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Fred Swegles

By Fred Swegles

If you’re an animal lover, chances are, you’ve visited the San Clemente/Dana Point Animal Shelter to adopt a dog, a cat or a rabbit. Or perhaps you’ve attended a special event there, to become a volunteer, getting to know the pets better, or just getting to know the shelter’s rescue partner, Pet Project Foundation (PPF).

Did you know that San Clemente opened the shelter in 1983, choosing to cancel the city’s yearly animal control fee to the county to provide local animal control service—willing to pay more in order to enable a more localized focus and to become the county’s second pro-life shelter?

We recently contacted Sandra Ackerman, who at age 81 is the longest-tenured volunteer who still volunteers weekly, asking her how the shelter has evolved over 38 years and what info will benefit animal lovers.

She teamed up with Denise Zolg, PPF’s board president and volunteer coordinator, to put together more detailed replies.

Question: How is the shelter faring?

Answer: Extremely well, thanks to the help of its fundraising partner, Pet Project Foundation. PPF raises more than $300,000 for the shelter each year to ensure that it remains pro-humane and can provide a loving and safe refuge for every animal that comes through the front doors. 

Q: What are the biggest needs in 2021?

A: We’re always in need of donations—whether it be direct funds, food, toys, blankets and more. Specifically, our dog kennels are 25 years old and have some wear-and-tear, as well as some rusting. Some are no longer able to be used. We’re looking into completely replacing all of our dog kennels and adding brand new flooring, which will cost approximately $350,000. And as always, we’re always looking for more people to help with dog walking, kitty cuddling and rabbit hopping. We can never have enough amazing volunteers to assist all of our shelter animals.

Q: How did you get involved? How did the shelter change? 

A: In the early ’80s, I and a group of concerned San Clemente animal lovers met with city officials and Ron Coleman, the fire chief at the time, to determine how to best provide care for our lost and abandoned animals. The city provided a trailer on a skating rink property at 320 Avenida Pico. The volunteers ran the shelter and raised funds to build cages to house the animals, also paying for all food and medical care. 

Q: And later, you moved to Rancho San Clemente Industrial Park.

A: The site on Pico flooded in the late ’80s, and we were forced to move to a rented warehouse in an industrial park, at 224 Calle Pintoresco. Dedicated volunteers worked out of that location, with one goal in mind—to build a permanent, safe and pro-humane shelter for homeless animals. 

Q: Then, San Clemente and Dana Point joined forces.

A: In 1996, that goal was realized when the cities joined and the current shelter was built at 221 Avenida Fabricante.

Q: When did the shelter begin rescuing dogs from “kill” shelters, saving more lives?

A: The shelter and PPF are partners in a unique program called “A Rescue Mission,” started in 2012 to rescue animals from high-volume, overcrowded shelters in Southern California and providing them with a pro-humane (no-kill) environment while they await their new adopters. 

Q: How can you ensure they’re fine for adoption?

A: All animals are seen by a vet and provided with much-needed medical care including vaccines, medications, spay/neuter services, microchips and much more. They are cleaned up and given lots of TLC by our wonderful team of shelter staff and dedicated volunteers. Since ARM started nine years ago, over 1,100 dogs, cats and bunnies have made their way to our pro-humane shelter from overcrowded shelters where they risked being euthanized, and found their way to loving homes.

Q: Like last year?

A: In 2020 alone, 160 ARM-rescued animals were brought into the shelter and given a second chance at life. 

Q: How do your cats do?

A: Our cat room is currently bustling with kitten season. Both the cats and kittens at the shelter receive loving care, attention from the volunteers and shelter staff.  We also have a special program with volunteers, helping socialize timid cats who need more time getting used to us humans. This program has already provided great results. 

Q: How do you deal with so many kittens?

A: We have an active kitten foster program with families that do everything from fostering pregnant mama cats, to helping feed newborn kittens, to socializing the young kittens until they’re ready to come to the shelter for adoption. Lastly, we have an active Trap-Spay/Neuter-Release Program, with more experienced cat volunteers helping to trap community cats with no home, so we can provide them with spay/neuter services and then relocate them to a safe environment.

Q: What other animals does the shelter help?

A: Other animals that have been helped by the shelter include guinea pigs, turtles, parakeets, cockatiels, chinchillas, ferrets, pet rats, hamsters, tortoises, geckos and even a few chickens.

Q: How is the shelter funded?

A: For over 38 years, PPF and the shelter have been united in a unique partnership to rescue and provide pro-humane care. Yearly, PPF is responsible for raising over $300K—all the funds required to cover veterinary medical expenses for every animal, and food for shelter animals needing special diets. In addition, PPF pays for all food for the shelter animals. Lastly, PPF funds a significant portion of Kennel Attendant and Certified Dog Trainer staff costs. The cities of San Clemente and Dana Point fund the remaining costs for the shelter, with two-thirds being funded by San Clemente and one-third being funded by Dana Point.


You can donate to PPF or attend fundraising events. On Aug. 28, you can have fun and learn more at PPF’s Barks, Brews & Boards fundraiser at The Outlets at San Clemente. The 20th annual Tail of Two Cities “Roaring for Rescues” gala will be Sept. 19 at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa in Dana Point, with a Roaring ’20s theme. Learn more at


Shelter volunteers can walk and train dogs, socialize cats and kittens, work with bunnies to give them “hop time,” help with the office, graphic design, working fundraising events and others.


Become a member of PPF and help support the shelter animals through individual or family membership donations. Follow Pet Project Foundation on Facebook and Instagram. And tell a friend.


Visit the shelter at 221 Avenida Fabricante in San Clemente, call 949.492.1617 or easiest, visit to learn about adoption and view photos of pets available. Don’t forget to wear your face mask if you visit the shelter.

Fred Swegles grew up in San Clemente before the freeway. He has 50 years’ reporting experience in the city and can be reached at

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