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Swank helps strays in Romanian capital

Thousands of Romanian street dogs have found a friend in Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank.

Swank, who won for her portrayal of a waitress-turned-boxer in “Million Dollar Baby,” visited Bucharest last week and showed a different kind of skill: fighting for animal rights.

Swank, who says travel has been her best education, rarely leaves home without Kai, a devoted Jack Russell terrier stray she rescued in Los Angeles.

In the Romanian capital on Friday, she visited projects set up by the animal welfare foundation Vier Pfoten that encourage interaction between stray dogs and institutionalized people.

Bucharest has 35,000 strays and their fate has sparked a fierce debate there. Some believe they should be put down, others advocate putting the dogs in shelters, while others want strays to be sterilized.

Swank spoke to the Associated Press about her devotion to animals, her belief in sterilization and the ways street dogs can help disadvantaged people.

“I believe that is so healing to these kids who don’t trust people anymore,” she said. “The unconditional love of an animal is very healing and teaches them about not just unconditional love but about a relationship, about responsibility, about anger management.”

Swank said she is starting a U.S. charity called Hilaroo to bring needy children and animals together. The charity combines her name and that of her late dog, Karoo.

Before leaving Bucharest, she urged people to neuter unwanted animals rather than kill them.

The Biebs can ‘Believe’ in No. 1 album

Justin Bieber’s “Believe” is the year’s top-selling debut album.

Nielsen SoundScan reports sales of 374,000 copies following its release last week, giving the 18-year-old Canadian pop singer his fourth No. 1 album and the best sales week of his young career. “Believe” also debuted at No. 1 in 29 other countries.

The album topped Madonn a’s “MDNA” as the year’s top debut thus far and is the best-selling first-week release since Drake’s “Take Care” came out in December. Kenny Chesney’s “Welcome to the Fishbowl” followed Bieber last week with 193,000 albums sold.

Bieber has sold more than 15 million albums since he put out his first record in 2009.

The birthday bunch

Comedian-director Mel Brooks is 86. Comedian John Byner is 75. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is 74. Actress Kathy Bates is 64. Actress Jessica Hecht (“Friends,” “The Single Guy”) is 47. Actor John Cusack is 46. Bassist Mark Stoermer (The Killers) is 35. Country singer and former “American Idol” contestant Kellie Pickler is 26.


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