Celebrity Spotlight - Charlotte Ross
Charlotte Ross, the head-turning blonde who stars on NYPD Blue as Detective Connie McDowell, thinks the best thing about being famous is putting one’s celebrity to good use. “As an actress, I think it’s a shame to not use your success or whatever celebrity you have for bringing attention to causes that are important—and for me, that’s animals, because they don’t have a voice to protect themselves.”
A desire to protect and save animals has been a special priority in Ross’ heart and mind ever since she was a child. HealthyPet recently spoke with Charlotte at her home in Los Angeles for an exclusive interview about her animal-loving history, “pet” projects, and more! Supervising the interview were Charlotte’s two beloved dogs: Katy, a 12-year-old, one-eyed Pekinese, and Taco, an 81/2-year-old of unknown parentage.
HealthyPet: Charlotte, tell us how you developed into such a serious dog lover.
Charlotte: I grew up always having a dog in the house. My parents loved dogs. For me, dogs are very grounding influences. Dogs are loyal, always loving, always excited to see you come through the door, and they can also help you learn a lot about responsibility. From age 5 to 12, I had a dog named Penny, and from 16 to 22, I had Mugsy, a black-and-white springer spaniel mix. I wasn’t really close to a lot of people emotionally when I was a child, and I felt as though my dogs felt the gamut of human emotions from sensitivity to hurt feelings to feeling anxious, angry, and scared. I think that’s one of the reasons that I am so involved in animal rights. I believe animals have a lot more feelings than we can scientifically prove.
HealthyPet: Can you tell a story that illustrates why volunteering your time to help dogs has been fulfilling?
Charlotte: I was motivated to start volunteering for the ASPCA in Los Angeles when I was first having some career success because I thought there really must be a lot more to life than just me, myself, and I. Through volunteering with them, I had a great, fulfilling experience in foster dog care. A female dog, in really bad shape, had been found in East L.A. She was less than a year old and had already been pregnant several times.
She had eight puppies in a litter that were only 1 week old and couldn’t be adopted for another 7 weeks. They needed someone to take in the mommy and the pups for that time period. I took them in, and I was determined to make the mother and the puppies adoptable. I wanted to give them basic good training and help domesticate the puppies and the mom. I called the mom, “Mom.” She was a German shepherd that looked old, even though she wasn’t. She wasn’t the prettiest thing either, but she was soooo sweet and the puppies were so cute. I doted on all of them and we had a wonderful time together. I would play George Winston music for them at night at bedtime and they all seemed to like that. When the 7 weeks were up, I took them all back to the shelter and they told me that the puppies would definitely get good homes but the chances of someone wanting Mom weren’t good. She still looked like she’d been through the mill. So, Bob Barker, who was involved in the ASPCA, took her on The Price is Right, and an elderly couple whose dog had recently passed away adopted her. They were really happy to get “Mom,” and I will forever be a fan of Bob Barker because of that. Isn’t that a great story?
HealthyPet: It’s a wonderful story, with a happy ending for everybody. Let’s hear the story of how you got Katy.
Charlotte: Katy was rescued from a breeder that got in trouble for over-breeding and was ultimately closed down. I heard that they were trying to find homes for the dogs there and I just fell in love with Katy when I saw her—and her personality is just so cute. Pekinese have this hilarious sense of entitlement, an “I deserve it all” kind of attitude. She just cracks me up! Despite the one eye missing, she knows she’s still the sexiest gal on the block. That’s what cracks me up, because I see it in the way she walks and the way her tail curls up. Her whole attitude is very, “Aren’t I beautiful?”
HealthyPet:How did you get your dog Taco?
I was in Puerto Rico doing a movie and it was a beautiful country, but I will never work there again unless I do a documentary on the plight of their homeless dogs. It is very much like a third-world country in the way they treat their animals. Every day I would see homeless dogs and dead dogs on the way to and from the set. We worked 6 days a week and on my Sundays off, I would go and feed all the dogs. They were covered in ticks, which I’d try to pick off. On my last Sunday there, I drove around a corner and saw some kids chasing a dog and throwing rocks. The dog was limping and crying so I pulled over in my rental car, and shouted, “Stop it, stop it!” I asked the kids if this dog had a casa. They shook their heads no. I was so shaken up about the dog that I got out of the car without really even thinking and put it into the back seat. There was another dog, a puppy, that they were throwing rocks at too and I put that dog in the back of my car also. I took them back to where I was staying, fed them, took them to a local shelter for deworming and shots, and said I’d be back to get them both. I had no idea what I was going to do with either of them. One of the assistant directors on the movie, who had an acre of land in Portland and two kids, agreed to take the puppy. I later got pictures of the family with the dog and they were all so happy—it was great. I decided to take the other dog home to Los Angeles on the plane and I named him Taco, but I wasn’t sure I was going to keep him.
HealthyPet: So you already had Katy...
Charlotte: Yes, and at the time, I had another dog named Alex, a German shepherd mix. This was going to be my third dog and I was bringing a street dog into a home with two domesticated dogs. It was very tricky and took a lot of time, patience, and understanding because Taco was used to surviving on the street. I had to do things like pick up all the dog bones that were sitting on the floor and make sure their food and treats were all eaten separately so there wouldn’t be any competition for food.
HealthyPet: Did you eventually see a transformation in Taco’s behavior and personality once he got adjusted to his new environment?
Charlotte: Absolutely. It’s amazing to see a rescued dog’s transformation, and accomplishing that is much more doable than people think. I’d originally thought Taco was probably around 10 years old because his head was hanging so low and he looked so depressed when I first saw him in Puerto Rico. Once he realized that he was going to consistently get love and food, his head came up, his energy level increased, and he became this active puppy. I found out he was less than a year old. He is the epitome of why rescued dogs, and dogs from shelters, make the best pets. Every day he is so thankful and appreciative and just wants love. He is one of the most loving and lovable dogs in the world.
HealthyPet: So you’d recommend adopting a rescue dog to others?
Charlotte: Yes. There are so many unwanted dogs that get put down every day that would make someone or some family the best, most loving, loyal pet you could possibly imagine. Just because they might have had a bad history doesn’t mean they can’t become wonderful pets. I promise you, the rewards of having them in your life outweighs the adjustment period with a rescue dog.
HealthyPet: You obviously take good emotional care of your pets. Let’s talk about how you take good care of their physical health as well.
Charlotte: On a day-to-day basis, I brush them. I make sure they get enough exercise. I take Taco for hikes a lot. Katy poops out too quickly because of her short little legs. At home, I throw the ball for them.
I give Katy eye drops every day to keep her one eye moist. I give them flea medication monthly during the hot months of the year. I get them groomed once a month. I think that good veterinary care is really important and I believe highly in pet insurance. I have found pet insurance to be a wonderful thing, especially if you have an older dog, because you never want to have to make a decision about whether to put down a dog or get the right medication or treatment as a matter of finances. I’ve had pet insurance for my pets for about 8 years, and it’s getting a lot more popular now.
HealthyPet: Will there be more dogs in your future?
Charlotte: Of course! I’m actually thinking of getting a third dog now. Taco is a little lonely for more of a playmate than Katy is for him. So, I’m going to go look around at some shelters and see what I find.
When it’s time to play, what do Charlotte’s pups do for fun? Taco is a tennis ball freak, says Charlotte. “He loves to play with the ball nonstop. When I first got back with him from Puerto Rico, he didn’t get the concept of the ball at all...it was like, how does this help my survival? Now, he adores the ball and is so into simple playthings that other dogs might take for granted. Because of his survival mentality, he will sometimes hide behind a bush when I throw the ball, and then in a few seconds after he’s sure it’s safe, he’ll lunge out and grab it. It’s pretty funny!”
It is easy to see why one of Charlotte’s treasured pastimes is laughing and playing at home with her dogs—she understands the special bond that exists between pets and their owners. She also knows that pets can enrich our lives in many ways. “I think animals can bring more joy to adults, kids, and senior citizens than we even realize,” Charlotte says. “I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in your world and take everything way too seriously—my dogs help me laugh a lot more than I would without them.”
ON THE SET WITH CHARLOTTE
Charlotte’s star appeal is nothing new. During high school in Winnetka, Illinois, she studied performing arts and trained at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theater and Second City in Chicago. At age 18, Charlotte made the move to Hollywood, performing on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse and the Tiffany Theater. She nabbed her first television role in 1987 as teen prostitute Eve Donovan on Days of Our Lives, where she earned two Emmy nominations. Charlotte stayed on the soap until 1991, when she moved on to other television roles, including the miniseries A Will of Their Own, several movies-of-the-week, and five television series (including The Five Mrs. Buchanans, Trinity, The Heights and, most recently, Showtime’s Beggars and Choosers). You might remember her from her guest-starring roles on ER and Frasier, and she also appeared in several feature films, including Touch and Go with Michael Keaton and Love and a .45 with Renée Zellweger. “I’ve been so lucky to be earning a living for 16 years in Hollywood,” Charlotte says, adding, “I think my work is improving, too, and that’s really rewarding.”
She had a recurring role on NYPD Blue as a slain police officer’s wife, and in the fall of 2000 joined the NYPD Blue cast permanently (as a different character). Since then, Charlotte has garnered fans and critics’ praises for her bull’s-eye portrayal of the no-nonsense, down-to-earth Detective Connie McDowell. USA Today television critic Robert Bianco categorized Ross as one of 10 TV “Stars Who Light the Night.” “To her familiar flashes of humor, she’s added a sexuality and emotional heft that combine to create one of the show’s most appealing characters,” wrote Bianco.
Along with her acting talents, Charlotte is also an accomplished singer, having studied opera for five years. Add this to her work for the SPCA and other animal protection agencies, and you’ll see why Charlotte is one of the hardest-working actresses in Hollywood today. Her star is definitely on the rise!