L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Pets

L.A. architect's mission: Build a better animal shelter

South L.A. Animal Care Center Gallery When Rania Alomar was hired to design a new animal shelter for the city of Los Angeles, the architect was given specific instructions: Create a temporary home for animals that increases their comfort, and by virtue of the shelter's design, makes people want to adopt a pet.

But can architecture really reduce euthanasia when the city's shelters are filled to capacity? Yes, Alomar said, if it’s a facility that people want to visit, a place where “you want to come in and feel like you are in a happy space.”

Rania AlomarThe $9 million South Los Angeles Animal Care Center is scheduled to open next month with 270 kennels, and the hope is that the facility will challenge the outdated perception of the animal shelter as dismal dog pound.

It’s a design experiment from an architect who has learned from experience -- designing an animal wellness center, an animal emergency room in Long Beach and a German Shepherd rescue facility in Santa Monica, where she is pictured here.

The exterior of the new South L.A. animal shelter is striking, with a front facade composed of a series of green stucco “ribbons” and concrete panels with overlapping foliage, shown at top. The modern design is a welcoming presence in a light industrial zone near Western Avenue and 60th Street.

But perhaps the most remarkable feature of the facility is its layout: Imagining the psychology of people who will come to the shelter to “shop” for pets, Alomar has designed the building with a retail model in mind. The architect thought of shoppers at a mall who allow themselves to be sidetracked by small boutiques on their way to a large department store, so at the shelter she created a series of displays with the hope of enticing them to consider “alternative” pets such as reptiles or bunnies or older dogs rather than, say, puppies, which are often the first to be adopted.

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Lost-pet poster: Six tips for a more effective sign

Daisy flierI returned home Saturday to two discoveries: Both of my dogs were gone from the yard. And worse: One dog’s collar had slipped off and was lying by the fence.

Wally returned home on his own, but with Daisy still missing -- and lacking any identification -- I had only two likely ways of seeing her again. Someone would have to catch her, drive her to an animal shelter and have her scanned for a microchip containing my contact information. Or someone would have to see her on a lost-dog poster.

It’s good I didn’t know the odds. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, a nonprofit organization whose members include the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Veterinary Medical Assn., less than 2% of lost cats and less than 20% of lost dogs are returned to their owners — and that’s if the animal has a tag, a microchip or both.

I poured my energy into the posters, but making an effective lost-pet flier proved to be art unto itself, a fact that I learned the hard way. Only after I had posted dozens of fliers around my neighborhood did I realize all of the mistakes I had made in the one pictured above. Here are six things I would have done differently:

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Picking up after Fido in a post-grocery-bag world

PuppycleanupAngelenos who have been giving their plastic grocery bags a second life as doggie-doo pickup receptacles and trash-can liners may be wondering what they’re going to use as a replacement once the city’s ban goes into effect. The answer is simple: Try one of the many other types of plastic or packaging that come home with you from the store. During a typical grocery shopping trip, about 7% of the purchase’s environmental impact lies in product packaging, according to Bob Lilienfeld, editor of the ULS Report. Non-recyclables such as junk food wrappers are best because they would go in the trash anyway, but bread bags, cereal box liners and dozens of other plastics can do the trick.


Pros and cons of reusable bags

Can I Recycle: The Times series

Service stops junk mail before it's sent

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Daniel Allen cleans up after his puppy. Credit: John Doman / Associated Press / Pioneer Press

Sit! Stay! Make love to the camera! Dog photographers, unleashed


The world of dog portraiture is hitting new highs — four-figure highs, actually, as the notion of specialized canine photography spreads. Looking to capture your dog underwater? Or glamming it up? Or expressing its inner design aesthete? Then it's time to meet members of L.A.'s rare breed, the niche dog photographer: Seth Casteel, Catherine Ledner and Dale Berman.

Catherine-Ledner-dog-photography Bow-Wow-Projects-dog-photoWe've got profiles of all three photographers, who shared their strategies for getting the best shots. Keep reading ...



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Orphan turkeys seek future as pets, not dinner

Baby turkeys
Aren't baby turkeys surprisingly photogenic? These birds are also lucky. Twenty-five baby turkeys, or poults, were dumped off at the Farm Sanctuary animal protection facility near Palmdale recently. They were weak and dirty, and the very tips of their beaks had been removed, leaving experts to speculate the birds were rescued from a commercial factory farm.

Baby turkey“This isn't the first time this has happened,” says Susie Coston, national shelter director for the nonprofit Farm Sanctuary, who adds that such drop-offs are common around Thanksgiving. “Sometimes I think it's workers who feel really bad.”

Now needing permanent homes, the birds make good companion animals, sanctuary officials say. Prospective adopters should have large yards and be sure zoning allows turkeys, Coston says, noting that many communities allow chickens but not bigger birds.

Chefs need not apply. “Not wanting to eat them is the No. 1 thing we're looking for,” Coston says.

On Sunday, the public is invited to the farm in Acton, off the 14 Freeway, to meet some of the babies at the shelter's free Celebration for the Turkeys from 2 to 5 p.m. Details: www.adoptaturkey.org.


Adopt-a-Chicken fund-raiser for girls' program 

Vacuuming the shedding dog

Our Man of the House

-- Chris Erskine

Photos: Farm Sanctuary


Adopt-a-Chicken: Nonprofit seeks sponsors for feathered friends

Love the idea of raising chickens but don't have a yard? The Los Angeles nonprofit Taking the Reins has launched a clever fundraiser called Adopt-a-Chicken with you in mind. Sponsor a chicken such as Thumper, above, and you won't have to deal with her pecking, digging or fertilizing your backyard.

ReinsPick your chick and make a donation of at least $50 in its name, and you get an adoption certificate. Donate at least $100 and you also get a color portrait of your new feathered family member. 

Donations go toward Taking the Reins' programs that seek to empower adolescent girls, originally by teaching them to ride and care for horses. "Over the years the program has evolved," board member Jane Stenehjem said. "There is now a writing program, creative arts, equine science, and we have an organic garden on a 2.5-acre farm near the Los Angeles River."

Adopt-a-Chicken is meant to be a quirky fundraiser: What to get that friend who has everything? "You can say you adopted a chicken and donated money to a program that allows girls the opportunity to care for them," Stenehjem said.  

Nine chickens are available for adoption. Shadow Gal is sensitive, shy and mysterious. Roberta, below left, is a devoted mother and voracious eater of worms. Sayu is a social butterfly, and Soul, below right, is the showoff. Rockie also is known as the Big Bomber because of her big comb. Suzie can perform tricks, Fiona is curious, and Thumper, above, lays eggs "anywhere and everywhere." Laila is shy and often bullied by the others — something that has endeared her to the Taking the Reins girls, who named the chickens.

To participate in the Adopt-a-Chicken program, call (323) 906-1506.



Pet hens and chicks

Call the chicken sitter

The Chicken Tractor: a coop for the modernist chicken

— Lisa Boone

Photos: Some of the chickens available for adoption. Credit: Christofer Dierdorff

Dyson Groom review: Why brush the dog if you can vacuum it?

DysonGroom Using the Dyson Groom tool on my dog, Beaker, reminded me of going to the dentist for my first filling. I remember sitting in the waiting room. Though the drill I could hear was through a door and down the hall, the buzzing sound was ringing in my ears. Taunting me. I was expecting Orin Scrivello when I went through the door to meet my maker, but was met with just a pinch from the needle injecting the Novocain.

But now I was the dentist, the Groom my drill. This new brush attachment promised to whisk away loose fur, straight from Beaker’s body directly into a Dyson vacuum cleaner’s dirt canister. The fact that the process promised to be pain-free was of little solace to Beaker, who seemed to wonder: Why are you making a dog play the role of guinea pig? Sorry, buddy, but on a 10-point shedding scale, you are a 7 -- not too extreme, but worthy of notice. When it came time to review the Groom, you were the perfect test subject.

Beaker is 6, and I have had him since he was 3. He rarely makes a fuss, and he’s even fine with taking a bath. Though not terrified by the vacuum, he has always been timid, so I eased him into the process, using the Groom tool unplugged as a brush for a couple of days.

The Groom tool was designed for medium- to long-haired dogs. The bristles can adjust in length but come out at an angle that could be uncomfortable for dogs with short hair. Beaker’s fur is short- to medium-length, but his coat is a little thicker -- especially for a pug-beagle mix -- so the bristles were at a good length when just the tips of them were protruding. He likes to be brushed, so he got used to the feeling easily. The next step was the hard part.

Remember how I said he was not terrified of the vacuum? Yeah, that changed. I brushed him with the Groom, just as I had previously, but when I pulled out the vacuum cleaner and attached the Groom extension, Beaker shot me a look that didn’t require an animal psychic to translate: Don’t even try it.

I tried it.

I held him by the collar with my left hand and used the tool with my right, like the Dyson demonstration showed. He tried to flee, running in place on the hardwood floors until my shoulder lost the battle. I tried crouching down, like a catcher in baseball, in front of him, blocking his path with my body, holding him down with one arm and using the tool with the other. It was very awkward, but it started to work. I could see the loose fur coming off him and piling into the dispenser.  Victory!

Maybe I started celebrating a little early because Beaker had put up with enough of the grooming. He plowed through me and scampered into the other room. I blame the awkward stance, not the fact that I haven’t lifted weights since high school.

This was definitely a two-person job.

When my girlfriend, Christine, got home from work, she reminded me that Beaker is motivated by food. We crushed up a couple of Milk Bones, and the bribery began.

We fed him treats throughout the process, and he calmed down. He tolerated the Groom tool. His heart wasn’t racing, and he actually started blinking again. The vacuum cleaner’s dirt canister filled with his loose fur. It just piled up in there.


My skepticism about the product began to ease with Beaker’s anxiety. The Dyson website advises not to use the Groom tool on the dog’s more sensitive parts while the vacuum is on; it’s best to stick to the back and sides. With the vacuum off, we used the tool on Beaker’s chest and stomach. We turned the vacuum back on once we were finished, and the hair trapped in the bristles was sucked down into the canister.

The whole process took about 15 minutes. It would have taken five without the wrestling match.
Our couch was decorated with much less fur than usual for about four days and the need to sweep and vacuum wasn’t nearly as dire.

The Dyson Groom sells for $69.99 on Dyson’s website. The company says the tool is compatible with any Dyson vacuum that is not a hand-held, Motorhead, Stowaway model or the DC01 line. Click here for the suitability page.

-- Michael Robinson

Photos, from top: Dyson Groom tool. Credit: Michael Robinson / Los Angeles Times.

Beaker tolerating the Groom tool. Credit: Christine Tran.

Worst weeds for dogs? Foxtails are just a start

The Dry Garden: Worst weeds for dogs

A romp with your dog in the garden or park should be a happy thing. Life-affirming! Usually it is, until your dog encounters the wrong plant. Then it can swiftly become pain and suffering, first for the dog, then for your bank account. Inspired by my recent emergency room visit with terrier after what seemed like a Kodak moment in a meadow, this column is what amounts to a dog owner’s Most Wanted list of plants that gardeners should remove.

Foxtails-V At the top of my list and also the lists of veterinarian Nancy Kay and UC Davis weed scientist Joseph DiTomaso are foxtails. Depending on where you live, foxtails might be any number of grasses with needle-like seed heads. After a spectacularly wet winter and a mild, unusually long growing season this year, foxtails are still standing -- and at their most deadly: dry and brittle. The seeds are primed to embed themselves in your dog. In Southern California, DiTomaso said common foxtail-type grasses are wild barley, Hordeum murinum, and ripgut brome.

Ripgut is right. The shimmering head of needles that makes foxtails so lovely when backlit can tear through the insides of an animal. The needles, or “awns,” which the plants produce to latch onto the fur of passing animals, are meant to drill down into soil. But they also burrow into the eyes, noses, mouths, paws, tails and armpits of dogs, particularly long-haired ones. Dogs tracking scents inhale them. Dogs panting as they gallop swallow them.

“They’re horrible! They’re a nightmare!” said Kay, who estimates that in summer, the emergency room of the animal hospital where she works in Northern California might see 60 to 90 cases a month involving foxtails.

The problem with foxtails is that once they become embedded in your dog and begin traveling through it, they don’t break down, Kay said. Rather, the hooking design that enables foxtails to burrow in soil keeps them moving forward in animals. Some foxtails might enter the paw and eventually pop out the elbow. Foxtails that go up the nose might be swallowed and safely pooped out, but awns sucked in by a panting dog running full tilt with nose to the ground can end up in the lungs.

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The Chicken Tractor: a coop for the modernist chicken and an organic lawn fertilizer

It's called the Chicken Tractor, and it's the Los Angeles design firm 100xbetter's first foray into urban farm equipment: an architecturally modernist, indoor-outdoor chicken coop that doubles as a fertilizer spreader.

"The lower screened portion has an open bottom. The chickens fertilize the area where they are placed, and then you move it around your property like a wheelbarrow," 100xbetter co-founder Brendan Sowersby said. "The upper portion is where they nest and roost. There are doors on the back to collect the fresh eggs."  

Chicktract3Made from brass wire screen and exterior grade plywood, the 7.5-foot-long piece includes an intricately patterned roof made using computer numerical controlled (CNC) cutting tools.

"It's definitely for the 'modern' chicken farmer," Sowersby said. "One who may only want a few chickens for their own eggs or pets. I love the idea of the mini farm for urban living."

Sowersby and 100xbetter co-founder Will Rollin created the Chicken Tractor prototype pictured here for an art exhibition. It was expensive to produce, which explain why it's offered at $2,500. Not exactly chicken scratch, but  based on the interest it has generated ("Judging by the response, having chickens is the new cool." Sowersby said), 100xbetter will be offering a similar version as a flat-pack kit that customers can assemble themselves. Price: $900 to $1,500, depending on options.

The Chicken Tractor interior, below, has the elegant minimalism of a Dwell magazine interior. Below the roosting rod, a ramp leads to the yard. The pendant light has a Corian lampshade and can be used to heat the coop in the winter. 


For an easy way to follow future headlines, join our Facebook pages for California home design and gardening in the West.


Our series: A year in community gardens

City Farm

Call the chicken sitter

24 picks for new patio chairs

-- David A. Keeps

Photo credits: 100xbetter 


The latest indulgence for L.A. urban gardeners: the chicken sitter


First there was the dog walker.

Then came doggie day care and pet cams.

And now?  The chicken sitter.

After spotting a sign that someone posted looking for a chicken sitter, Anna Goeser established Easy Acres Chicken Sitting. Now, when urban farmers and chicken lovers go out of town, they can have more confidence in the idea that their flock is taken care of.

Having had her own chickens for more than 15 years, Goeser has the most important job skill down: Chickens don't scare her. "You can't imagine how many people are afraid of chickens," she says. "People are really freaked out by them. Over the years I've heard so many stories from people who were chased by chickens. It is hard to find people to look after them when you go out of town."

Chicken-sitting duties include feeding, watering, coop cleaning and egg collection. If the chickens are free range, Goeser will let them out in the morning and return in the evening to put them back to the coop. 

Fees begin at $20 per day and vary depending on the services. Goeser also does yard maintenance and can take care of other critters, noting, "I recently had to keep an eye on a honeybee swarm."

Goeser will host a meet-and-greet beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday at Swork in Eagle Rock. For further information: easyacresdesign@gmail.com.

-- Lisa Boone

For an easy way to follow headlines, join our Facebook page dedicated to gardening in the West.

Photo: Christina House / For The Times


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