The interactive Wallis Annenberg PetSpace opens Saturday in Playa Vista

By Christina Campodonico

The signs in Playa Vista’s Campus Central Park may say “Sorry, No Dogs Allowed,” but right next door a pet paradise awaits.

The Wallis Annenberg PetSpace — a companion animal adoption, education and play center like nothing else in the world — opens Saturday afternoon with a family-friendly festival celebrating the human-animal bond.

Inside the two-story, 30,000-square-foot PetSpace, pups in need of forever homes can play with prospective pet parents on lawns of synthetic grass or lounge in a roomy adoption suite equipped with a television set, cot, toys, recreational equipment and self-flushing toilet. Cats can prowl and jump around “The Scratching Post” — a jungle gym for felines — and bunnies can snooze at “The Hutch,” a play pen for small mammals.

Through a partnership with the L.A. County shelters, the PetSpace can house up to 40 adoptable dogs, 40 adoptable cats and a bevy of other adoptable small mammals at any given time.

On Saturday, the PetSpace will be abuzz with food trucks, face painting, balloon-makers, deejays and live animal shows to celebrate the launch of Annenberg Foundation CEO, philanthropist and noted animal lover Wallis Annenberg’s long-awaited dream project.

“Wallis has been a really strong believer and supporter in that human-animal bond,” says Annenberg PetSpace General Manager Carol Laumen. “She had this vision about 10 or 11 years ago to open up a community space … that was joyful and helped offer some programming and helped educate people about the benefits of having that human-animal bond.”

“In my life, animals have been a profound gift — not just dear companions, but teachers and healers, showing how to live and love fully and in the moment. That’s why the opening of Annenberg PetSpace is so thrilling for me,” said Annenberg in a statement. “It will be a world-class space in which to study the joys and mysteries of life in all its forms. It will be an innovative and interactive place for families to engage with animals and for animal lovers of all kinds. And it will be a chance for me to pass on the kind of awe and affection and insight animals have provided me for all my years.”

The PetSpace, Laumen explains, has a multifaceted mission to model pet adoption best practices, support and implement the study of the human-animal bond through its Leadership Institute, offer space for the community to learn about their pets through public programming, and pull the curtain back on adopting, training and caring for animals through free tours of its health center.

“What makes Wallis Annenberg PetSpace so special is that we are going to be open and transparent,” says Laumen, showing me the health center’s physical therapy and fitness room, veterinary clinic and grooming room. “The behind the scenes tour is to make it open and acces-
sible for everybody, take out the mystery of how adoptable animals are treated, how they are assessed and how our health care team actually looks at them.”

For instance, say you’re a kid on a fieldtrip and want to know what’s happening behind a frosted piece of glass in front of the fitness or grooming room.

“At the flick of a switch, the glass will become clear. You can touch this,” says Laumen pointing to an intercom, “and you can say, ‘Hey, I see you’re helping that particular dog. Can you explain to me what you’re doing?’ The person will actually talk to the public here.”

iPads and large touch screens throughout the PetSpace also add additional layers of interactivity, notes Laumen. A PetVision Wall in the lobby can help you plan your visit and learn more about the facility. TVs in Wag Hall feature extraordinary stories about pets and their humans, and each pet adoption suite is paired with a giant touch screen, where prospective pet parents can peruse a cat or dog’s personality profile, schedule a meeting with a pet adoption consultant and arrange to meet with an animal one-on-one in one of the PetSpace’s play areas.

“We tried to make sure that the experience and the space is fun, educational, and very open and transformational,” says Laumen. “To our knowledge, we don’t believe there’s any place like this.”

The PetSpace also includes a PetPorch play area for educational presentations, demonstrations and human-animal recreation (There’s toys and a slide!), a café, a gift shop and life-size hamster wheel on the second floor that you can power with your legs and take for a whirl.

For Saturday’s event, visitors are advised to leave their furry friends at home for the safety of people and pets at the center, but a giant, motion-sensing dog statue will greet every visitor at the door.

“His head wags. His eyelids go up and down. His ears flip flop, his tail wags and tongue wags. … He makes seven different sounds,” says Laumen enthusiastically.

He doesn’t have a name yet, but he sure is a friendly face.

The Wallis Annenberg PetSpace holds its grand opening celebration from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at 12005 Bluff Creek Dive., Playa Vista. Free. Visit annenbergpetspace.org for info.

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