updated 12/14/2012 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 12/17/2012 AT 8:25 AM ET
An ardent animal lover and advocate, Katherine Heigl has happily opened up her home and heart to seven canine companions – but she’s the first to admit it’s not always easy.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend that,” the actress jokes to PEOPLE. “I really love these dogs, but it’s a lot with two little kids.”
After purchasing her first three dogs – schnauzers Romeo, Stella and Wheezer – Heigl became aware of Los Angeles’s growing overpopulation problem, and began rescuing pooches as a result.
“The first dog I rescued was my dog Piper, who is pretty much the most amazing dog on the planet,” she says. “It was a chance thing. I was walking down the street in my neighborhood and there was a woman with these two beautiful puppies that had been rescued from somebody’s backyard I just thought, ‘This dog is beautiful, and I can take another dog,’ and so I did, and then the train started rolling.”
The overpopulation revelation is also what led Heigl, who alongside her mother Nancy runs the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, to her latest animal welfare venture, Just One pet products. A portion of the proceeds from the line’s collars will go towards helping spay and neuter animals to prevent unnecessary euthanizing of shelter pets.
“[My mother and I] just felt that we had gotten so much from our pets over the years, how much loyalty and love,” she says. “They’re kind of like my best friends, and I just thought we need to do something to help all of their kind. That was the impetus for Just One.”
Having grown up alongside a menagerie of animals, Heigl, 34, hopes to impart a similar upbringing on her daughters, 4-year-old Naleigh and newborn Adalaide, whom she adopted in April.
“Naleigh, from the moment she came to us, was surrounded by dogs,” the actress says. “Especially when she was really little, 1-1½, they were her best friends. She would hang out with the dogs and dress them up in her little party clothes and put necklaces on them and play tea party with them. I love it so much that she will always have this source of comfort in her life if she’s an animal person.”
“[Oscar] is kind of obsessed with the baby,” Heigl says. “She’ll sit in her bouncy seat and he’ll kind of come over, tail-wagging, and just lick her entire face. It’s one of those things where you’re like okay that’s fine once, but now you need to move away from the baby.”
With the holidays fast approaching, the actress is looking forward to spending quality time with all nine of her little ones, daughters and furbabies alike.
“[The dogs] get maybe a few treats, but they don’t get like gifts or anything,” she says with a laugh. “Naleigh’s at this fantastic age where Christmas is something she looks forward to and totally gets now It’s pretty much my favorite time of year so I’m really just reveling in it and enjoying it.”