'Every animal I've had has brought an abundance of love, comfort, loyalty, laughter, and grace to my life,' says Heigl of her passion for the cause
Credit: Cheyenne Ellis

In EW’s new column Act With Me, stars share their personal stories about giving back. This week, Grey’s Anatomy alum Katherine Heigl, who will soon terrorize screens in Unforgettable (in theaters Friday), speaks about The Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, which she founded with her mother, Nancy Heigl, and works to end animal overpopulation and cruelty through rescue and spay/neuter programs.

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“[My mom, Nancy, and I] began by donating and supporting rescues within our community — something we still do a lot of — but then we decided that we needed to really commit to this change and stop this terrible suffering and killing,” Heigl says. “We established the foundation in 2008 and chose to honor and leave a legacy for [my brother], who died in a car accident at 15. Jason loved all animals and fought, during his short life, for all the ‘underdogs’ in this world. I think we can all agree that many of these shelter animals qualify for his ‘underdog’ category.”

She continues about why she wanted her later brother to be remembered this way: “Jason was a unique teenager. He always supported and honored life and was particularly kind and compassionate toward the voiceless and innocent. We always had pets: cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, hamsters. Jason especially loved a black lab we had named Ben Davis. Ben Davis lived longer than Jason and when he died we knew he went right to Jason, who was waiting for him.”

“We spend a lot of time trying to use our limited resources to save as many shelter animals as possible,” Heigl explains of her efforts. “We determine where low-cost spay/neuter clinics are best used and work toward helping what we feel are the small ‘boots on the ground’ rescues who are really doing all the hard work. We’ve transported over 14 thousand dogs and cats out of high-kill shelters to rescues and shelters where they are readily adopted. We also provided low-cost spay/neuter clinics and spayed/neutered thousands of companion animals.”

“Every animal I’ve had has brought an abundance of love, comfort, loyalty, laughter, and grace to my life,” says the actress, who currently has eight dogs as well as horses, goats, pigs, donkeys, cats, and chickens on her Utah ranch. “Giving back is the only way I know how to honor the gifts they’ve given me.”

We’ve learned more and more about this situation in our country and what needs to be done to solve it and change the landscape for companion animals,” Heigl details of how the foundation has evolved over the years, then turning to how she’d like to proceed from here. “We’re proud of every (and there now have been thousands) animal that we’ve saved from shelters and euthanization. We’d like to continue to make sure that every adoptable animal has a loving home where the enrichment that these animals bring into a life and a family is respected and appreciated.” To contribute, you can foster or adopt an animal, volunteer, or donate.

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