Fight to save practice nets business advocacy award

Fight to save practice nets business advocacy award

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Apr 01, 2012

Garden Grove, Calif. — When developers threatened to take over the corner where the Garden Grove Dog and Cat Hospital was located, Dr. Les Malo decided to fight back.

He went to city council meetings, talked with redevelopers and even joined the Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce.

Now, more than 10 years after those first rumblings of redevelopment, Malo was named California Chamber of Commerce Small Business Advocate of the year for 2011.

As fate would have it, the battle to save his hospital in the midst of large-scale redevelopment forced him to become active within the Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce, and that is what he was being honored for most recently.

The Garden Grove Dog and Cat Hospital sits, five minutes from Anaheim, Calif., and Disneyland and 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.

"We used to practice in an old house. We bought the land next to it and built a beautiful vet hospital," he says. "We tore down the old building and turned that into a parking lot. We were the first ones in the redevelopment area to redevelop."

Malo says as time went by, the city of Garden Grove refocused its efforts on redevelopment.

"Redevelopment did some wonderful things for our city," he says. "The redevelopment agency bought property, cleared it and built big hotels for visitors."

It was at that time that redevelopers first focused on Malo's property.

"Everything was fine and hunky dory," he says. "Then the hotels decided that this particular area, where my hospital is, needed more redevelopment."

Malo says at that time, large-scale retailers already surrounded the hospital. The city told him they would relocate the animal hospital.

"I'm just a veterinarian. All of a sudden it's 'see ya' time," he says. "I went to city council and said, 'Guys this is not right. You're going to bring a big-box store in because it's going to give you sales tax. I have a veterinary practice here. I have my pet hotel here. We're good members of the community. We have 30 jobs between the two businesses. This is morally wrong and doesn't make good sense business wise. We do a service for this community. People love their dogs and cats.'"

Malo says the talks continued. The city even sent a representative out to talk to him. "The man said 'We're going to do nice things for you. We're going to make you rich,'" Malo says. "I said, 'I'm already rich. I have a beautiful wife, three great kids. You're going to give me dollars. You can't make me rich. To hand me dollars, you take away what I worked for my whole life.'"

It was during that time that a client, who had heard Malo speak at city council, suggested he join the local chamber of commerce. And the rest is history.

Malo credits the downturn in the economy and the condos for keeping the vet hospital in its original location.

"I think the city said, 'This practice has been here something like 60 years. This guy is standing up with other members of the community and he has some legitimate points of view,'" Malo says. "A veterinarian is more than just a businessman."

"We got lucky and things fell into place," Malo adds. "About 10 months ago, a big piece of property that backs up to the hospital was earmarked for a retail store. They started building, but instead it was for 53 new condos. As soon as we saw that, I knew it was over. No one ever said anything, but they didn't have to."

Today, it is business as usual for the Garden Grove Dog and Cat Hospital.

While Malo has been a veterinarian there since the early 1970s, he purchased the practice from his partner of 25 years, Dr. Arthur W. Stone. His son, Dr. Mark Malo, owns the practice today with Dr. Brent Hess.

Malo still works there, seeing strictly cats and dogs. Hess added birds and reptiles to the practice mix, and Mark Malo cares for "anything with fur," Malo says.

With the redevelopment fight behind him, Malo says he would absolutely do it again.

"You don't lay down and die for anyone. If you roll over, they keep coming," he says.

He also believes that becoming active in the community helped.

Malo says he has made a point throughout his career to make charitable donations, talk to grammar schools and volunteer at high school career days.

"I believe that any veterinary hospital has to be a responsive and responsible member of the community it practices in," he says.

"You can't be a taker in life. If a community gives you a livelihood and supports you and your family, you have to give back."