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Katherine Heigl: Actress, Mom… and Animal Rescuer

The Jason Debus Heigl Foundation continued...

But Heigl and her mom knew they couldn't adopt every homeless dog out there. After writing a series of increasingly large checks to local rescue groups, they decided, with characteristic ambition, that it was time to take on the massive problem of homeless animals and animal cruelty with their own organization.

"There are more than 10,000 adoptable dogs and cats killed in this country every single day," says Heigl. "Those aren't vicious dogs, or sick cats, or animals with behavior problems. Those are animals that would make great family pets. A lot of them are purebred, and a lot of them are puppies and kittens."

So in 2008, at the height of Heigl's Emmy-winning 5-year turn as Izzie Stevens on ABC's medical drama, Grey's Anatomy, the mom/daughter duo founded the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation. Named in honor of Katherine's brother, who died after a car accident at the age of 15, the charity funds local animal rescue groups, helps transport animals from high-kill shelters to communities where they have waiting homes, and -- its most important long-term strategy -- holds free spay/neuter clinics in designated ZIP codes and low-income areas.

Free Spay/Neuter Clinics

"Some programs require you to prove that you're low income or that you qualify in some other way for free spay and neuter services," says Heigl. "We don't. We don't need to see your tax stub. Just come, and if you come, we'll pay for it."

The foundation holds a couple of free spay/neuter days in various Southern California communities every month. "At first we weren't sure if people would bother," says Heigl. "But on the first day, there was a line around the block. One man walked a couple of miles with three small dachshunds and waited for hours holding those three dogs, waiting to get them spayed and neutered. People really do want what's best for their animals, but surgery is expensive, and they can't always put their needs before their family's."

The spay/neuter effort seems to be working. In the three communities the foundation has targeted because of their high proportions of euthanasia in animal shelters, the rate of dogs and cats being left at shelters decreased by an average of 19% in the second half of 2012. (The Heigls' program was the only one targeting these communities at the time.)

Now the foundation has launched its Just One line of pet products -- collars, leads, and food bowls, along with human apparel and accessories, available at just1pet.com -- to help pay for more spaying and neutering. The product line gets its name from its mission of saving "just one" pet at a time. "We do our best to get the animals out of the shelters and find them homes," says Nancy Heigl. "But we can really only get so many out. If we can limit the breeding, our shelters can really be shelters and not places where animals go to die."

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