Longtime Solvang resident and staunch animal rights activist Hazel Mortensen died of heart issues Saturday at the age of 85.
No plans were announced for a memorial service.
Mortensen's mission in life to advocate for abused and neglected animals spanned multiple decades, including her more recent work to feed local pets whose owners were financially stretched due to the COVID-19 crisis.
"This is how my dear friend Hazel Mortensen chose to live the last months of her life: giving her time, energy and love to the betterment of animals," wrote Rachelle Mueller of Solvang in a public tribute. "Despite her own health challenges, she always found a way to give back to the community, particularly to the animals who do not have a voice that humans understand."
While serving 20 years as a volunteer at the Orange County Animal Shelter and before relocating to Solvang with her late husband, Bob, Mortensen single-handedly fought to outlaw the inhumane use of decompression chambers in Los Angeles animal shelters — and succeeded.
She also was a dedicated member of the organization PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which she allied with in her stand for animal rights.
"Animals have lost a dear friend and PETA member with the passing of Hazel Mortensen," PETA wrote in a statement. "Her kind nature was evident in everything she did — from being a lifelong vegetarian to advocating for an end to horse-drawn carriages and the animal overpopulation crisis. Hazel was empathy personified and will be greatly missed by all of us at PETA."
Hazel Mortensen can't seem to shake the thought of a child having to say goodbye to a beloved pet because their folks can't cover food costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mortensen took many abused and neglected dogs into her home, and also was responsible for personally funding a spay and neuter program in animal shelters both in Southern California and in the Santa Ynez Valley. In total, she stayed faithful to the cause for nearly 50 years.
In March, Mortensen, with the support of local businessman and owner of Santa Ynez Feed and Milling Quinn Spaulding, launched a community fundraiser to help purchase bags of dog and cat food for local residents in need of assistance with their pets during the pandemic.
Pet food purchased from or donated to Spaulding's shop was trucked to the Solvang Visitor's Bureau and made available twice a week to pet owners throughout the community — no questions asked.
Mortensen continued to manage and run the program of her own volition.
Solvang City Council members got an earful during a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to consider a proposal for a mixed-use development that calls for the demolition of Veterans Memorial Hall.
"I really didn't know her personally until she contacted me, but she certainly didn't let the grass grow under her feet," said Spaulding. "She was a wonderful woman that loved animals more than anything in the world. We'll miss her."
Born on April 26, 1935, in England, Mortensen was a child of the Great Depression. She witnessed not only people but helpless animals suffering due to the rationing of supplies for survival. It was then that she vowed to champion the welfare of animals one day.
"Hazel fought year after year for the proper care and treatment of the trolley horses here in Solvang," wrote Mueller, describing Mortensen's commitment to the humane treatment of all animals, big and small. "She will be greatly missed by many."
In honor of Mortensen, Mueller is encouraging the public to donate time and money toward the purchase of dog food for pet owners struggling to feed their four-legged family members.
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Lisa André covers local news and lifestyles for Santa Ynez Valley News.
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