Don't forget to look up as you enter the new Annenberg PetSpace: There's a ginormous motion-sensor sculpture of a wriggling pup, so happy to see you. Look to the right for its feline counterpoint: A curious kitty, poised to paw its prey.
It's safe to say you've never seen an animal shelter like this.
The 30,000-square-foot center opened this summer on Bluff Creek Drive in trendy Silicon Beach, the result of a years-long campaign by philanthropist and animal lover Wallis Annenberg, creating a unique place that celebrates the human-animal bond.
The most urgent mission is to help place dogs, cats and bunnies in loving homes: Each week, PetSpace brings in animals from Los Angeles County's most overburdened shelters, often selecting the ones that need the most medical attention and care – care that the shelters just can't provide.
At PetSpace, a wide array of services and medical treatments are available, including surgery, rehab, and socialization.
"They are really, literally, a life-saving resource for us," said Alison Cardona, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control. "They are able to take animals that wouldn't have a second chance."
PetSpace also aims to enrich our knowledge of and relationships with animals: A leadership institute at the center is bringing together research fellows from around the globe.
Human are so accustomed to living with and around animals that we can often take the relationship for granted, said one of those fellows, Eric Strauss, a biology professor at Loyola Marymount University and executive director of its Center for Urban Resilience.
In fact, he said, humans owe a debt of gratitude to animals.
"I would argue that it has been our domestication of plants and animals that has really allowed us as a species to achieve all of the things that we've done," he said.
When you walk into PetSpace, there are no off-putting smells, no whining and barking of animals under stress, no harried workers with too much to do – realities at most animal shelters.
"That's why many people stay away from shelters. We wanted to flip that around," said PetSpace general manager Carol Laumen.
By contrast, PetSpace has about 30 staff members and more than 100 volunteers. The well-ventilated space is squeaky clean, sunny and airy.
Visitors are urged to come by, not just to pick out a new pet, but to interact and learn. On a recent Friday, moms and their preschoolers gathered for a presentation on bunny basics. Grooming, training and feeding demonstrations help demystify pet ownership for newbies, while helping experienced pet owners up their game.
It's a place that invites you to come and stay, and come again, Strauss said. From his vantage point, that's where learning happens: "When you walk in and look up, it really takes your breath away."