For more than 50 years, local animal shelter has been anything but ordinary


By Claire Harlin

When animal lover Maria K. Lloyd bought a little house on 5 acres and started the Rancho Coastal Humane Society in 1960, there was a little dirt road behind the rural property that provided access to it.

Now, that dirt road is better known as Interstate 5 and the desolate gap between the property and Del Mar has been filled with the coastal communities of Solana Beach and Leucadia.

The sleepy little animal shelter, still visible from Interstate 5, is still today in the same quaint yellow house and, although several rooms have been added on over the years to accommodate the growth, it possesses a unique, cottage-like look in comparison to other shelter buildings.

The shelter, located at 389 Requeza St. in Encinitas, doesn’t just stand out because of its appearance and visibility from the highway.

It’s home to the only military working dog memorial west of the Mississippi, it’s one of few local shelters with a “Rabbitat,” it’s got a thriving community education program that benefits more than 20,000 kids a year and, on Nov. 3, it will open one of the county’s first pet food banks. Not to mention, the Rancho Coastal Humane Society is like a second home to the many locals who frequent the “Cricket’s Corner” dog park there, and the facility is also home to permanent residents Smoky, the llama, and Scooter, the miniature horse.

“People think of us as that little local shelter that they drive by on the 5, but we’re just trying to get people to get off the freeway and come in,” said John Van Zante, a spokesman for the Humane Society.

He said the shelter has some programs that were once “sleepers,” but have been revived and are growing rapidly.

“We’ve been attracting people from Lemon Grove to Orange County,” he said. One program the shelter is proud to offer is the Animal Safehouse Program, which was the third of its kind in the nation when it began in 1997.

In cases of domestic abuse, victims generally can’t take animals when they are removed from the home or seek refuge at a shelter, and in those cases, the abuser often turns violent against the pet, Van Zante said.

“Sometimes the fear of leaving the animal keeps people in the abusive situation longer than they should,” he said. “We are able to take in the animals here so humans can escape rather than let the pets become the victim.”

The shelter has another program called Pets For Patriots that lets members of the military community adopt homeless pets at a discounted rate. Another program, Shelter to Soldier, just launched at the Humane Society, and it rescues dogs to train them to become service companions for veterans. The program is run by Graham Bloem, who was a trainer for two years at the Rancho Coastal Humane Society in 2006, as well as a number of other training programs. More information on the program can be found at

Knowing that animals are a huge source of fascination for kids, and also that kids will be the next generation of animal owners, the Humane Society’s board has put strong effort into making the facility a go-to source of education for kids. While it may be fun for a child to go to the center and help pick out an animal when the family is looking to adopt, it’s not every day that parents can bring new pets into the home. But there’s still good reason to bring kids to this shelter, whether for a camp, community service or even a birthday party.

The shelter conducts parties specially adapted for kids in each age group. Not only do they get to interact with the animals, they can learn about them and how to take care of them.

“The kids who come out and have never touched a cat before and you put a kitten in front of them or in their arms, it’s just so real,” said Van Zante. “It’s life. It’s so fragile and it’s relying on us for its life. If you can teach that at a young age it carries throughout life.

“It teaches kids about humanity and the importance of life and others’ feelings. And that’s important because these are the kids who will be our leaders one day.”

Van Zante said the shelter’s pet assisted therapy program is one of the fastest growing. It allowed volunteers and their dogs to get free training that will condition them to visit public places such as convalescent homes, schools and libraries to provide therapy to others. This therapy may come in the form of companionship, uplifting those who have gone through hard times or acting as an audience for kids learning how to read.

“It involves training the dog, but much of it has to do with training the people, and the owners find it very fulfilling,” Van Zante said.

After winning a city grant last summer the shelter will be able to open its doors two Saturdays per month to those in need of pet food and supplies, such as cat litter and food bowls. In addition, The Drake Center for Veterinary Care will be providing free medical care, such as exams and vaccines, once a quarter.

Van Zante said he hopes the food bank will help the many homeless people who have sought companionship by owning animals and he hopes it will also help those who have suffered hard financial times.

“The thought is that instead of abandoning the animal, we hope people will come to us for help,” said Van Zante. “ The working poor are realizing that the companionship of a pet outweighs the financial struggle of affording to keep a pet.”

For more information on the shelter and its many services, visit