The 7 loves of Katherine

In an interview with USA Weekend, Katherine talks about her dogs.

Katherine Heigl has a lump in her throat. She’s talking about Mojo, her beloved 15-year-old shepherd mix she had to “put down” last summer when he could no longer stand.

“I hate having to make that decision for another being,” she says. “You don’t ever feel 100% confident in your decision. My vet said: ‘Katie, this is a dignified dog. Don’t take away his dignity.’ That’s the greatest gift we can give these animals we care so much about: a dignified ending.”

Choking up, she adds, “It’s really hard. And I have Romeo, who’s also 15. He can’t really hear and see, but he’s been my best friend for 15 years. So it’s going to be awful. …”

Heigl, 33, whose edgy comments have sometimes gotten her into trouble, is clearly a softie when it comes to canines. No wonder she calls herself “the Mad Dog Lady.” The actress has seven of them: the aforementioned Romeo plus Stella (both miniature schnauzers), mixed-breed Piper, schnoodle Wheezer, scar the “hotcake” hound, plus a pair of shepherd mix puppies, Flora and Tamber.

Says Heigl: “I always want animals in my life.”

These days, that life is plenty full. In addition to her pack of pups, Heigl has a daughter, Naleigh, 3, whom she and husband Josh Kelley adopted from South Korea two years ago; a movie opening next Friday, One for the Money, in which she sports a new dark ’do’ as a hapless bounty hunter; and an ad campaign advocating that dogs and cats be neutered or spayed called “I Hate Balls.” The gamely titled video was produced by the comedic team at Funny or Die in association with her charity, the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, named for her late brother.

“He died in 1986; I was only 7,” Heigl says. “The motto for our foundation is that we want to help and protect the voiceless and the innocent — that was my brother’s bent. He had an unusually grand sense of compassion. My brother was absolutely an animal advocate.”

When asked how she handles such a large pack at home, plus Naleigh, even while her musician husband is often away touring, she concedes: “It’s a total work in progress. I have these mornings where I want to complain to my husband or my mother, but then I realize it was entirely my decision! I can’t complain, because I created this for myself. So we try to just make it as seamless as we can, and incorporate all of these animals into our lives.”

It helps, she adds, that “we have the great fortune of having two homes — one in L.A. and one in Utah. So sometimes we keep the little ones in L.A. and the big ones in Utah, where we have lots of property to run around in, to work off some of that energy.”

It doesn’t hurt, either, that Kelley, 31, loves dogs, too. “He was really excited about the puppies, because all the dogs were really attached to me,” she says. “I’m their person. I’m the one with them all the time. I’m the one training them. I feed them. And he’s on the road a lot. So when we got the puppies, I said, ‘Tamber will be your dog, and Flora will be my dog, so you’ll have one that’s completely yours.’ He got all excited about it — but then, of course,” she adds without missing a beat, “Tamber loves me best.”

The couple have been careful to teach Naleigh to be gentle with their furry housemates, and the parents never leave their daughter alone with the dogs. Still, the toddler is clearly taking after her famous mother:

“The dogs are her best friends,” Heigl says. “We have pictures of her doing tea parties with Mojo. But she’s not very loyal: One minute Piper’s her best friend. And then it’s Oscar. It’s just the cutest.”

Calling her dogs “a blessing,” Heigl adds:

“It’s so worth it to walk down in the morning and have these dogs go bananas, so excited to see me. My daughter could be like: ‘Oh, hey.’ I’ll say, ‘Give Mommy a kiss!’ and she says, ‘Uh, no.’ But they’ll always give me a kiss. They’re always happy with me.”

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