For the Love of Dogs

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Amy & Julian Mack with their dogs Levi, Harper, StanLee and Oona
Unconditional co-founders Amy and Julian Mack with their dogs (from left) Levi, Harper, StanLee and Oona

Unconditional, a senior and special needs dog rescue, is building a Laguna Canyon adoption center and has opened a veterinary center to reduce the organization’s medical care costs.

By Sharon Stello

 

A decade ago, when Amy and Julian Mack adopted Carlo, a stray pug with a missing hind leg, it spurred them to do more to help older and disabled dogs, who are often left behind at shelters or euthanized. Now, the Laguna Beach couple’s vision is beginning to come to fruition.

Grading has started on a site next to the city animal shelter in Laguna Canyon to build a homelike adoption center, which is expected to open in late 2024, for their nonprofit, Unconditional. The 8,000-square-foot structure will be able to accommodate up to 40 dogs at a time while the organization works to find forever homes for these furry friends.

The husband-wife team also opened Rise Pet Health, a 24/7 veterinary center for specialty and emergency care in Laguna Hills in late August. Available to the public, Rise will also treat Unconditional’s dogs for free, helping to defray the high cost of medical care for senior and special needs animals that are blind, deaf or have mobility impairments or neurological disorders.

While the adoption center is under construction, Unconditional is turning to foster families affiliated with the nonprofit and partnering with other local rescue groups to help find people to adopt these dogs, who make wonderful companions despite needing some extra TLC.

“These are dogs that have given their hearts to a family and literally been tossed out like trash—been abandoned in their time of need. I think we can show our power as a group by banding together and helping them,” Amy says. “… Anyone with a bit of a soul will be compelled into action after allowing a special dog into their lives.”

In addition to their animal welfare work, Amy has been an early stage investor and Julian is CEO of the JustFoodForDogs company. The couple was previously involved with Pets Are Worth Saving (PAWS) Chicago while living there. The PAWS spay and neuter program, which helped to significantly reduce the kill rate in city shelters, showed them how even a little effort can make a big difference in dogs’ lives.

Looking at the euthanasia numbers for senior and special needs dogs, Amy says, “I can’t just sit back and not do anything about this.”

RISE pet care_Matt Bilbault
Rise Pet Health offers a calm environment for emergency and specialty veterinary care. | Photo by Matt Bilbault

Laguna Beach Magazine: What made you decide to start Unconditional?

Amy Mack: When we moved out to Laguna, we were like, “What can we do here to help dogs?” … We had adopted a three-legged dog through PAWS called Carlo and, at the time, I thought, … “He’s going to be this depressing little guy, but we’ll just help him out.” And he turned out to … [have] this larger-than-life [personality]. … And I was like, “This is the happiest dog we’ve ever had and how wrong I was to judge that he would be sad or depressing to care for. … I learned that, sadly, this is a common misperception and, as a result, senior and special needs dogs are the most likely to be euthanized. … We thought, “Hey, if we can get these dogs out in a home environment where … they’re not competing against puppies, … they can shine and they can find homes.”

 

LBM: What will the adoption center be like when it’s done?

AM: [It will be] like walking into someone’s home. … It’s hard enough to see dogs without homes. It doesn’t help to have it be in an environment that’s cold and depressing. … You go to a shelter and you [think,] … “Do I envision this dog on my sofa? I don’t know.” … But if you can see the dog on the sofa, if you come to a place that’s cheerful and happy, and you don’t have to make a decision on the first day, … we believe, the dogs will sell themselves once people are able to interact in a positive environment. … [You will be able to] see into our kitchen and see us preparing the meals, … [and] a therapy room … [with] a wall of glass, so you can see into that room. … And we have two big living rooms that open up to the backyard. … That’s mostly where the dogs will be hanging out … and relax[ing] or play[ing] with a toy or cuddl[ing] up … next to someone, go out in the yard and take a walk around and bask in the sun.

 

LBM: Can you tell us about Rise?

AM: We opened up with, believe it or not, [roughly] 80 team members, which is a lot, [including] 12 doctors. … We have two board-certified internists, a surgeon, a neurologist, oncologist, and we’ll be bringing on a dermatologist and a holistic doctor who will be doing acupuncture and chiropractic [care] …

When you show up at a specialty and emergency clinic, … you [probably] have a life-threatening or severe emergency for your pet … and that’s just like emotionally really hard. So when someone comes into Rise, the intention is they feel more relaxed because it looks more like a spa. We don’t have a big desk with six people on the phone taking calls. … You can just sit in peace. … [And] we’re prioritizing the level of medical care that we give. … We just want to be the best.

 

LBM: Why should someone consider adopting a senior or special needs dog?

AM: Seniors make great dogs for people for many reasons because people have lives and can’t take seven walks a day with a puppy. They don’t want to be jumped on 24/7. They want a cool, mellow companion. There’s just a lot of great reasons. It’s also just super rewarding when a dog can’t care for themself, the level of bond that you’re able to form when you have to care for them [and] they allow you in at that level, which is really beautiful.

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