ANIMALS

Humane Beings

ELIZABETH LIPPMAN
A cat waiting for adoption peeks out from a fish-shaped cut-out at Wallis Annenberg PetSpace in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles’ Wallis Annenberg PetSpace combines whimsy on a scale to rival Willy Wonka with state-of-the-art efforts to match cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters with the right owners.

The multicolored pup known as Evy, at least until she gets a real home of her own, has had until now what can rightfully be described as a dog’s life.

The details of rescue animals’ prior existences can be sketchy, but this much is known for certain: Evy’s former owner kept her tied up outdoors for several years, and her coat was infested with fleas and ticks. Her right eye had to be surgically removed, and the left is clouded over from a cataract. Still, at age four or five, she remains an open, eager sniffer of strangers, which will no doubt work to her advantage here.

ELIZABETH LIPPMAN

A staff member works with a dog at Wallis Annenberg PetSpace.

In a great turn of fortune, Evy has landed at the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, which opened last June in a shiny, sprawling space in one of the high-tech, West Los Angeles office parks collectively known as Silicon Beach. Part animal rescue, part research lab and part field-trip destination, PetSpace combines whimsy on a scale to rival Willy Wonka with state-of-the-art efforts to match cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters with the right owners.

“PetSpace wants to be a paradigm breaker,” says General Manager Carol Laumen. “You can play here, adopt here, continue to grow and learn here.”

To be sure, southern California is no stranger to rescues with high-tech touches. But PetSpace, which is partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control and pulls available pets from three of its shelters, is another animal altogether. Everything is big and bright and has either a 1960s Saturday morning cartoon feel or a futuristic one.

There’s the red front desk shaped like a giant leash, with an enormous, motion-activated mechanical dog overlooking it. Ditto the enormous cat lurking above the oversized staircase. Naturally, the human-size hamster wheel works. Adorable names — the Chew & Brew coffee spot, the Fetch Deck get-acquainted area — abound.  

PetSpace General Manager Carol Laumen says the facility is intended to be “a paradigm breaker.” ELIZABETH LIPPMAN

PetSpace General Manager Carol Laumen says the facility is intended to be “a paradigm breaker.”

The human appeal is obvious, as weekend visitors try this gadget and that, ooh and aah and, most important, coo over the animals that are PetSpace’s real clientele. “We’re not an intake shelter,” Dr. J.J. Rawlinson, the veterinarian on staff, makes clear. “We are here to get the animals that need care cared for and then adopt them out.”

To that end, there is an operating room and underwater treadmill for physical therapy, as well as green spaces for outdoor activity. With a wave, staff can cause windows to gray over, giving stressed-out animals their privacy. Every pup has its own cheerfully designed suite, replete with flat-screen television, piped-in music, a sniffing vent to get to know visitors, and a self-flushing toilet built into the floor. Cats have a climbing room called the Scratching Post. Even the bunnies hop about in luxury.

Sure, it’s fun for the humans and far better for animals that typically arrive scared, timid and tired. But the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, conceived and endowed by its namesake Annenberg heiress, is a serious endeavor. That’s underscored by the tricked-out conference room, living lab for teaching and the Leadership Institute, where fellows from around the world receive stipends and other support to study everything from animal-related laws to ethics and biology, to the ability to improve human lives through the presence of pets.

ELIZABETH LIPPMAN

Wallis Annenberg PetSpace's amenities include a slide for kids.

PetSpace has room for 40 dogs and 40 cats. A veterinary technician and dog trainer choose those who will have every advantage in becoming someone’s pet. Touchscreens help visitors learn about specific animals, and one-on-one interviews facilitate proper matches.

“Our hope is that you don’t just walk out of here with a new family member,” said Jackie Ott Jaakola, senior manager of advocacy and outreach. “We hope you come back and become a part of this.”

A few days later, Evy found a family to love her as is, and she went home.