Actress Park Overall has returned to her roots,

and her Greeneville home is

Anything but an ‘Empty Nest’

Paintings of rabbits, horses, cats and birds cover the walls of actress Park Overall’s home in Greeneville. But it’s the dozens of real-life animals that live within those walls – and outside of them – that decorate Overall’s heart.

“I look at these guys as my children,” Overall says of her seven dogs, five horses, five cats, three llamas, two goats and donkey. “They’ve changed me for the better.”

Overall, who earned fame playing a southern nurse in the sitcom Empty Nest, returned home to her native Greeneville just three years ago, after spending 20 years in California. She brought her collection of animals with her, creating an eclectic menagerie for the 15 acres of rural land she now calls home.

Overall can tell you when and where she got each of her furry children, from the llamas she got at a garage sale to the cats she found roaming around north Hollywood.

But Overall’s love of animals started well before she moved out west for her sitcom debut. In fact, Overall, 53, can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t own animals.

“My parents were animal people,” she says. “We had a knack for saving baby rabbits. We’d save the wild rabbits and keep them in the kitchen.”

Then, somewhere around age 6, Overall got her first dog, a sweet female pup that followed her home from the store one day. Overall named her Henry the VIII in honor of the infamous Herman’s Hermits’ song, I’m Henry VIII, I am.

By the time Overall was in college, her love for animals had reached new levels. While attending the University of Tennessee, she spent a significant amount of time volunteering at a nearby zoo.

“Every day, I’d go for lunch and feed the elephant an ice cream cone,” Overall says. “I remember, my daddy came to check on me one day and we went to the zoo. I hadn’t been there in a long time. We went to that zoo and damned if that elephant didn’t come running over, wanting its ice cream cone.

“It’s true that they really don’t forget.”

Overall never forgot her love for animals over the years, either. Almost immediately after moving to California, she began bringing in stray cats and dogs in need of a home. While some have passed away, many still remain with her today.

There’s Papaw, a 10-year-old Boston Terrier who lives in constant fear of being abandoned again. There’s Lilly, a 20-year-old calico cat Overall rescued from a trailer park and Tinkerbell, an “odd-eyed” cat rescued from the streets of north Hollywood.

Max, another cat, has a “confirmed kill record” of 34 mice and rats. Overall credits him with keeping her place in California “rat free” for so many years. Rascal, meanwhile, is a cat who thinks he’s a dog.

Clarissa, a small mix-breed dog, looks more like a tiny fawn as she dozes off on a couch in Overall’s living room. Her gracefulness and beauty have earned her the nicknames “Little Miss Greene County” and “Top Model of Greeneville,” Overall jokes.

Widget and Captain Jack Poppi, two more small dogs, bounce through the house with infinite amounts of energy, but crash just as hard in a comfortable recliner with a view of the vast backyard.

Three larger dogs inhabit kennels on the side of the house while the front yard is filled with Overall’s even bigger pets.

The llamas – Dalai Lama, Buddha, and Lucy – roam gracefully through the rolling hills and onto the long drive leading to Overall’s home. Horses like Sugar and Lips keep to themselves until the rouse of an apple gets them moving toward the fence line. Vince, a donkey rescued from the Bureau of Land Management, watches from afar while Overall’s two goats stake claim to their own portions of pasture.

For Overall, a self-proclaimed “loner,” spending time surrounded by animals is better than attending any social gathering with humans.

“For me, I see a deer and religion lights in my brain. When I see a downy woodpecker on my suet feeder, my soul is in touch with something bigger than me. I don’t feel that with people. I only feel it with animals,” Overall says. “Many people view this as a sickness. I’ve got a friend who thinks I am an animal hoarder. But I can sit here and carry on brilliant conversations with these babies.”

Overall estimates she has owned, raised or saved at least 100 animals.

“My philosophy is, ‘save what comes along your way,’” Overall says. “I just feel, if you have room in your heart and your home, and you have the money, then you should save living things. What better to do?”

But Overall hasn’t done all the saving. She credits her animals with doing some of their own handiwork, too.

“I wouldn’t have a soul, I wouldn’t have warmth, I wouldn’t have love if I didn’t have animals in my life,” Overall says. “Yes, it is tiring sometimes, but they are worth it. They have softened my soul and lightened my heart.”

— Kristen Swing

Winter/Spring 2011 issue

COVER STORY

Winter/Spring 2012

Park Overall with three of her dogs at her Greeneville home