Katherine Heigl has come a long way since being a child model, starting her career with Wilhelmina Models before turning her attention to acting, making her film debut in That Night when she was just 11 years old. Since then, she’s starred in some of the most popular movies and television shows during her decades-long career that has seen her in such box office hits as The Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses, One for the Money and Knocked Up. However, it was her breakout role as Dr. Izzie Stevens in the beloved TV medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy, that turned her into a household name and an Emmy Award winner.
Most recently, Heigl is executive producer and co-stars alongside Sarah Chalke on Firefly Lane, a Netflix drama series that is based on a novel by Kristin Hannah. The feel-good series with a devoted fanbase will have a 16-episode second season but will not return for a third season, according to Deadline.
Blessed with a feisty personality and a no-nonsense approach to life, Heigl speaks freely about what’s on her mind. She uses her celebrity notoriety and social media reach for causes that include speaking out for all animals. However, it’s the canine companion animals that hold a special place in her heart.
“I’ve had cats. I have cats,” she said with a laugh. “But yeah, I lean more towards dogs. In my experience, they’re more of a buddy than cats. Cats want to do their own thing and then they’ll let you know when they want to be petted. Dogs are like, ‘I want to be your friend’ all the time. I think that’s what I respond to, having these little buddies.”
“[Growing up,] we always had two dogs. By the time I was a teenager, we had three,” Heigl recalled. “We always had cats. We had parakeets. We had hamsters, mice, rats, iguanas, so we always had a lot of pets. My parents, especially my mother, were animal lovers.”
Heigl remembers being a teenager when she started living on her own, “the first thing I did was get my first dog. I bought him from a breeder. He was named Romeo. He was a miniature schnauzer.”
Heigl pauses. The silence is slightly awkward as she considers a feeling of conflict, being an animal advocate who purchases a pure breed dog.
“I didn’t know,” she continued. “We had rescue dogs growing up, but we also had pet store dogs. I didn’t realize that it was as big of a problem. In fact, I didn’t know until my mid-20s. That’s when I became informed about the pet overpopulation in our country and what was going on with shelters. And I vowed to never buy a dog again, and I have not.”
Today, Heigl resides on her family’s sprawling ranch in Utah with her husband, singer-songwriter Josh Kelley, and their three children. Heigl currently has nine dogs, though that includes two that she is currently fostering. She confesses that these two dogs, a pair of rottweiler puppies named Bear and Birdie, are stealing her heart with their “silly little mannerisms.”
“They were going to be put down. They needed emergency pet care due to parvo, so they needed to be in a home with constant care, so here we are,” she said with a sigh. “We’re supposed to be fostering them. They’re playing right now; they’re just…”
Heigl pauses again, this time to find the right words to describe being around these foster dogs. Speaking to Heigl, it’s easy to understand how her home includes a rescue center for needy dogs.
“Every dog I have has its own spirit and personality, and I find it endlessly amusing,” she continued. “They bring me so much delight. There are so many moments to the day, when you’re doing this and you’re doing that, and you look at them and they’re doing something ridiculous, and it makes you smile, or it makes you laugh and it’s much-needed levity for me. I love them so much.”
In 2008, Heigl co-founded the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation with her fellow animal advocate mother, Nancy, to honor Katherine’s late brother, who died in a car accident when they were growing up in New Canaan, Connecticut.
“[The foundation] was my mother’s inspiration,” Heigl said. “My mother happened to come across a flyer on the door of a nail salon. A shelter needed donations. She thought, ‘I can help,’ so she wrote a check.”
Soon Heigl’s mother was writing check after check to support a variety of local rescues. Long story short, says Heigl, “We realized that we wanted to have a say [in how the donations were used], so we decided to start our own foundation.”
The Jason Debus Heigl Foundation helps shelters rescue and find homes for pets, especially those at high risk of being euthanized. The foundation also provides funding to several clinics so they can care for shelter animals that need medical attention. In addition, it assists with spay/neuter events, transportation, training programs and more. To date, the foundation has rescued more than 8,000 dogs from high-kill shelters and funded 25,000 spay/neuter surgeries.
“It was my mother’s dream to give my brother a legacy that he wasn’t able to live long enough to give himself,” she explained. “I’m grateful that she’s able to take me on this path with her. It’s brought a purpose and a meaning to my life that I’ve thought was missing. I’m a part of something that is bigger than me.”
However, having on-site kennels and providing medical services at her family ranch can become a significant financial burden for anyone, even a celebrity of Heigl’s stature. Additional funding would be a much-needed relief and help to allow the foundation to do even more for these needy companion animals.
Heigl might have found that financial assistance while also providing healthy nutrition for dogs by partnering on a new premium dog food brand, Badlands Ranch. Named after the nickname Heigl gave to the Utah ranch that she and her family call home, the brand promotes animal welfare through its sponsorship of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation.
Heigl explains that she was approached by a company, Golden Hippo, that wanted to partner with her on a pet line. It was a time when she was trying to find the right food for her dogs, which isn’t easy when she has so many that are different ages, sizes and with varying health needs.
“They approached and asked me, ‘Do you want to do a dog food, your own brand, what you believe in?’” Heigl recalled. “At first, I kind of hesitated. There are so many [dog food brands] on the market, and I don’t know if I want to muddy those waters any further. It’s already hard to make choices when you walk down the pet food aisle.”
For Heigl to agree to a partnership, she needed to be confident that the company producing Badlands Ranch would be “supportive and promote adoption, rescue and the foundation and the work that needs to be done.”
When Heigl was confident that Badlands Ranch would be a pet food with a mission, the next item to tackle was the recipe.
“I’m very into herbalism and plant medicine, and I want the food to be unique and good for dogs that have a variety of health issues,” she said. “I kind of wanted to tailor it to my household… but not everybody has nine dogs; I get it.”
Heigl laughs, then continues to explain why she agreed to the partnership, which she says took approximately a year and a half from her being contacted by Golden Hippo to Badlands Ranch hitting the market.
“You want to get the recipes just right,” she said, adding that she worked with a pet nutritionist to perfect the recipe. “I’m very into herbalism and plant medicine. I wanted to add that holistic, herbal element because I’m a big believer in their added benefits for a healthy diet. You can’t just throw any herb into your dog food. You have to know what dogs can and cannot digest. The recipe has lion’s mane mushroom, as well as chia seeds and flax seeds, plus pumpkin and sweet potato for gut health and digestive issues.”
Transparency is important to Heigl, who explains she’s happy to have partnered with a company that is “honest about what they’re selling and being really health conscious.”
“I really love what they do because there’s no BS about this,” she explained. “I was looking at the ingredients list, and it’s really clean. There’s nothing in here where they say it’s this but when you look at the ingredients you think ‘Hold on a minute. There’s a ton of preservatives and filler.’ The ingredients list is exactly what they say it is.”
All Badlands Ranch food and treats are created using natural and fresh ingredients that feature superfoods often prioritized in human nutrition for a well-balanced diet. These ingredients are specifically chosen for their ability to support a dog’s skin, coat, digestion, immune function and energy. In addition, the beef and liver are sourced from suppliers who prioritize humane treatment of animals. The brand follows safe, responsible food preparation practices by slow cooking, freeze drying and air drying its dog food to ensure maximum freshness and nutritional content.
The brand’s flagship product, Badlands Ranch Superfood Complete, is a premium quality dog food that features such superfoods as flax seeds, turmeric and lion’s mane mushrooms. It also includes adaptogens and a variety of healthy ingredients, such as ranch-raised beef, salmon and gut-healthy vegetables. The air-dried food also contains a powerful blend of vitamins and minerals.
In addition, Superfood Bites are the brand’s single-ingredient treats that are made with freeze-dried raw beef liver. The freeze-dry process locks in the nutrients while providing the raw flavor dogs enjoy with zero fillers, preservatives or artificial ingredients.
Heigl’s personal veterinarian, Dr. Carl Prior, is one of the expert advisors on Badlands Ranch. Prior, who runs two Utah practices, Millcreek Veterinary Clinic and Park City Animal Clinic, is a firm believer in high-quality nutrition for a companion animal’s recovery and overall well-being.
“Each ingredient in Badlands Ranch Superfood Complete dog food was hand-selected because of its positive impact on canine health,” he noted. “Lion’s mane mushrooms are a natural source of antioxidants that play an important role in the support of a healthy immune system. Chia seeds support healthy, active aging, and they’re a great source of digestion-regulating prebiotic fiber. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which is key for supporting your pup’s healthy eyesight. Flax seeds are a fantastic source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which help support healthy joints, healthy skin and a shiny, pet-able coat.”
According to Dr. Prior, Superfood Complete is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO for adult maintenance.
“Badlands Ranch dog food was formulated to provide a balanced diet all on its own,” he said. “So, pet parents don’t feel like they have to supplement with raw foods or vitamins to feed their pup a nutrient-dense, balanced meal every time.”
Heigl understands that she’s entering a rough market, and she acknowledges that introducing a dog food to consumers is no easy task. Thus, she’s chosen to follow Golden Hippo’s lead.
“They’re really strategic about this,” she noted. “We’ve done a slow rollout to make sure we’re on the right path. Thus far, it’s been an overwhelmingly positive response.”
Heigl would love to have the support of independent retailers. In that quest, she wants retailers to know the level of care that she’s put into Badlands Ranch, a quality dog food that’s been developed with a purpose.
“Mom-and-pop stores are my favorite,” she said. “It would be wonderful to have Badlands Ranch in those stores. It’s a high-quality food that’s helped with my dogs. And when someone buys a bag of this food, it helps another animal in need get nutritious food, as well. I think we can make a really huge difference. We’re a brand with a cause.”