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Dog Days Over at Animal Shelter

It may not rate LEED green-building status, but the 50-year-old Laguna Beach Animal Shelter won approval for a complete $669,000 eco-friendly renovation.

The City Council last week approved remodeling the dog-eared animal shelter at 20612 Laguna Canyon Road, previously home to the county’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, with $587,000 of its total cost donated from the wills of two city residents, Jo Hannah Cisson and Marjorie Nelson.

The animal shelter is located adjacent to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and within walking distance of the modular unit set up to shelter 50 people overnight who were previously sleeping in city parks and on beaches and the city’s dog park.

“The shelter’s pretty old and its served its purpose well but it needs some freshening up to bring it up to modern standards,” said Jim Beres, who supervises the city’s animal control and shelter operations.  “Through frugality and good maintenance, the city was able to extend the useful lifespan of the current facility as long as it could.  We’re going to finally remodel it.”

A maximum of 24 dogs, a revolving number of cats, a few scattered chickens, a rabbit or two and other sundry orphaned domestic rodents and reptiles will be ready for viewing next summer in modernized quarters with new stainless steel cages and energy-efficient in-floor heating, LED lighting and skylights that open for fresh-air circulation.

“We’re renovating what they’ve had for decades,” explained new City Manager John Pietig. “We are bringing it up to generally modern standards but it’s renovation, not a complete reconstruction.”

Dixie Jordan, trustee of charitable donations for benefactor Cisson, said the former teacher and counselor in Santa Ana had lived in Laguna since 1968 and also contributed to Friends of the Sea Lions and the Hortense Miller Garden.  “She loved kids, animals and flowers,” said Jordan.  “She would really be thrilled about this expansion.”

While the shelter for the four-footed is subsidized by benefactors, the temporary shelter for homeless people is dependent on a cash-short city treasury and nonprofits scrambling to raise funds in a difficult economy.  No local private patrons have yet stepped forward to provide money for a permanent shelter for the human dispossessed who have located in Laguna.  “The animal shelter’s been a long-standing program,” explained Pietig “We’re still working together as a community to figure out what type of a program is appropriate to deal with homelessness.  We have something in place now but it’s still considered temporary.”

Homelessness became an issue that vociferously divided residents when sleeping prohibitions in public parks and beaches were lifted after their constitutionality was challenged by an ACLU lawsuit in 2008.

When the council reviewed animal shelter remodeling plans last May, complete renovation costs were estimated at $1.4 to $1.6 million.  The reduction in costs, says Public Works Project Manager Wade Brown, demonstrates that builders are narrowing profit margins to compete for work orders.  “Contractors are really hungry so pricing is very favorable,” said Brown, adding that the city may also have overestimated the amount of work needed.

The restoration of Laguna Creek, which runs past the front door of the shelter and was included in original renovation plans, has been relegated to the city’s 10-year capital improvement plan, waiting for its day in the sun.

The new animal shelter will also be fitted for future solar panels “when escalating utility costs and technological advancements may make it more cost-effective…,” as stated in the city report.  A temporary shelter will be operated by the city in an industrial bay at 2093 Laguna Canyon Road.  Work on the permanent animal shelter is scheduled to begin in January with completion set in July.

To honor the donors, bronze plaques and a memorial bench will be added to the shelter’s new design elements.

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