Animal Lovers Keep Shelter Redux On Target

Animal shelter benefactor Marjorie Nelson in a 1945 photo.

The $669,000 renovation of the city’s 60-year-old and recently flood-damaged animal shelter in Laguna Canyon will stay on schedule thanks to private donations totaling $587,000 along with $100,000 in insurance money, said City Manager John Pietig.
Insurance funds will reimburse money already spent to replace equipment damaged by water and mud in last December’s record-breaking downpour. The balance of the money, Pietig said, will be used for creek repair. Since the Dec. 22 flood that caused an estimated $12 million in damages to town businesses and residences, homeless animals are now being temporarily housed at an industrial bay at 2093 Laguna Canyon Road west of the under-construction shelter. The shelter, previously home to the county’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and neighbor to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, is scheduled to re-open July 28.
“How’s that for a government project?” commented Jim Beres, civilian supervisor for animal control. “On time and on budget and with a big flood in the middle.”
And paid for largely by local animal lovers. The shelter recently received a $362,000 donation from the estate of Marjorie Nelson and $225,000 from Jo Hannah Cisson’s estate, which will be used for permanent repairs of the facility.
Nelson’s neighbor, Karen Keel, noticed her neighbor, then 92, needed extra care in her Three Arch Bay home seven years ago. Keel, who eventually was named Nelson’s trustee, neatened up her house and befriended the widow, making sure she had live-in care.

An occupant of the temporary animal shelter.

Nelson became a surrogate grandmother to Keel’s two young children.  “She was able to live her last days in her home and died peacefully,” said Keel. “My cats still go over to her house.  Her most important animal in her life was our dog, Joe. She thought he was her dog.”
Keel has been asked why Nelson’s money went to animals instead of a multitude of charities that help people, specifically children.  “She loved animals,” said Keel.  “It’s what she wanted.”
Nelson married her high-school sweetheart, C.B. Nelson, who died 40 years prior to her passing.  They moved from Great Falls, Mont., and were one of the first residents in Three Arch, where her husband worked as an architect and she worked as a secretary.  The two-bedroom, one-bath cottage they purchased in 1943 remains in its original condition.
Nelson died at 98 in March 2008 with an estate worth $1.4 million. She had no living relatives and donated $360,000 each to the animal shelter, the Laguna Beach Unified School District’s music department, World Wildlife Federation and Guide Dogs for the Blind in New York City.  “Marjorie was extremely organized and an excellent investor,” said Keel.  “She amassed a nice personal savings in addition to their home.”
Dixie Jordan, trustee of charitable donations for benefactor Cisson, said the former teacher and counselor in Santa Ana and lived in Laguna since 1968, also contributed to Friends of the Sea Lions and the Hortense Miller Garden.  “She loved kids, animals, flowers and Laguna,” said Jordan.  “She would really be thrilled about this expansion.”
Cisson died at 74 from complications after a fall.  She worked with the sea lions at PMMC, and was a tidepool docent, a master gardener and docent at the Hortense Miller Gardens as well as a personal caregiver for Hortense.  Her dogs were rescues.  “I have her last one with me now,” said Jordan.  “She’s a little Pomeranian-poodle mix about 17 pounds and her name is Foxy.”
The dog-eared, 50-year-old shelter won approval for a complete eco-friendly renovation early last December, prior to the Dec. 22 flood. New walls are completed and roof framing and an in-floor radiant heating system are being installed, said Pietig.
The City Council voted last week to allocate $20,000 to temporarily repair the pedestrian bridge and part of the creek wall next to the parking lot, sacrificing two parking spaces.  “I just want to make sure the animal shelter doesn’t fall into that creek,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, emphasizing her concern that the renovation stay on schedule.   “There’s not exactly a parking jam in that lot for those spaces. I want to make sure we stay focused on the long-term.  Every time we talk about it, something else comes up and we don’t do it.”
“We heard the council loud and clear that you want to pursue the long-term solution,” responded Pietig, and we’re mobilizing to do that.”

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