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Column: Costa Mesa’s animal shelter experiment is a ‘huge success,’ says orphanage board member

Christy Hammond the adoption center manager holds skippy at the new animal adoption center, The Orph
Adoption center manager Christy Hammond the holds a puppy named Skippy at The Orphanage in Costa Mesa.
(File Photo)

Last week I wrote about what’s happened with Costa Mesa’s animal shelter experiment and what the future looks like for 2019, now that the Priceless Pets Orphanage has opened.

“The grand opening event on Jan. 12 was a huge success,” Priceless Pets board member Lynnette Brown says. “The outpouring from the community warmed our hearts.”

The event signed up “dozens of new volunteers,” and “13 animals found their forever homes over the grand opening weekend, which reinforces our belief that Costa Mesa was the right place to open our third adoption center,” says Brown, who looks forward to more adoptions in 2019. Another volunteer and foster orientation is planned for Jan. 19.

This all seems to have worked out for the City Hall types as well.


“The Orphanage Grand Opening was spectacular,” says Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens. “It was so wonderful to see the community turn out for this new facility. I’m very pleased with the way our city staff, Dr. [Anthony] Rizk [of Newport Center Animal Hospital], Priceless Pets and our Animal Services Committee have stepped up in one year’s time to completely transform the way we care for our pets in Costa Mesa.”

RELATED STORY: The Orphanage to open in Costa Mesa »

We love our furry friends, but there’s much to consider when adopting an animal, namely the time they need and the cost of care.

According to the ASPCA, 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year.


In 2017 Stephens told me 75% of his city’s households have pets.

Pets become important members of any household. And like humans, their health care can be costly, as I found out when I adopted my rescue dog, Stasha, seven years ago.

She was 5 months old when I got her pet insurance from Petplan.

Six months later Stasha was diagnosed with a bone birth defect. We opted for orthopedic surgery, and it saved her leg.

After we paid a $200 deductible, Stasha’s insurance covered 80% of the $3,500 vet bill.

In those days there wasn’t much available in the pet insurance marketplace. Fast forward to just two years ago, when we adopted Rocco, and I was amazed at how many pet insurance companies were available.

I chose the largest insurance company in that space, Nationwide, because it offered coverage for wellness visits as well as major illnesses.

Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for Nationwide, tells me the company was started by a group of veterinarians in Anaheim as Veterinary Pet Insurance.


“At one point it was owned by about 700 veterinarians,” who were shareholders in the company with Nationwide as their “silent partner,” she says, as well as another insurance underwriter.

The concept sprung from local vets who saw animals needing medical help and owners grappling with the decision to treat them based on the cost, McConnell says.

In 2003 the company moved to Brea and, about four years ago, changed its name to Nationwide.

Nationwide, which now insures about 725,000 pets, is one of the only insurance companies offering wellness coverage because McConnell says market research indicated “that’s what most people wanted.”

Many pet insurers don’t cover preexisting conditions, which is why owners need to insure pets early on.

Pet insurance has become so popular that many companies now offer plans as an employee benefit option. McConnell says about half of Fortune 500 companies offer it to employees, as do many smaller firms.

This is a good way for employers to attract and retain talent.

Before you scoff at this concept as gimmicky, a 2018 study conducted by Nationwide, in partnership with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute revealed, “90% of employees in pet-friendly workplaces feel highly connected to their company’s mission.”


I asked McConnell if Nationwide has ever looked at the option of providing free introductory plans to nonprofits like Priceless Pets as an adoption incentive.

She says yes, but underwriting laws prevent Nationwide from doing so.

It’s important to do your research on pet insurance companies because plans’ costs and benefits are based on size, age and health of your pet. Remember, pre-existing conditions won’t be covered, so picking a company to fit your needs is important at the onset.

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