Column: Costa Mesa’s effort to open a new animal shelter shows initiative

Visitors meet Ana the dachshund at a pet fair and adoption event at the Orange County fairgrounds. Priceless Pets will open a new adoption center, called The Orphanage, Saturday at 1536 Newport Blvd. in Costa Mesa.
(File Photo)

This time last year, Costa Mesa officials were scrambling to figure out a plan for animal control services after receiving a letter stating its contract with the controversial Orange County Humane Society Shelter in Huntington Beach would not be renewed.

That was good news, as far as I was concerned, since I had written about this shelter and its problems.

The bad news: the city needed a plan — and fast.

Councilman John Stephens, who was at the forefront of finding a new shelter, reached out in my column, asking the public and animal rescue organizations to contact him to aid in the transition period while the city developed a more-permanent solution.

The response was a game-changer.

In 2018, the city created the first Animal Services Committee with community volunteers and oversight from the Parks and Community Services Department.

The city also contracted with Dr. Anthony Rizk and the Newport Center Animal Hospital as the first stop to care for animals taken in by city animal control officers.

After reading my column outlining Stephens’ plea for help, Lynette Brown, a board member with Priceless Pets, a no-kill nonprofit rescue organization, contacted him. Priceless became the contracted adoption agency for animals released from Rizk’s care.

The only hitch was that the two Priceless Pets locations were in Chino Hills and Claremont, respectively.

Not anymore. Priceless Pets’ new center, The Orphanage, will host a grand opening from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at 1536 Newport Blvd. in Costa Mesa. Anyone interested in attending can email

“Costa Mesa animals will be able to stay local,” and we will be “recruiting volunteers and fosters to help at the new adoption center,” Brown says.

Brown says that the relationship between Priceless and the city is working, as evidenced by 400 adoptions of “dogs, cats, bunnies, hamsters, bearded dragons, iguana, guinea pigs and more” in 2018.

Rizk also reports strong numbers from this unusual collaboration.

“We have the lowest euthanasia rate (by a large percentage) and therefore the highest adoption rate in the county, including Newport and the O.C. shelter,” he tells me. “We do everything [in] our power to save these animals.”

Rizk, who plans to attend the grand opening, says there is ample room and a strong foster care network for animals in need of homes.

“We are never at capacity, and have many fosters in the area, so the days of shelters euthanizing, due to overcapacity or animals requiring simple treatment, are over,” he says.

He attributes this to “joint communication between the city, animal control, veterinary services and adoptions.”

If Rizk’s city contract continues, he plans to improve his facility to include an “outdoor, artificial grass area upstairs — with a retractable canopy for dogs to play outside — and a larger isolation unit to handle some of the contagious animals in case of emergency.”

Stephens is proud of this experimental venture, which has proven to be a great thing for the city and its animals.

In November, city staff and the Animal Services Committee, evaluated county animal control services against Costa Mesa’s new program.

Hands down, Stephens says, the city’s program has been a huge success, and the committee and staff gave Rizk and Priceless Pets a “vote of confidence.”

“All the statistics are online, and we now have complete and total transparency of animals coming into system, [and the] euthanasia rate is lower than non-kill shelters,” Stephens says.

The last piece of the puzzle was opening The Orphanage.

Having two of my own rescue dogs, Stasha and Rocco, I’m proud to have been a small part of bringing the animal rescue issue in Costa Mesa to light by writing columns about it since 2016.

Moving forward, why not partner with a pet insurance company and see if it would donate a few months of coverage for every dog and cat adopted through Costa Mesa’s system?

Stephens thought this was an idea worth exploring.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at