost every spare moment working on animal-related causes. She said the biggest challenge is getting people's attention and raising their consciousness about products, so they understand why these issues matter for the planet's future.
Cleary dreams of one day opening her own animal sanctuary or hosting an animal show on the Animal Planet cable network.
"I knew this (passion for animals) was a gift from God, and that this would be my job. I can't explain it or describe it ... but this is something that's not a job to me. It's something that I enjoy doing, but I'm so passionate about it," she said, as her foster dogs noisily barked in the background. "From this point on, I know what I'm going to be doing forever. I want to create change."
-- Jamie Sotonoff
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking from people in the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a great feature, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.