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Katherine Heigl: Actress, Mom… and Animal Rescuer

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WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by William Draper, DVM

Katherine Heigl still remembers her first love. He was older, dark-haired, infinitely patient, and known by the Southern-gentlemanly moniker "Ben Davis."

For years, he was Heigl's best friend. He even tolerated it when "Katie" stole his food and chewed on his ears.

Ben Davis was a black Labrador retriever. "He was really more my brother Jason's dog than anything," she says. "But I would lie on him and teethe on his ears, and he would just put up with anything. I'd even go into his dog bowl and eat his kibble because it tasted salty and I liked it!"

Over the years, Heigl's childhood home in Connecticut was filled with all kinds of animals -- dogs, cats, rabbits. "One day Jason decided we needed a companion for Ben, so we went to a pet store," she remembers. "That's how we got Pippin, because my brother wanted the dog in the back of the crate peeing on herself, and so that's the dog we got. I can't even fathom that my parents paid for her, but they did. She and Ben Davis used to always get out of the yard and get skunked every single time. I think they liked it."

So when Heigl and her mom, Nancy, moved to Los Angeles to pursue Heigl's acting career after her early success as a model and in films like My Father the Hero, there was no question that they'd have pets. At 18, Heigl bought the first dog that was fully hers, a miniature schnauzer named Romeo, from a breeder. Some time later, Stella, another mini schnauzer, joined Romeo.

How Heigl Began Rescuing Dogs

They might have gone on that way, buying pampered purebreds from breeders as many celebrities do, but for a couple of chance encounters. "I was walking down the street in my neighborhood and there was a woman with these two beautiful, black, fluffy puppies, and I stopped," says Heigl, who costars with Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton in Heigl's latest film, The Big Wedding, released in April. "They'd been pulled from somebody's backyard, where they'd been tied up without food or water for several days. I couldn't even fathom someone doing that. I immediately rescued Piper, and I wanted her brother, too -- but someone else had already adopted him. That was the beginning of my rescuing dogs."

The Jason Debus Heigl Foundation

Heigl soon had a houseful: Oscar, the potcake; shepherd mixes Tamber and Flora May, and another schnauzer, Wheezer. While shooting 27 Dresses in 2007 in Rhode Island, instead of coming home with a few costumes from the set, she brought a 116-pound shepherd-collie mix named Mojo, whose owner wouldn't be able to keep him after she moved and feared he'd be euthanized in a shelter. (Mojo died in 2011. Heigl still chokes up when she talks about how he'd move from door to door each night, "guarding" each one in turn.)

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