Sarah, a one-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog with oversized paws and a heart of equal size, was abandoned by her owners when she was just six months old. With no family, no home, and a painful hip problem that would require surgery, the pup’s future was grim.
That was until Gina Kantzabedian, founder of in South Laguna stepped in. Despite her rescue center’s poor economic state, Kantzabedian gave the dog a new home, all the medical care she needed, and of course, lots of love.
“She’s just the sweetest thing in the whole world,” she says of the pooch, whose surgery cost about $8,000 and who now requires special care. “I’ll do whatever I have to do to help her.”
A few months later, Kantzabedian received a call about a mama and her four new pups that were about to be euthanized at a local shelter. Unable to bear the thought of such a thing, she once again came to the rescue, providing shelter and food to the badly malnourished family, despite her own meager financial supply.
A lifelong animal lover—Kantzabedian would rescue stray cats and dogs on her walks home from school as a child—she has devoted more than 20 years to saving pets' lives through the Animal Crackers organization, whose mission is to rescue adoptable pets and place them with loving families.
“I rescue a few hundred cats and dogs that are left on the side of the road each year,” Kantzabedian says. “Most of them are only three to four weeks old. Most other rescues come from puppy mills in the saddest conditions you’ve ever seen, or are given up by people who aren’t able to take care of them.”
The rescue center, fully supported by proceeds from the pet supply store, is once again in danger of closing its doors, as sales continue to dwindle and the number of animals left in her care continues to go up. Kantzabedian has also been struggling with a landlord who refuses to negotiate on rent and even raised it by 10 percent last year. She’s been searching for a new location, but hasn't had any luck.
“I’m in no position to take in more rescues, but people in this community know I care too much about the animals to refuse them,” Kantzabedian says.
“I know this is why I was put on the Earth, but I can only do so much. I only have so much room and financial resources to support this effort.”
As a means of giving back to a woman who gives so much to her community, three Laguna women, who met by chance while shopping for pet supplies, have decided to throw a fundraiser to help Kantzabedian’s efforts.
Kathy Burnham, Martha Anderson and Leslie Domiano will host a fundraiser from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday (July 8) at the on 214 Ocean Avenue, which will include a no-host bar, snacks, a silent auction and a raffle.
Donations are $25 and are tax-deductible.
“We initially decided to do this because she was so behind on her rent,” says Burnham, who has also been meeting weekly with her co-hosts to help devise a business plan so that Kantzabedian’s rescue center can continue to flourish.
“We want her to go on rescuing the world,” she says.
The community can also help Kantzabedian avoid eviction by shopping at the store. About 90 percent of her adoptive parents live in Laguna Beach; if all of these people bought their supplies from her store, it would be enough to keep the rescue efforts running, she says.
Donations can also be mailed to 30822 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, CA 92651.