She’s got pets, and they are seemingly multiplying. “Grease” starlet and international pop icon Olivia Newton-John is much more than one of the world’s favorite singers and actresses—she’s a lifelong lover (and adopter) of animals.
The four-time Grammy winner opened about defending animal rights at a young age, dealing with the loss of pets, and whether some people might not be suited for pet parenthood after all.
PawCulture: You were involved with an amazing album called “Live On.” Tell me a little bit about the project and how it relates to your personal experiences dealing with the loss of pets?
Olivia Newton-John: Well, it really started with the loss of my sis three years ago. She died very suddenly of a brain tumor and at I needed an outlet for grief, which was writing a song or singing a song. So I wrote this album and I asked my friend Amy to try to help me finish it. She’s a singer-songwriter, a dear friend of mine, and we were talking about the fact that you really can see it in music, you can see the grief of people going through loss, and this became the concept of this CD. We invited our friend Beth Nielsen Chapman to join us, who had lost her husband to cancer 13 years ago and wrote a song called “Sand and Water” that is just an amazing song.
Definitely, the loss of a pet can be as powerful as [the loss of] any member of your family. I know this from going through it myself and from watching friends who have lost animals who can’t function for a long time. So grief is grief, and animals are part of your family.
Whether it’s a pet or for a person, grief has no user date. Grief goes on, and you carry it around with you. We have a song on the record called “Stone in My Pocket,” because sometimes that grief is a boulder and sometimes it’s a grain of sand, sometimes it’s a pebble, but you do carry it with you. And sometimes you reach down and it’s there, and sometimes it’s not. It’s about listening, and it talks about living on and being grateful for the day.
PawCulture: How much of your life has been affected by pets being close to you, like family?
Newton-John: Since I was a child. We lived in a university and my father was a professor, and I used to rescue them all the time. And my mother said I was always bringing home strays. Stray dogs, stray cats, and I remember as a little girl, seeing a guy being abusive to a horse with a cart, and I went up and grabbed the reins and yelled at him… I must have been under 10. So, yeah… I always adored them.
PawCulture: As you grew up, launched your career and became a world-traveler, have you always been able to maintain animals in your life? Or were there periods where it was tough to do because of your lifestyle and schedule?
Newton-John: I’ve always had them, whether it was difficult or not. As soon as I could afford to have my own house, I had pets. Whenever I could have an animal, that was my first priority. I had dogs in England. At one point, before I had my daughter, I had seven horses, nine dogs, and a bunch of cats, and chickens. But now I have a dog, a cat, 13 chickens, and two miniature horses.
PawCulture: Wow. I’m surprised it’s not louder over there.
Newton-John: It’s not what?
Newtown-John: (laughs) They give me joy. When you come back from a trip, your animals ground you. There are things to be cleaned up and animals to be fed. You need to get up early and go down in the cold and have them watered, and then take them to the field and watch out for storms and all that stuff.
PawCulture: Some people just assume that they are too busy to care for animals. But you are living proof that even a touring performer can make it work.
Newton-John: I have to say that I’m very fortunate that I can afford to hire someone to look after them when I’m not here. So for people that don’t have that, or if you can’t take the dog with you, maybe you shouldn’t have one, because otherwise they’re neglected. If you can’t take care of them properly, you shouldn’t have them—that’s my feeling.
I don’t have them with me all the time. I don’t like leaving them at all, but because of my profession, I don’t have a choice. Luckily, my cat and my dog are very stable.
PawCulture: Do you think that our society has moved in a positive direction as far as being open to the idea of adopting and rescuing animals instead of automatically turning to pet shops?
Newton-John: Well, I think people have really opened their eyes to that. There’s a lot of adopted animals. And I think you’re rescuing them, anyway, when you get them from the pet shop. I think that’s a rescue, too, in a way.
A lot of those dogs have not come from better situations. So wherever you get them from is wonderful. Some people still say they’re getting them from a breeder, and that’s their choice. But there are many animals that need homes, so if you can adopt a dog, it’s a wonderful thing to do.
Photos by Denise Truscello