Sitting inside a pen with artificial grass at the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, a new animal adoption center in Playa Vista, Jane Prather gave her husband a slight nod. He knew what she meant.
“We’ll adopt him,” Prather quietly told an adoption specialist kneeling next to her, referring to a 9-year-old Labrador mix named Harry sprawled in front of them.
The Redondo Beach couple had been anxiously looking for a new addition to the family since losing three of their dogs this year — two to a car accident and one that had to be put down.
“He’s basically everything we want — mellow, adult, trained, gets along with kids, likes to walk,” said Prather, her voice resonating with relief. “There’s something special about coming home and having a dog wait for you.”
Over a dozen dogs and cats were adopted during Saturday’s opening of PetSpace, the brainchild of Wallis Annenberg, the CEO and president of the Annenberg Foundation. Besides facilitating adoptions, PetSpace will also include educational programming on how to care for pets and will produce scientific research focused on the human-animal bond.
Located on Bluff Creek Drive in Silicon Beach, the 30,000-square-foot facility houses more than 80 dogs, cats and rabbits from the Los Angeles County’s Department of Animal Care and Control shelters. About 30 staff members and more than 100 volunteers work at PetSpace, which will be open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with free admission.
“We know that pets make us feel good,” said Jackie Ott Jaakola, the senior manager of community outreach and partnerships, explaining that the facility will have a Sunday reading program where children can sit down with a book and an animal. “You’re hanging out, you’re petting a dog or a cat and reading to them. They’re captivated and so are you, and you just kind of find the joy in that.”
During Saturday’s opening, a large barking and tongue-wagging mechanical dog perched on the second floor greeted families streaming into PetSpace. On the ground level, visitors read animal adoption stories displayed on panels or explored a huge touch screen wall announcing upcoming events.
But the animals were the main attraction. Visitors snuggled with cats and rabbits housed inside quiet rooms or goggled at dogs showcased in their own private glass “suites.” Interactive digital screens next to each suite carried personal information about the pets up for adoption and potential owners could request an appointment with adoption specialists to find the right match. Adoptions carry an $80 fee.
“What’s your lifestyle like? What time commitment do you have? We’ll have a pretty extensive conversation,” said J.J. Rawlinson, the facility’s animal care manager and veterinarian. “We really take time to get to know the animals.”
PetSpace also includes a Leadership Institute with 16 research fellows — experts in different academic fields — who will write a white paper on the science behind the human-animal bond. The team will take a multidisciplinary approach, studying the genetics of domesticated animals and parallels between human and animal disease, among other subjects.
“This whole notion of the human-animal bond goes so much deeper than how you choose a pet,” said Eric Strauss, a biology professor at Loyola Marymount University and the research paper’s lead author. “We’re bonded emotionally through our pets. But we’re also bonded ecologically, medically and economically. I think that’s the real genesis of a new science here.”
The facility partnered with organizations across the city to develop its programming, which will also include higher education workshops on human-animal relationships. It’s working with the California Science Center to create a 9,000-square-foot exhibit on dogs that will open in 2019.
Allison Cardona, deputy director of operations for Los Angeles County’s Department of Animal Care and Control, said PetSpace will provide medical resources, such as aqua therapy, that are not available in all shelters.
“Sometimes people don’t want to come to our care shelters because they think it might be sad or that animals are damaged,” she said. “The truth is the opposite. Many are wonderful animals.”
Madeline Bernstein, the president of spcaLA, a nonprofit animal welfare group, said the facility’s approach of combining adoption with education about spaying, neutering and grooming is essential for improving the shelter system.
“[It affects] the kind of commitment you’re making if you end up having that pet for the rest of that pet’s life,” she said. “The more people know about vaccines and herd health, the more they protect other animals that they come in contact with.”
Before arriving, many families had perused PetSpace’s website, which highlights some of the dogs up for adoption. Paola Guastini from Mar Vista had found three dogs she was interested in, but an adoption specialist recommended another dog to her that could get along with her female alpha dog. Even before meeting the potential pet, Guastini’s son thought it was already a perfect match.
“I just hope he’s not adopted,” said Theo Karlin, 10, clapping his hands with excitement.
His mother gently tried to assure him.
“This is the first day and they said they had a lot of dogs,” she reminded him, smiling.