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Newport Beach takes donation of a $3 million animal shelter that will be ready early next year

For the first time, Newport Beach has its own animal shelter and be solely in charge of its stray and abandoned pets.

The City Council this week accepted a $3 million facility that is being built with donations and funding raised by the Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter, better known as FONBAS. The nonprofit group also helps pay for medical procedures for animals found in town to make them more adoptable.

The building is nearly finished, and will be run by the Newport Beach Police Department’s animal control.

FONBAS first secured the property for the project in 2017. Their donation to Newport Beach includes a clause in which the city agrees to use the property forever as an animal shelter.

“It’s a very valuable asset that we hope will serve as a home away from home for animals waiting to be reunited with their owners or matched with new ones,” Mayor Kevin Muldoon said.

Previously, the city contracted with various agencies and other cities to take care of lost and abandoned dogs and cats and didn’t have a lot of control over the shelter conditions or how many animals were taken in, said Valerie Schomburg, animal care supervisor with the Police Department.

“We didn’t have a lot of say and it was often a battle to get them adoptable,” she said. “Now, we can make sure they will be in a caring and healthy environment.”

In 2017, the city began managing the animals taken in – there are about 450 a year  – in a temporary shelter on the same street where the new shelter is being built. The city shares the use of the temporary facility with a local animal rescue group.

FONBAS was founded in 2017 by residents wanting to help, including several former Newport Beach mayors such as Nancy Gardner, Jean Watt and Evelyn Hart, who, on Nov. 23, died at the age of 91.

The group first focused on raising money to help with extra expenses and special procedures for the city’s stray pets, but then, as members saw community interest grow, they set their sights on building a city shelter, with help from Schomburg and other city officials.

In 2019, they began a campaign to purchase the property on Riverside Drive, the only street in Newport Beach zoned for kennels, and secured the parcel for $1 million just as the pandemic was starting up in full force, which then slowed progress.

In January, they started construction on the single-story building, which will have a kennel that can hold 29 dogs and a cattery.

“We have a new purpose to finishing the shelter now,” said Jonathan Langford, president of FONBAS, referring to the recent passing of Hart, who, he said, still attended all the meetings. In her obituary, her family asked that instead of flowers, donations be made to the animal shelter.

“We’re relieving the city of a big lease obligation for its current animal shelter,” Langford said. “Now that our organization built them a brand new shelter, they can spend more on the animals themselves.”

Construction is expected to be complete – a few drywall projects and landscaping are still to be done – by early February.

Schomburg will run the shelter, a much-deserved post in the eyes of Langford and the other FONBAS board of directors.

“She was so pivotal in this,” Langford said. “She’s such a caring and emotional figure. Everyone that knows her, knows this is her entire life. It comes through to the volunteers who come over to walk the dogs and the donors felt their money would be wisely used.”

FONBAS expects to continue its work raising money to pay for medical care for the animals. Annually, Langford said, the group raises about $20,000.

“I’m excited to organize the ribbon-cutting where we can thank everyone involved and all the donors,” Langford said. “It will be great to relish in what we’ve done before turning it over to the city to operate.”

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