By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach residents Amy and Julian Mack were living in Chicago when they adopted a three-legged pug named Carlo. The charismatic canine suffered a serious injury to one of his legs before being rescued from the streets and had to undergo amputation.
Carlo would live with the Macks for 10 more years until his death.
“The thing that was so shocking was that he was the happiest dog,” Amy Mack said. “He didn’t know that he was missing a leg. He just brought joy to everyone we met.”
As the owners of four senior and disabled dogs, the Macks felt compelled to do something to help dogs of this demographic from languishing in local animal shelters.
The couple pitched their concept to the Laguna Beach Planning Commission on Wednesday for Unconditional Senior and Special Dogs adoption center at 20522 Laguna Canyon Road, previously the home of Coastal Kennels.
Animals shelters tend to have more difficulty finding homes for dogs that are 8 years and older. Unconditional wants to find homes for these dogs, raise awareness of their plight, and serve as a replicable model for other cities, according to a staff report.
The Macks’ plan is to demolish the existing 5,000-square-foot building on the property and build a new three-story, 7,7000-square-foot building. The new construction includes a lobby, retail store for dog-related items, kitchen, grooming, medical, kennels, multi-purpose meeting room, and two canine living rooms.
Unconditional would house to up to 40 dogs at a time, down from the 100 dogs and cats allowed at the former Coastal Kennels.
Julian Mack said the public’s lack of interest in adopting senior and disabled dogs is the last unsolved problem in pet adoption.
“People give up their dog when they want a new dog, they go on vacation, and they move,” he said.
Part of the problem is that the United States’ “youth-obsessed culture” makes it more appealing for people to adopt puppies, Julian Mack said. Even as the campaign to neuter and spay has successfully driven the number of non-senior dogs sitting in shelters across the country by 35 percent, the number of senior dogs is up 20 percent.
During their review of the Macks’ proposal, Planning Commissioners were supportive of the proposed use for the Laguna Canyon property, saying that it would complement the adjacent Laguna Beach Animal Shelter and Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
Most of the commissioners’ questions to city staff focused on whether the adoption center would be sufficiently parked with 24 spaces. After looking at parking standards for kennels and animal shelters in Orange County and around the country, city staffers agreed that there was more than enough on-site parking since only six to eight people would work at Unconditional.
Commissioner Sue Kempf recommended that the Macks plant landscaping along the property line shared with the Animal Shelter to try to prevent dogs from barking at each other.
“My dog can find a sightline to any dog in my neighborhood anytime, so I think the more shielding from other dogs is good,” she said.
The Macks plan to partner with local breed-specific rescue networks that are currently the best chance for many senior and disabled dogs. These organizations will be invited to hold events to showcase some of their dogs and rescue work that they’re doing, Julian Mack said.
Although the Macks declined to share how much they plan to spend on the adoption center, they did say it’s being funded through donations from like-minded friends from Laguna Beach and other cities.
Ideally, Unconditional will serve a model for how to find homes for senior and disabled dogs that can be replicated in other cities, Amy Mack said.
“It just seems wrong they can’t be given a chance,” she said.