One-On-One with actress, painter and animal activist Loretta Swit

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You know Emmy-winning actress Loretta Swit. She’s “Hot Lips Houlihan,” the sexy head nurse from the classic TV series, M*A*S*H. She’s also starred on Broadway and been featured in numerous film and TV roles. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989.

Emmy-winning actress Loretta Swit. She was “Hot Lips Houlihan,” the sexy head nurse from the classic TV series, “M*A*S*H.”

What you may not know is Swit is a passionate animal activist, artist and writer with a newly released book, Switheart: The Watercolour Artistry & Animal Activism of Loretta Swit.

We recently caught up with her for this exclusive interview.

When did animal activism become your focus?

The need has always been there and I’ve always done my best to fill it. 

I’ve painted all my life.  It’s wonderful to combine my passions—animals, activism, art and acting. It’s gratifying to raise funds in a pleasurable way.

What is most pressing problem for animal rescue?

My great concern is bringing back the battle dogs from Afghanistan; those who can be rejoined with their handlers. Sometimes, when their partner was killed in action, the partner’s family can adopt the dog.  

There are so many scenarios. Education is important. We teach about spaying and neutering. We teach that puppy mills are a blight, a pimple on the complexion of our civilization. Adopt. Never buy an animal. Always go for an adoption. Volunteer to foster-care for an animal and give them lots of love, until we find a permanent home for them.

I work closely with Farm Sanctuary (farmsanctuary.org). On Thanksgiving Day, I go up to one of the sanctuaries and feed the turkeys. Animals are our friends. They’re not food. We fund Animal Alliance (animalalliancenj.org). It’s a fundraiser. It takes a lot of money to fund these programs.

My book is a fundraiser. It’s a wonderful book, but it’s wonderful because people pay money. It’s tax deductible and the money goes into Swit Heart Animal Alliance to help animals.

How can incentives be introduced so poaching isn’t attractive?

Funding. You’re finding the right organization and ensuring your money goes to the right place, for the right reasons. That’s all you can do, if you can’t fly to Nairobi…

You fight the black market. It’s terrible to kill a magnificent elephant for the ivory, for a bracelet. It makes no sense. Show what you stand for. You won’t buy an ivory bracelet or earring. And say why.

And domestically?

Animals get exploited every which way. The Wildlife Waystation (wildlifewaystation.org) has stories of people surgically putting drugs inside animals. It’s crazy. We rescued a lion, about a year old. He was guarding a crack house in Detroit. Animal exploitation is what every decent organization fights.

Also, we educate the public on how much we owe our animals. Support Guide Dogs for the Blind or Service Dogs for America (servicedogsforamerica.org), who help Vets with PTSD. Israel Guide Dogs for the Blind (israelguidedog.ca) has branched out to service dogs. They have a video of this service dog climbing onto the bed of a soldier having a nightmare, and gently waking him and covering him with love. And obviously doing him a lot of good. We can’t do enough for our guys. I’m very supportive of the military ideals.

Let’s face it. When I say these animals come back with PTSD, people are always so surprised. Why would they be surprised? They went through the same shell shocking, awful experiences.

Tell me more about Wildlife Way Station?

It’s overcrowded. They’ve been saving exotics, maybe 50 years? They saved roughly 77,000 animals. Most cases are black market. They get adorable little cubs. But then they grow up and start eating the house. So Wildlife Waystation steps in. It’s an extraordinary place. They give tours to young people. And yes, they too need funding.

There’s a large beautiful lion I did a painting of, named Conan. A boy on the tour asked, “Does Arnold Schwarzenegger know that he’s here?” He was so innocent.

Martine Colette is responsible for something like 7,000 animals. She answered, “I don’t think so, but that’s a good point. We’ll tell Arnold that Conan is here.” And she contacted him. Arnold funded Conan’s care for a year.

It’s all in education. Getting it out there. Telling people.

What other organizations do you work with?

I donate to Bideawee (bideawee.org). They helped me place seven dogs and two cats last year. I did a documentary for Farm Sanctuary. I have a loving pet goat there I did a painting of. I call him Vincent Van Goat. We have programs to donate and sponsor an animal and help fund Farm Sanctuary. I support Vincent Van Goat.

I’ve a beautiful blond Labrador. They named her Loretta, after me. She’s in training now, to be a service dog. I help fund her education and her passage into service. That’s one small example of what you can do.

Tell us about your pet project.

My main project is bringing the dogs back from Afghanistan. They’re not just dogs. They’re soldiers. Just talk to a team member, or a handler, or a Vet from a team. They will tell you. The bonding is palpable. They don’t want to be separated.

I’m doing a Facebook interview with Chris Van Etten. I call him my centerfold Marine. It’s an educational tool. People will watch, and learn more, and care.

Chris lost both legs in Afghanistan. He maintains the most faithful part of his experience was his waiting seven months to get his partner dog, Harley, back.

When they reunited, Harley flew out of that plane at Chris. Harley never takes his eyes off Chris when they’re together. No matter what they’re doing or where they’re going, his eyes are riveted on Chris. It tells you a lot.

Where can people find this?

I’m on social media. My website is switheart.org. People can buy the book on the website through the Switheart Animal Alliance. They can also buy paintings and prints.

You recently won an award?

The ICON award is given yearly, in conjunction with the Oscars ceremony. We have a dinner, watch the Oscars and present the ICON awards. This year, Lainie Kazan and Michael Learned, myself (and others) received the ICON Award.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I should also talk about Actors and Others for Animals (actorsandothers.com) based in Toluca Lake. JoAnn Worley, who everyone loves and adores, is our president. I serve as Vice President. I want to emphasize the important work Actors and Others does to educate. Our future is in teaching young people about the plight of animals. If they get the message early on, we’ll be in better shape.

John K. Adams is a writer and owner of Storyography – Video Memoir Services. Adams believes everyone has a story to tell and his personal legacy videos allow clients to share those stories with future generations. Visit LifeStoryography.com to learn more.

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