Young Frankenstein star Cloris Leachman is spearheading a new campaign to keep caged pets out of retirement homes.

The veteran actress has signed off on almost 300 letters that have been sent to care facilities for pensioners by animal rights group Peta, urging bosses to follow the example set by staff at a Maryland home and free caged birds.

She writes, "As a senior citizen myself, I can tell you that I greatly value and enjoy watching and spending time with animals.

"But seeing helpless birds trapped inside a barren prison is not something that I or anyone I know would find enriching - quite the opposite, in fact. It is insulting to suggest that retired, elderly individuals can be entertained by watching miserable birds spend their entire lives unable to follow their instincts."

Instead, Leachman suggests care home bosses create alternatives to captive animals, such as birdbaths, virtual aquariums, and visits by therapy dogs.

She adds, "My friends at Peta recently shared with me the story of some captive finches, who for years... had been kept caged and on display in a barren glass box at Broadmead, a retirement community in Maryland. Thanks to a public outcry and Peta's collaboration with a concerned Broadmead resident, the community elected to replace the depressing, aquarium-like box with bird-friendly rooftop areas designed to attract wild birds and allow residents to enjoy seeing them in a far less restrictive setting."