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July 15, 2010

Hot Lips, Warm Heart

Loretta Swit relishes her most meaningful role: helping animals

All Animals magazine, July/August 2010

  • Loretta Swit

From 1972 to 1983, she played Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan—a rule-bound but compassionate army nurse in the iconic television series M*A*S*H. At the same time, Loretta Swit was working off-screen on the front lines of the animal protection and human rights movements, battling cruelty and injustice wherever she saw it. It’s a role the actress and artist has continued to this day.

Whether she’s creating paintings to raise funds for spay/neuter work, encouraging government officials to support animal protection legislation like the 2006 Chicago foie gras ban, or working with groups like Stray Rescue of St. Louis, Swit remains one of Hollywood’s most steadfast animal advocates. A longtime supporter of The HSUS, she believes “a house is not a home without an animal” and gets daily inspiration from her four rescued companions—terrier Munchkin and three cats.

In this excerpted interview with senior editor Julie Falconer, Swit talks about her fight against puppy mills and other cruel industries.

Q: How long have you been involved in animal protection, and what inspired you to join the cause?

SWIT:  I’ve been an activist before it had a word. I can’t remember not caring. Along the way, I turned around and said, “But doesn’t everybody?” And I found out that everybody doesn’t. And I was determined that they should learn about [animal protection issues].

Q: How has your advocacy affected your work as an actor?

SWIT:  I’m in a play now where there is fur. I begged the producers to please only use fake. … This may be just a little thing—one play, but I’ve done it on movies. [I say], “Please if you don’t mind, I won’t wear fur. If you want me to have the look, then I’ll ask you to use fake. And if it’s a play, will you note it in the program that the furs onstage are all reproduced, they’re all fake?” So that people are getting the right impression, that we care, that we’re looking to end this cruelty.

Q: You’ve helped place dogs rescued from large-scale breeding operations, and you actively promote spay/neuter and adoption. How did these experiences inspire you to join The HSUS’s fight to shut down the nation’s puppy mills?

SWIT:  [Puppy mills are] a blight on our society, one of many. It just happens to be the one that I find the most heartbreaking because we are the caretakers here. We’re supposed to be caring for these animals. So I find it particularly meaningful and more hurtful.

Q: What progress have you witnessed in the campaign against puppy mills?

SWIT:  I think the scales are tipping. I’m meeting more people who are out there fighting, I’m meeting more people out there who are adopting, who have [multiple] dogs. You sometimes feel like [what] you’re doing [is just] a drop in a ocean, but we’ll keep on going, and we’re going to win, because we’re right.

Q: What core message do you want to give people about puppy mills?

SWIT:  I feel that these things that are being done in the puppy mills are evil, and I think we must as a society fight evil and rid ourselves of these things. You have to drop everything and start caring. Get involved—this is the only world you have. If you’re not helping to make things better, what good is your life? You use your life to make things better, to help others. That’s the life you want to live.

Learn more at humanesociety.org/puppymills.

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