ENCINTIAS — In honor of her longtime commitment to animals and animal lovers, City Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan was recognized in a Sept. 7 ceremony at Rancho Coastal Humane Society that included a bench dedication, a presentation of a flag that once flew over the state Capitol, words of praise and hugs from friends both two-legged and four.
Staff at the Requeza Street facility also declared it Maggie Houlihan Day.
Houlihan has been involved with the homeless animal shelter since moving to Encinitas from Long Beach in 1970. After discovering that too many animals were being euthanized, she cofounded the Spay Neuter Action Program, better known as SNAP, in 1990 with Candy Schumann.
She also started Wee Companions Small Animal Adoptions and the Pet Health Expo.
In 2005 Houlihan was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Although she was declared cancer-free after treatment, the disease returned four years later. Doctors told her chemotherapy would likely not be as beneficial this time so she has declined treatment.
“We wanted to pay homage to all that she’s done,” said Nick Winfrey, Rancho Coastal’s community liaison. “She’s made Encinitas a pet-friendly community.”
More than 75 people attended the event, and those who couldn’t called to thank Rancho Coastal for organizing the tribute, spokesman John Van Zante said.
The callers included a former City Council colleague who apparently didn’t see eye to eye politically with Houlihan, but was sad about not being able to attend, Van Zante said.
“That’s the ultimate sign of respect — to pay tribute to a person you didn’t agree with,” he said.
During her 40-plus-year relationship with Rancho Coastal, Houlihan said her favorite story is about Mocha, a cocker spaniel with myriad medical issues, including barely having ears.
She tried to convince friends to adopt the animal, but they were understandably hesitant given the potentially high medical costs. But Houlihan got several agencies to work together to help Mocha, who is now “happy and healthy, living in a good home,” she said.
“She’s just an amazing supporter of Rancho Coastal Humane Society and animals across the world,” said Jim Silveira, Rancho Coastal chief executive officer.
When presenting the folded flag, Chris Marsh, district director for Assemblyman Martin Garrick, said Houlihan demonstrated “great public spirit” and “all things Encinitas.”
Garrick is also buying a commemorative brick at the site in honor of Houlihan.
Former Del Mar Councilwoman Crystal Crawford, who began her public-service career a few years earlier than Houlihan, said she was honored to have served with her.
Crawford shared a quote to summarize Houlihan, whom she described as a “fabulous friend.”
“Happiness is found somewhere between community service and love,” Crawford said. “Maggie is all about love and community service and she is one doggone happy woman.”
Trying not to sound “overdramatic,” Van Zante said he was happy to be able to hold the event. “It’s not very often that you…have advance notice that allows you to say the things that should be said,” he said.
The bench with a dedication plaque is in a shady area on the site next to a statue honoring military working dogs and their trainers.
“I couldn’t be more honored,” Houlihan said of the day.