A native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Geraldine Gilliland is a self-made woman—chef, cookbook author and owner of the popular Santa Monica restaurant Lula Cocina Mexicana. But Gilliland has another major passion in her life besides food: rescuing dogs under the umbrella of the nonprofit Chiquita’s Friends, which she founded in 2011.
Chiquita’s Friends’ stated mission is to “rescue, provide sanctuary and veterinarian care, and adopt out to suitable homes, senior, special needs, and neglected canines through our own hands-on efforts as well as offering financial support to other tax-exempt organizations with similar goals.”
Over the past 25 years, Gilliland’s organization has taken in a countless number of dogs. At first, all the rescued canines lived on her 250-acre Rancho Chiquita just outside Malibu city limits—a property that also includes her home and a wedding/event venue. When the Rancho’s dog facilities became filled to capacity, she looked to expand.
Her first expansion took place on the 12-acre Meade Canine Rescue near Atascadero. In a kind of joint venture with that group, Gilliland converted an old barn into additional facilities.
Setting her sights back in Malibu, she purchased an old ranch near Cornell Road and Kanan in 2017, which she named Chiquita’s Friends—Cornell Sanctuary. The buildings and grounds needed a lot of work and just as construction work was completed, including the renovation of the caretaker’s cottage, the Woolsey Fire destroyed everything. The 26 dogs, plus cats and assorted farm animals there were all evacuated safely.
In order to rebuild and also fund other projects, Gilliland made the decision several months later to sell off a second popular restaurant she owned in Santa Monica—Finn McCool’s Irish Pub.
Chiquita’s Friends recently sponsored a free spay/neuter clinic in an impoverished neighborhood in Ensenada, Mexico, where owners brought over 300 pets. She plans to return for a similar program in Tijuana for street dogs in April.