Helen Woodward Animal Center turns 50

In 1972, philanthropist Helen Whittier Woodward founded the San Dieguito Animal Care and Education Center.

Renamed the Helen Woodward Animal Center in 1986, it has become a regional center and North County institution.

A non-governmental organization, the center serves as an abandoned animal shelter, adoption agency, educational facility, pet encounter therapy provider, and international resource for running such a facility. among other functions.

Center officials estimate that since its inception, it has rescued or helped more than 13 million animals and benefited more than 1.5 million people.

“There’s no place in the world like this,” said Michael Arms, Woodward’s president and CEO. “There is no place that has all of these things that we provide.”

The Rancho Santa Fe Center celebrates its 50th anniversary on June 11 at the Fairbanks Village Plaza, 16236 San Dieguito Road, in conjunction with its annual Spring Fling Gala.

The fundraiser, themed “The Golden Age of Hollywood,” is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

It will be hosted by local TV and radio personalities and will feature a Tinsel Town setting, character impersonators, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and dinner served by some of the best restaurants in San Diego.

Event and ticket information is available on the animalcenter.org website.

Then on August 6, the center will host a VIP event, details of which will be forthcoming.

Proceeds benefit the nonprofit’s many programs and facilities, in line with Helen Woodward’s vision.

Daughter of Los Angeles oil magnate and Beverly Hills founder Mericos “Max” Whittier, Woodward purchased the property the animal center still sits on in Rancho Santa Fe and eventually lived in Del Mar.

Woodward was a prolific supporter of aid and research for the blind and elderly, a donor to the San Diego Zoo, and an animal welfare advocate.

“His big thing was adopting pets and humane education,” said Renee Resko, the center’s vice president of development. “She loved animals and was really involved in their care.”

Woodward’s grandson, Bryce Rhodes, serves as chairman of the center’s board of directors. Arms credited Rhodes with being a strong presence in helping the center achieve its goals and maintain its focus.

“I don’t think I would have stayed here if he wasn’t here,” said Arms, who started as the center’s administrative head in 1999.

Woodward would no doubt have endorsed the center’s latest fundraising campaign. Arms said the organization raised more than $300,000 for the rescue and care of pets in Poland and Estonia that accompanied refugees from war in Ukraine.

“Animals were crossing the Ukrainian border,” Arms said. “People weren’t abandoning their animals. They carried them beyond (borders) on their shoulders. There was no bedding, food or medical care available.

Caring is Woodward’s legacy and is reflected in the center’s no-kill policy and adoption strategy. Most animals arriving at Rancho Santa Fe come from other shelters overwhelmed by the number of orphaned animals.

“We’re getting closer to adopting 4,000 animals a year,” Arms said.

In addition to adoptions, education, and therapy, the center offers programs such as Therapeutic Riding, Pets Without Walls, Home 4 the Holidays, Remember Me Thursday, and AniMeals.

The Remember Me Thursday campaign encourages people to post written messages on social media about the importance of pet adoption and to shine a light on shelter animals.

In 1983, the center launched AniMeals, which partners with Meals on Wheels to provide pet food for homebound elderly people.

“What’s so cool is that it’s been replicated in 65 cities across the United States and Canada,” Resko said.

Meanwhile, Arms is orchestrating a project to replace the center’s outdated educational structure with an approximately 10,500 square foot human education/pet therapy complex.

The complex, which will cost approximately $8.5 million, will include two birthday/craft rooms, six classrooms, five outdoor animal enclosures, an outdoor animal enrichment area, two outdoor display areas and two animal enclosures, as well as outdoor storage areas.

Those interested in helping fund the project or other aspects of the center should contact Resko at [email protected] or 858-756-4117, ext. 347.

Benjamin M. Yerger