Girl Pack Digs In to Rescue Pet Rescuer

Dog-loving supporters of Gina Kantzabedian, center, are coming to her rescue.

Dog rescuer Gina Kantzabedian, the owner of the Animal Crackers pet shop in South Laguna and founder of nonprofit Animal Crackers Pet Rescue, is in need of rescue herself.

Thanks to a chance meeting of three local women outside the pet shop, Kantzabedian may soon receive some help in making ends meet. She’s the beneficiary of a $25 per person fundraiser at the Marine Room Tavern, 214 Ocean Ave., on July 8. Their goal is to help organize a more viable nonprofit.

Dog food provided the spark that ignited their mission. When Laguna Beach resident Martha Anderson went to Animal Crackers to replenish her supply, she ran into two other local dog owners, Kathleen Burnham and Leslie Domiano, who were discussing Kantzabedian’s financial woes. “It was just a chance meeting at Gina’s,” said Burnham. Domiano agreed. “We just all kind of got together and started this thing,” she said.

Lisette Chel and Catherine Helshoj have since joined the informal support team, which has held weekly meetings to organize the fundraiser as well as to look into long-term solutions to keeping Animal Crackers and its eponymous pet rescue operation in business.

Initially, proceeds from the shop, which stocks pet food and accessories as well as providing grooming services, covered the costs of the rescue operation. But the depressed economy and increasing volume of pet rescues began eroding the business 18 months ago when the Indy first reported on Kantzabedian’s battle to stay out of the red.

“I’ve been suffering for the past four years,” admitted Kantabedian. “The economy is bad and more animals need help.” The situation is aggravated by a landlord unwilling to renegotiate lease terms, who has issued pay or vacate notices. A spokesperson for the landlord’s property management company, Shelter Bay, declined to comment.

Kantzabedian has looked for an alternate, lower cost venue, but pet-zoned space is limited. Local attorney Mark Nelson has agreed to negotiate with her landlord pro bono.

Kantzabedian believes her store would be self-sustaining if more residents shopped locally for their pet supplies. But patron loyalty only solves part of the problem, as any patron of Animal Crackers has witnessed. Kantzabedian is unconditionally generous when it comes to animal welfare. She is solely concerned with keeping her rescues healthy and finding them good homes and charges nothing for their adoption, absorbing costs of spaying, neutering and shots. She throws in a year of free grooming to the adopter, too.

Such kindness has triggered loyal support among the women supporters. Domiano, owner of two dogs and a regular Animal Crackers customer, ended up adopting a third, Bandit, from Kantzabedian. When her older dogs passed away and Bandit began having panic attacks, Kantzabedian stepped in and took Bandit in three days a week for a month to help resocialize him with her rescues.

“She’s a really special person,” said Domiano. So when she ran into Anderson and Burnham and realized Kantzabedian’s bind, she willingly volunteered.

For the first time, Domiano found herself going door-to-door asking for donations in order to drum up items for the fundraiser’s silent auction. She said that despite the economy, local merchants invariably found something to offer. And the Animal Cracker support team is anxious to recruit a more active board and make the business more viable if Kantzabedian agrees.

As the executive director of her own nonprofit, the Community Courts Foundation, Burhnam understands the importance of a strong board. “We need a board that can really help her,” she said, one comprised of members who will actively go out and raise money, among other things.

Kantzabedian initially enlisted friends as board members, who are supportive, but may not be as purposeful as those recruited for specific skills useful in spearheading nonprofit initiatives or for ties to supporters with deep pockets.

For now, the fundraiser has given these supporters a rallying point. Burnham and the others have been deluged by people offering help, including City Council member Kelly Boyd, who offered up his establishment as a venue for the fundraiser.

Boyd, who, with his wife, has adopted three dogs from Animal Crackers, agrees that Kantzabedian’s generosity can undermine her business.

“We believe in her,” said Domiano.


For more info: call 949-315-0810 or 949-494-6369.



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