Katherine Heigl: A Voice For Shelter Pets
Education and Advocacy The award-winning actor and animal advocate checks in to share how she hopes to change the stigma against rescue pets.
Mediaplanet: As an active spokesperson for animal rescue, why is it important to raise awareness for these issues, and what goal are you working to achieve?
Katherine Heigl: When I found out about the number of good, adoptable animals that are being euthanized in the shelters and seeing some of the horrible cases of animal abuse that occurs in our country, it was that awareness that inspired me to do something about it. There are many other animal lovers in our country that, once they are aware of the situation, will also come to the aid of companion animals. Our main goals right now include increasing awareness of the value of rescuing shelter animals, doing everything possible to end the horrible abuses and conditions in puppy mills, supporting the hard-working “boots on the ground” animal rescue organizations, and funding and encouraging spay and neuter programs across the country.
MP: Can you tell us about the story behind the name of your foundation, The Jason Debus Heigl Foundation?
KH: My brother Jason loved animals his entire life — whether it be a dog, cat, bird, or monkey! He spent his time on earth extending compassion and kindness not just to animals but to every person or creature he came into contact with. Because of this characteristic, we knew this was the right way to honour his memory.
MP: What is the most rewarding part about being involved in this kind of activism?
KH: The most rewarding part is seeing the positive impact we are having. The foundation has been able to save the lives of thousands of shelter animals by personally pulling hundreds from the shelters and finding them homes, and by transporting over 14,000 from high-kill Los Angeles shelters to locations across the country where they are readily adopted through qualified rescue groups. We’ve awarded grants and funded spay and neuter programs totaling almost $4 million and are still funding several programs in some of the worst areas for animals.
MP: What would you say to someone who is hesitant about adopting a dog from a shelter?
KH: Don’t be! Most shelter animals make wonderful pets and family members. The majority of shelter animals are there due to the overpopulation in our country and have not necessarily suffered any abuse. Even the ones who have been abused, we’ve taken and gotten them trained and placed in wonderful homes. Buying a pet from a pet store has more potential for trouble than rescuing a shelter pet. No matter what a store owner tells you, almost all the pets in pet stores have come from puppy mills and have been poorly bred and cared for. They often have far more medical problems than the shelter animals have.
MP: Do you have any tips for someone who has rescued a pet for the first time?
KH: You definitely have to be patient. Whenever you bring a new pet into your home there is an adjustment period for both you and the animal. Shelter animals seem to know they have been rescued and are very grateful to have a family. The best thing to do is provide them with a crate and a nice soft bed so that initially, at least, they have a spot of their own in the home. That way you can also make sure they are house trained and save yourself a lot of frustration. But the best piece of advice I can offer is to have fun with it and be excited to welcome a new furry friend into your home who will steal your heart very quickly!
MP: Can you tell us about the relationship you share with your rescue pets?
KH: There is a saying that is very true in the rescue community, “You rescue a pet but in the end, they rescue you.” The bond between a companion animal and a human is very deep and very strong. Your life will forever be enriched by that relationship.
MP: How has your success as an actor impacted your mission to rescue animals?
KH: Being an actor and a person in the public eye has given me an incredible platform to speak out about these issues. But, outside of simply raising awareness about the situation for companion animals in our world, it has also allowed me to work hard to change the situation for these shelter animals. If I can inspire people to do one thing to help then we will change the landscape in North America for companion animals — together.