Jennifer Love Hewitt is anything but a one-trick pony. The girl who, nearly a quarter of a century ago, first graced our small screens in countless television commercials eventually rose to fame in her teen years on the Fox hit series Party of Five. Following her much adored portrayal of Sarah Reeves Merrin, she hit the big screen as Julie James in the cult classic I Know What You Did Last Summer and its sequel. However, if we thought we’d seen the best of her—as is sadly the case for all too many actors who get started in the entertainment industry as children—we hadn’t. Jennifer was just getting started. As an adult, we adored her as otherworldly communicator extraordinaire Melinda Gordon in CBS’s Ghost Whisperer, as well as in her Golden Globe-nominated starring role in The Client List, now a Lifetime series. However, as if dominating the small and big screens alike weren’t enough, this multitalented dynamo dominated the airwaves as well, when singles like How Do I Deal and Bare Naked hit the charts globally. And yet, as impressive as her success has been, it’s not been relegated to on-air entertaining. Her foray into the world of book-writing-meetsdating- advice was met with critical acclaim when, in 2010, her page-turner The Day I Shot Cupid was released. Perhaps most admirable of all, especially in this age of Hollywoodspawned body image hysteria, hers is an often-heard voice on the subject of women’s empowerment and self-acceptance—her middle name becoming increasingly relevant with every interview she gives on the topic. But when we recently chatted, it wasn’t on the subject of unconditional self-love or the baby she and fiancé and Client List co-star Brian Hallisay are expecting. No, this time she was ready to discuss a whole new breed of unconditional love, for a very fortunate dude called Duke.

MD: How old were you when you knew you wanted to pursue a life in the entertainment industry?
JLH: I would say probably six or seven. I had started singing back in Texas. I used to perform at livestock shows, because that was a very Texas thing to do. And at state fairs. I didn’t really know it was the entertainment industry that I wanted to be a part of, I just knew that I loved entertaining people and making them happy. And then I got a really unique opportunity to represent the United States as a good will ambassador in Russia when I was eight or nine and they taught me Russian and I learned a few songs. And when I got back, there was a lot of press around it and an agent out from L.A. asked me to come out and give it a try. We went out for one month…and then never went home.

MD: Were you raised in a family of animal lovers?
JLH: Being from Texas, there were animals everywhere. At any given moment there were peacocks, horses, cows, and pigs. And we had tons of cats growing up. Like, at one point we had six cats. We always had family animals. When I moved to L.A., my mom and I got a dog, which we had for a long time. And I became more of a dog person at that point. To me, dogs just seem like their love is unconditional. And I think as you get older you realize there is no other bond that is so unconditional. As human beings, we want to believe that we love unconditionally, but we don’t. We always have conditions…But with dogs, as long as you walk in the front door and you feed them and you love them…It’s like the simplest relationship. I just love it.

MD: As a child you appeared in more than 20 TV commercials. What do you think starting out so young in this industry taught you?
JLH: I think it taught me staying power. I learned at a really young age you don’t get anything necessarily easy. For some people you do just wake up one day and you get one part and you’re a big star. For me, it wasn’t that way. I really worked. I always had jobs. I haven’t so-called “struggled” in the industry, but I’ve always worked. I feel really glad that was my experience. I’m happy that I didn’t just come out and do one movie and then I was a massive superstar and people were throwing money and deals at me. I think at a young age it would’ve made me a complete disaster. And I wouldn’t be who I am today. What I really liked about my experiences is that I just worked…I was a workhorse. I learned rejection at an early age, which can go either way—it can either be a negative or a positive—but for me, it was a positive. Out of that rejection, I learned a stronger sense of self. I learned: no, that isn’t about me, that’s about them and about what they need. I learned I’m still a good, talented person and I’m just going to stay the course. I learned real ambition and drive. I also had an incredible mother who taught me all of those things. I think if I’d been one of those kids who sort of just got dropped off here without guidance, I don’t think things would’ve been this way so I give her 100 percent credit for all of that. I worked and had to earn everything and because I had to earn everything, I was grateful for it. And I still am. I’ve had the best of both worlds. I got to do work that I love and learn some really valuable life lessons along the way.

MD: We’ve loved you in so many things over the years. Party of Five, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Ghost Whisperer, Hot in Cleveland, and now, The Client List. With a resume like yours—which even includes television directing—what roles are you most proud of?
JLH: Surviving the business has been my biggest role. That’s probably what I’m most proud of. I’m now officially in my 25th year and I’m not even 35 yet so I’ve been doing this over half my life. I’ve loved all the characters I’ve played. Probably my best role would be… well, I loved Melinda Gordon on Ghost Whisperer; it was probably the most fulfilling part I’ve ever played. Everyday I felt like I was doing something extraordinary. Not necessarily in the performance I was giving but I felt like I was connecting with people. I felt like that show connected with people. I felt like I was getting to do something we all wish we could do which is just have one last moment… It was a very fulfilling job so I would say character-wise, that and getting to play Audrey Hepburn (in The Audrey Hepburn Story) would probably be my two biggest ones. But my biggest accomplishment is just still being here and getting to do it.

MD: Does music still play a big role in your life and do you plan to record again?
JLH: Singing has always been something I’ve loved. But I got to a point with it in the recording industry that it started to feel like work. It was a time that I was very busy with other things; I wasn’t just concentrating on music. I wanted to have something (in my life) that wasn’t my job. So I sort of backed off of it for a while. I’d love to do it again at some point, but it’s going to have to be at a time when I can just concentrate on that for a while and I don’t know when that is going to be.

MD: What dog-kids do you currently have?
JLH: I have a very interesting dog. He’s a rescue. His name is Duke. He is Australian Shepherd/German Shepherd, Catahoula Hound—the very first American dog—and we’ve been told (that he’s) also wolf. He’s amazing.

MD: How did he come into your life?
JLH: I was working on The Client List and I was directing an episode this season and I’m friends with this wonderful actress named Elaine Hendrix. She does such amazing work with animals (with Animal Rescue Corp) and actually has this find-your-mate matchmaking organization for people and pets (thepetmatchmaker. com). So we were on the set talking and I was asking her how it was going—had she found a lot of animals homes—she was just so passionate about it. I had never had a rescue before, and…this year has been very difficult for me in that my mother passed away extraordinarily suddenly and she’s always been my best friend. And so when I was thinking about an animal this time, I was thinking, you know, I have been somebody who felt very lost. Very abandoned by the universe. And very much like how these dogs must feel: like, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just not found yet. So when Elaine was talking about animals, she was talking about it that way. And I thought: wow, maybe I have more of a connection now; maybe this is why I’ve never had a rescue before. This year, I’ve had a million moments where I felt I just needed to be rescued, and I’ve had to do that for myself. When she was talking about it, it really touched me in a place it hadn’t before. So I (told her), I’d love to maybe find a dog at some point… It was not meant to be in any sort of rushed situation. It was meant to be maybe, you know, next year I’ll find a dog. We finished up the episode, and she called me a couple days later and said, “I do have this one dog. He’s very special. ..He’s just a love. He’s 65 pounds but he thinks he’s five pounds and he constantly wants to be in your lap. Maybe you should take a look at him.” So I said great, can I take him for the weekend? She went through all the proper channels…I had him for one weekend and when I had to give him back…my heart sank. And so we decided to keep him. And it’s been great. I get now why people rescue dogs…It was a lesson I had to learn. It’s been very healing for me. I feel I really came out of a fog. He’s lifted me up.

MD: In an industry that can be somewhat superficial, how does Duke help keep you grounded?
JLH: In rescue, you have to prove yourself…I’m in this for the long haul. I feel like I’m earning his trust as much as the other way around. …There’s also something very grounding about loving something that much. They do become like children and family members. And particularly after having just lost a family member, it’s very profound to let go and to allow someone back in that space. It’s very moving, very grounding. It’s been a gift for both of us.

MD: What do you do with Duke when you have long days on the set?
JLH: Duke has his own trailer. It says Duke’s Room on the door. He has his water and toys and treats and he hangs out, and in between takes we hang out together. Everyone on the set stops by Duke’s Room for a visit. If you can’t find a cast member, they’re in Duke’s Room.

MD: What have you learned about life from Duke?
JLH: There’s a real friendship. I’ve learned commitment, dedication. I’ve learned what abandonment can look like. He was skittish and shaky and unsure and to watch as he becomes more confident and to see that transformation and how good it can be. You can really change people by loving them the right way. And dog’s are the same way. And you get all that yumminess in return.