How a Loveable Labradoodle Helped Fill This Laguna Beach Couple’s Empty Nest
By Si Si Penaloza
I first met Justine Amodeo on a wellness press trip to Mii Amo, a destination spa in Sedona, Arizona. A place of profound healing, Mii Amo created a safe space for us all to unwind and explore our emotional inventory (daily massage treatments were pretty sweet too). Amodeo struck me as a woman who has lived a deeply examined life; she is smart, savvy and a great friend capable of meaningful camaraderie. When I first spotted her new puppy’s cookies and cream face pop into her social timeline, I reached out immediately to get the scoop. Turns out, early onset empty nest syndrome is hitting Justine and her husband Chris pretty hard as the kids gear up for college. A nurturing couple to the core, they shower the new pup with such love and affection. We’re so honored to capture words and images on this new fur baby filling this family’s world with playful new life!
Tell us about how your family’s love affair with Mala began:
We have one son in college, and another one going into her junior year, so obviously we needed someone to take care of. We started looking at shelters and on Craigslist for a hypoallergenic dog. We were looking for a Maltipoo and saw a picture of one of Mala’s Labradoodle siblings. When we called, they said that dog was gone, but they had a new litter. They sent us a photo of what looked like a little butterball panda. She was all mask, like a bandit. We saw other puppies as well, but our daughter Ruby was stuck on this panda pup. When we went to get her, it was love at first sight. Chris was smitten from the moment he held her.
Reflect on the most endearing puppy bonding moment…
We took her to the beach for the first time and she was so excited she rolled in the sand and definitely needed a bath once back at home. Chris took her into the bathtub like she was one of our children; she just relaxed and floated in the warm water like she was having a watsu spa treatment. Chris is a professional Rolfer so he’s highly trained in bodywork, with both humans and animals.
If you were to come up with a catch phrase or hashtag on Mala’s impact on your happiness, what would it be?
#whatwerewethinking #whyarewetalkingbabytalk #puppylove #loverulesthishouse #itsagoodthingyouresocute
How would you describe your personal style?
Hippie chic. Chris, well he’s a hipster known for wearing mostly black and white, so he always matches Mala. People think we chose a dog that looked like Chris.
What is the story or inspiration behind her name?
We have a deep spiritual practice that is rooted in Buddhism and Hinduism, so we definitely have a lot of malas lying around the house. She felt like one of the malas – here to aid our connection to the divine. As our 19-year-old son pointed out, her name translates to bad girl in Spanish, so it’s a dual meaning. We all have light and shadow within us.
We love that Mala is so big on beach time! She fits right in with the Laguna Beach vibe. Share with us your passion for building a life and family in this particular coastal town:
We both grew up in Chicago and weren’t raised around beaches. Since we’ve been here, the beach has always been our solace and place to chill, bond with family, meditate. The kids always have something to do whether it’s surfing, swimming or just being on the beach. We’ve met so many people with dogs on the beaches here— a black dog with white spots ran up to Mala the other day and we started comparing stories with the owners. We suddenly realized they were sisters, littermates that found each other on the beach. How random. We all started crying, and we meet them every day now so the two siblings can play on the beach. Our son Dante is a soccer player and he’s always outside kicking a ball around. Mala loves soccer balls – she rolls on top of them and bats them around like a Messi in training.
As a celebrated lifestyle magazine editor at Pacific Coast Magazine and Montage Magazine, you have an inside track on the best of the best. What trends can we look forward to in the pet travel space?
More and more hotels and resorts are becoming pet-friendly. Montage Magazine’s cover story this summer showcased all of their pet-friendly hotels. Montage Hotels & Resorts offer custom canine experiences with specialty baked treats, luxurious beds, a toy gift and a Canine Cuisine menu. They even have dog ambassadors at some of the properties; the dogs greet guests and often hike with them. Since families want to travel with their pets, hotels offer a lot of relevant amenities, especially in California where people are used to taking their dogs everywhere.
As an editor, you’re an inventive task master – devoted to smart organization and finessing the finer details. As a busy parent and pet parent, what tips do you have on work-life balance?
We’re training Mala to be a therapy dog so she can go to work with Chris and help with his Rolfing clients. She also is starting to understand that when I’m on the computer or phone, she needs to nap or entertain herself. She goes to work with me as well, and chews on a bone while I’m in meetings. There are certain hours—the puppy crazy hours— which are similar to when the kids were younger and needed our complete undivided attention. So from 6:30-8 am and pm, it’s Mala time.
Are you looking forward to traveling with Mala? Any favorite spot or tips you care to share?
We are looking forward to taking her to the mountains where there is snow. I’m assuming she’ll start rolling in it like our kids did the first time they saw it!
In the rising culture of emotional support animals, do you see pet travel perks becoming an even deeper trend in pet culture?
Yes. It seems every dog I know is now a “therapy dog”. The unconditional love dogs offer is incredible for emotional support. If your dog is a therapy dog certified, he or she can go almost anywhere with you, including the floor below your feet on a plane. More and more stores, hotels and restaurants are pet friendly. It’s getting to the point where if businesses really want to be inclusive, they are finding ways to be open to pets.
This is truly a most surreal and sublime era to be a pet lover, with so many start up brands now catering to dogs and doting dog lovers. What are some of your favorites?
We love Naked Dog Bistro in Laguna Beach, they offer gluten and grain-free food and treats cooked fresh daily. Most remarkable is Canna-Pet and all the other new companies making CBD treats and supplements for dogs. The cannabis industry is taking off; pets are going to be a big part of it because of all the benefits the non psychoactive part of the plant has for dog issues like arthritis, anxiety, seizures, etc.
Mala’s style of chill made a big impression on me. She will let you do anything to her – cuddle, carry, toss and tackle! What tips do you have on how to raise a well-adjusted, secure, jet-setting dog?
It’s about the calm we show Mala in our own bodies. We really tried to understand what it was like to be part of a pack, and did a lot of research on it. Rather than project our own control issues and anxiety onto the new puppy, we contemplate the task of raising her like we did our children and treat her accordingly. Understanding Mala, and the age appropriate things she does and what motivates her, rather than assuming they respond like little people, is part of the process. So far, we’ve been able to take her everywhere – she seems to love everyone and everything.
Fill us in on some of the more unusual or unique aspects of Mala’s personality:
She’s Zen and sassy at the same time. People stop us every day on the street to greet her, and she’ll try to kiss every one of them. The most common response is “No – that’s not a real dog.” Mala’s very open to all humans and animals except little kids – she seems to be afraid of them. She also appears to be obsessed with broccoli.
Philosophically speaking, what kind of bond do you share with your pet that you share with no other living being?
We believe we are all connected more than we realize, so we are now in closer relationship with a canine mirror reflecting our own stress, joy, calmness, love. This bond was a choice, one that will always be dependent on us and to some level, one we are dependent on as well. She teaches us every day about routine, service and unconditional love.
Find Mala’s Instagram @malabellaamodeo