By Breeana Greenberg
Unconditional, a Laguna Beach-based nonprofit, is working to challenge public opinion of senior and special-needs dogs by showing how unique a bond pet owners can develop with an often-overlooked and vulnerable dog population.
“That’s really what this mission is about; it’s about providing unconditional love to these amazing animal companions,” Unconditional Executive Director Peter Chang said.
Unconditional President Amy Mack and Treasurer Julian Mack, a wife-and-husband duo, live the nonprofit’s mission every day with three of their own special-needs dogs and one senior dog.
“They’ve always been into animal rescue,” Chang said.
Before moving to Laguna Beach, the Macks had previously been involved with PAWS, Chicago, with Amy serving on its Board of Directors.
When the two moved to Laguna Beach, they looked to see how they could help animals in the area.
“What they found was that there’s this almost-hidden tragedy that’s happening,” Chang said.
Amy and Julian Mack found that dogs over 8 years of age and disabled dogs are being euthanized every day.
They developed the local nonprofit to pull senior and disabled dogs from shelters where they may otherwise be euthanized, with the hope of matching the dogs with their “forever homes.”
“Senior dogs and special-needs dogs, those dogs just don’t present well in shelters or rescues,” Chang said. “When you put them side by side with the younger dogs that are just jumping up and down, wagging their tails with their tongues out, they just don’t compete.”
“They run out of time, and they’re the ones that are getting euthanized,” Chang continued.
Unconditional aims to give these often-overlooked dogs a better chance of being adopted by building a rescue center dedicated to senior and disabled dogs.
The center will be built in Laguna Beach, on Laguna Canyon Road, with the hopes of breaking ground at the site in early 2023.
The new shelter will be built to best showcase the dogs’ personalities, Chang explained.
“It’s going to be built more like a house,” Chang said. “There’s going to be fireplaces, there’s going to be decor that kind of resembles a house.”
Because many senior dogs have lived in homes before they reached the shelter, by building the shelter to resemble a home rather than a “concrete jungle—a little jail cell,” the hope is that the dogs will feel more comfortable.
“We want to ensure that people have an opportunity to see these dogs in a natural light, where they can really see their personalities,” Chang said. “We want to make these dogs comfortable so that they can kind of showcase their personalities. So, our goal is really to adopt out about 1,000 dogs a year.”
One challenge in changing public perception that Chang foresees is that many people view adopting a senior or special-needs dog as a medical burden and are “better off being put to sleep.”
“That’s really not the case,” Chang said. “The care today allows for these dogs to have a full life ahead of every single one of them.”
To address this challenge, the Macks plan to build a specialty animal hospital, Rise Pet Care, to help treat the dogs staying at the nonprofit’s center.
“It’s going to be a specialty animal hospital with 15 different medical specialties from neuro to (dermatology) to orthopedics, to all of these other medical specialties,” Chang said. “They’re going to be open to the public, but more importantly to Unconditional, they’re going to be providing all the medical care for all of our Unconditional dogs free of charge.”
“So, what that means is that these dogs, at the time of adoption, they’re going to be at their best possible health,” Chang continued.
Rise Pet Care is scheduled to open in June 2023, Chang said.
“Right now, a lot of rescues that are out there, they don’t have a lot of resources,” Chang said. “They’re driven by a lot of passion, they’re trying to do so much, but they don’t necessarily always have the resources to do expensive MRIs or other procedures.”
Through the partnership with Rise Pet Care, Unconditional plans to identify each of the adoptable dogs’ needs and their medication protocol to ensure that owners know exactly what they’re getting into with bringing home a new furry friend.
Until the shelter and animal hospital are built, Unconditional is partnering with shelters and rescues across Orange and Los Angeles Counties.
“We’re highlighting their dogs, we’re doing professional videos, we’re also doing social media—TikTok videos, reels—and really trying to put a spotlight on these dogs that can’t compete next to their younger counterparts at the rescue,” Chang said.
“We’re providing them with the medical care that they need, we’re giving them grooming, and then we’re also providing them with opportunities to be out there in the community,” Chang continued.
Unconditional is hosting adoption events, bringing senior and special-needs dogs from partnering shelters with the hopes of finding them “forever homes.”
Another way the nonprofit is working to challenge public opinion on senior and special-needs dogs is by hosting special meet-up events. Through the meet-up events, Unconditional aims to show owners of special-needs and senior dogs that there is a supportive community out there.
On Dec. 17, Unconditional will host a meet-up at Heritage Park in Dana Point to gather members of the community to celebrate these unique members of the family.
“We’re going to have JustFoodForDogs, who’s going to be out there talking about their fresh foods and how important it is,” Chang said of the nutritional pet food company. “But mainly, it’s to bring like-minded, passionate folks that already know how beneficial it is to have senior, special-needs dogs and start to build up this community that’s already in existence.”
The free event will feature snacks and refreshments for families, goodies for the dogs and picture opportunities with Surfer Santa. Reservations are required through Unconditional’s page on eventbrite.com.
Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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