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Our Laguna: Annual event cooks up funds for Laguna’s animals

Recipes, booths, dogs and one cat were judged Sunday, but the real winners were Laguna’s three animal shelters.

The 15th annual Pet Parade & Chili Cookoff raised $18,000 for the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter, Blue Bell Foundation for Cats and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

All three facilities are located in Laguna Canyon and suffered damage in the December deluge, but all are now operating at full bore.

The city shelter cares for lost, stray, sick or injured animals rescued by Animal Services officers in Laguna Beach and Laguna Woods. Every effort is made to reunite pets with their owners. Unclaimed animals are treated by a veterinarian, spayed or neutered and put up for adoption in a compatible home.


The shelter is open from 11 a.m to 4 p.m., seven days a week. The staff is assisted by volunteers.

Friends of the Sea Lions volunteer their services and raise funds for the marine mammal center next door to the shelter. There is nothing the staff and volunteers love more than being able to release healthy sea mammals they have rescued and rehabilitated back into the ocean.

Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the center welcomes visitors.

Ailing, aging and special-needs cats in Laguna have a haven at Blue Bell. About 50 cats live there, some for the rest of their lives, although some are adopted.


More than half the proceeds of the event were raised by the auction of some amazing pet houses designed by leading architects and built by Laguna Beach contractors.

The highest bid was for architects Marshall and Matthew Ininns’ whimsical cottage inspired by the Witches House in North Laguna. Valerie Heinstra bid $2,600 for the wired and plumbed structure built by Ken Fischbeck.

“Put it in your front yard and the Design Review Board would probably pass it,” Marshall Ininns said.

Montage Laguna Beach owner Alan Fuerstman bought two of the houses. He bid $1,000 for Anders Lasater’s design, which was built by Al Oligino.

Morris Skenderian‘s penthouse built by Don McKeehan cost him $2,200 — he had to outbid Stefany Skenderian for it .

“Of course I am going to bid on it — it’s a masterpiece,” said the architect’s wife.

Jim Ardery bid $650 for the “Cattage,” designed by Leslie LeBon and built by Tom Simpson, and is donating it to Blue Bell Foundation.

Kelly Muller was the high bidder for Kirk Saunders’ design, built from 90% salvaged materials by his son Rory.


Muller’s winning $1,450 bid included a $50 gift certificate for grooming at the Tail Wagger, a day from Bark and Sniff Boutique and assorted treats from Golden Lantern Animal Hospital.

The Craftsman-inspired doghouse designed by Daniel Martinez, and built by Rover Carey, sold for $1,500, won by Chris Hamilton.

Doug and Nancy Anderson paid $1,500 for the Bow Haus — a play on the famous Bauhaus school of design — designed and built by Donna Ballard and Kacey Zantos.

Morrie Hansen did a masterful job as auctioneer, coaxing out those extra bids that meant more money for the beneficiaries of the event.

The Laguna Board of Realtors and Affiliates support the shelters by presenting the annual cook-off and pet parade at Tivoli Too.

City Councilman Kelly Boyd, online journalist Stu Saffer, police Lt. Jason Kravetz, Karen Crosbie and Angie Miller judged the chili.

Miller has been a judge for three years. Yuji Hiroka served as her assistant this year. Hiroka was a judge for five years, but declined to serve when he quit eating beef.

Prudential California Realty won first prize for its chili and its booth, and Windermere Real Estate came in second for chili, followed by Tresor Properties. First Team Real Estate won the People’s Choice Award and was runner-up for best booth. Surterre Properties came in third for its booth.


Contestants also included HÔM Real Estate Group and Dr. Elli Abtahi.

Laguna Beach Animal Hospital owner and veterinarian Jim Levin was the dean of the Pet Parade judges. Not only did he judge, he instructed the other judges on the process and mediated tie votes.

Mayor Toni Iseman, Montage owner Susan Fuerstman, Laguna Beach Magazine Editor Micaela Myers, and this reporter were judges this year, tasked with picking the top two in the four categories.

To the surprise of no one who has watched the mayor lament at council meetings that there were more qualified applicants than vacant seats on city boards and commissions, Iseman wanted to award three prizes in each category.

Maybe next year.

And maybe next year, a new category — service and therapy dogs. Service dogs are trained to assist their owners, guide the blind, alert the deaf to alarms — and some are fostered in Laguna. Certified therapy dogs such as Nanci and Jerry Nielsen’s Salsa and Red Waggin bring comfort to patients in hospitals and convalescent hospitals and deserve recognition even if not judged the prettiest or most handsome.

The Most Beautiful Rescue Pets category was included for the first time this year — and a welcome addition it was.

Missy Foster’s Burmese mountain dog, Rolly, was judged the Most Handsome Male. John Benekcke’s Irish terrier Woody took second place. Bodie, a young boxer owned by Melissa Brady, was also a contender.

An 11-year-old German shepherd named Haley owned by Elsa Vega was judged the Most Gorgeous Senior Pet. To qualify for the category, pets had to be at least 10 years old.

Mary Buchanan’s long-haired 15-year-old calico, Katie — the only cat in the Pet Parade — came in second.

Uli, a majestic blue Great Dane owned by Enrique Ceniceros, was the unanimous choice for the Prettiest Female.

Laguna Beach High School Principal Joanne Culverhouse introduced the pets and their owners.

Caroline Haines chaired the event, and, sadly for Laguna, it was her swan song.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (949) 302-1469 or email