Our Laguna: Animal Crackers fundraiser raises $22,000

Time is running out for a local pet rescue operation.

The lease is up in November and won't be renewed on Animal Crackers pet supply shop in theAlbertson'sshopping center. Animal Crackers helps fund the rescues and care for animals abandoned or due to be slaughtered and provides seniors with free pet food.

Another location must be found and supporters are desperate to find that location in Laguna.

Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger issued a personal plea on behalf of Animal Crackers owner Gina Katzenbedian at the June 19 council meeting, asking anyone who might be able to help find a new location in town to come forward with ideas.

About $22,000 was raised Wednesday at Mozambique Steak House from donations and bids by an estimated 275 "Friends of Gina" on auction items contributed by local merchants and supporters.

"It was amazing," Kaztenbedian said. "Could you believe the turnout? The funds will be set aside for finding and moving to a new location."

She expressed her gratitude to the people who attended the fundraiser and to the people who made it possible.

Event volunteers included Stacey Zee Brettin, Chris Vanderwerf, Claire LaRose, Johanna Falke, Fiona Sandlin, Devyn Hughes, Nadine Ashby and Marlene Dantzer; Thurston Middle School student Caterina Jacobs; and Laguna Beach High School frosh Liam Christiansen, Dylan Woolf, who distributed opportunity prize tickets, and Eden Young.

El Morro Elementary School student Quinn Butler, 7, Top of the World students Alessandra Nitoglia, 9, and Whitney Winefordner, 8, and her older brother Ian, all junior dog walkers for the store, also attended the fundraiser.

The Winefordners performed a song they had written in Katzenbedian's honor.

Catherine Helshoj organized the fundraiser, which included live and silent auctions.

The live auction included a week's stay at the Villa Del Palmar in Puerto Vallarta, donated by the law office of Mark F. Nelson, and Universal Vacation Club; 16 GB iPad with cover and two hours of geek time, from Linda Leahy and Jason Cotton; four Angels club seats and two nights at the Doubletree Hotel in Anaheim, donated by the Angels Baseball Foundation, the hotel and Henry Hang; and seven nights at the Marriott Desert Springs villa II from Karen Christiansen, David Scharff and Transworld Business Advisors. Rita Cote donated a deluxe set of Princess cookware and the Ritz-Carlton provided a one night stay.

Among the individual donors: Helen Evers, David Miller, Dr. Ann Vu, City Clerk Martha Anderson, Catherine Reade, Suzi Scallon, Mary Clifford, Debra Conkey, Edward Bobinski, Steve Chew, Joe and Jeannie Poshek, Mark Gold, Tom Sim, Jan Schrieber, Erin Ferrell, Terry Rose and John Pietre.

Photographer Don Romero and his wife, Lori, presented Katzenbedian with a check, the percentage from pet portraits, including Theresa O'Hare's two Maine Coon Cats, a Christmas present from husband, Bill.

Photo packages range from "Poor Puppy," for $49, $10 of which goes to Animal Crackers, to the $549 Top Dog, with $125 of it going to the foundation. Oh, and the pet owner gets a custom-framed 20 by 10-inch triple panel, three 8 by 10- or 5 by 7-inch portraits, a photo statue and a CD of the chosen images.

St. Bernard Awards — no not the three puppies Gina has rescued — were presented to veterinarian Gene Levin, Nelson and Mozambique owner Ivan Spiers. Eric Amerosi was named Volunteer of the Year.

The Foolish Dog band entertained. Band members Ed Krebs and Pete Vetter are neighbors and patrons of Katzenbedian's store.

Gorgeous Lidia Raven staffed the $5 a kiss booth — kisses from Monet, probably a poodle mix about 10 weeks old that was left on Katzenbedian's doorstep.

"Who could do such a thing?" Katzenbedian mourned.

The answer: Anybody smart enough to know the kind of care Katzenbedian provides. She has never met an animal she didn't love, starting when she was a little girl in Yorba Linda and constantly brought home stray animals, according to her personal history.

"Luckily, my parents were very supportive — within reason," Katzenbedian said. "We treated our pets like family members, including four large Rottweilers.

I remember taking afternoon naps with them, usually hogging one of their doggie beds."

As a youngster, Katzenbedian dreamed of being a veterinarian — until she spent a couple of days while in high school helping out in a vet's office. She couldn't handle the deaths of two dogs and distress of the owners.

She sobbed all the way home and decided she was destined for another career.

After graduating from college, Katzenbedian spent 15 years as a naval designer and engineer for a private firm that designed and built boats for theU.S. Coast Guardand U. S. Marines.

In her spare time, she continued to bring home stray animals and spent her nights on the telephone to find them homes.

When the opportunity arose about nine years ago, Katzenbedian jumped at the chance to buy the well-established Animal Crackers, supported by her late husband, Lee.

"It's like I'm 8 all over again… just the sheer joy of seeing a helpless, scared dog or cat get a second chance with an adoring family is what Animal Crackers is all about," Katzenbedian said.

The sign she hung on the door of Animal Cracker reads "Pets are welcome. Humans must be on a leash." That about sums up Katzenbedian's take on life. She has never met an animal she didn't love. People maybe not so much — particularly those who mistreat animals.

But Katzenbedian has to love the folks who came to the fundraiser to help rescue her mission in life.

They included Deputy City Clerk Lisette Chel, Kathy Burnham, Pam Haggen, Angie Miller, Ryen and Anne Caenn, Kathleen and Gregg Abel, Barbara Slevcov, Kate Riegler Cohen, Ara and Sandy Hovanesian, Katie Moss and Michelle Reinglass, not to mention Katzenbedian's sister, Lewiza Barhondian and their mother, Marijan Katzenbedian.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World