Aspen-themed winter wonderland in La Jolla? This is what AJ “Ace” Thakore created on a small scale in front of his home at 6052 La Jolla Blvd. Dotted in his yard are about 50 flowing evergreens of all sizes, thousands of white lights and artificial snow.
Foam icicles were hung from the eve of his whitewashed house with a white ceiling. Mountain logs sprang up behind trees. The human-rise Aspen Lodge has been added, along with a bobsled, and sleigh rental sign. Free cocoa was served on the Saturday before Christmas.
This white wonderland is dedicated to his three-legged boxer dog, Aspen, who often greeted passersby.
“I have been very fortunate in life,” says Thakur, a businessman with a passion for adopting dogs with disabilities or special needs.
His stable of six pets included two three-legged dogs, one with a metal plate in its jaw, and one that was a feral and stray tester who simply showed up at his door 10 years ago.
“I love having dogs that don’t win many prizes,” he laughs.
While Thakur enjoys skiing in Aspen, he explains that Aspen Winter Wonderland is all about his dog, Aspen, and how he can direct attention to disabled dogs.
He decorated his home and yard in a similar way in December 2020, but this year added a charitable element, Aspen’s Holiday Giveaway, for wish-granting. He called on children and families to drop letters to Santa in Santa Claus’ red mailbox, and vowed that if he received 100 letters, he would respond by spending thousands of dollars in gifts for families in need, children and special needs dog rescue programs. .
By Christmas, Santa Aspen had received about 230 letters. So Thakur, CEO of Digital Multimedia Marketing for private practice doctors, with the help of his employees and friends, launched a slew of Amazon game shipments. Besides gifts for the children, three families in need were provided with food, help with utility bills and other expenses and needed household items, Thakur says.
One recipient was Lynsey Safford, a young mother who lost her husband last May. Struggling to pick up the pieces and care for her two young children, her friends started a GoFundMe campaign for her a few months ago and nominated her for the Aspen holiday gift program.
Safford says she wasn’t aware that a friend had given her name during a visit to Winter Wonderland in Aspen until she got a call from Thakur on Tuesday telling her her family had been chosen. Later that day, one of Thakur’s associates went and presented her with a check for $5,000.
“I was amazed,” she says. “I have no idea.”
Safford, who lives in Rolando, says she’s been a homemaker for eight years. A month after her husband’s death, she took two jobs, sometimes working seven days a week, sometimes two full shifts a day, to make ends meet.
“I am forever grateful for this gift,” she says.
However, not all of the letters Thakur received were for Santa. One of them, from a bystander named Kelly, recounted that her holiday spirit had lit up again.
“For various reasons, I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit,” she wrote. “However, I saw the beautiful doll display and most importantly the Christmas spirit you share outside your home.” It brought me joy to see so much love/light and really Christmas spirit! My Christmas lights are being put on today.”
Thakur was affected. “That’s why you’re doing it,” he says.
He also noted donations of $5,000 to each of two dog rescue programs: The Big Fix in Uganda, which operates a free veterinary hospital, and The Rescue Dog in San Diego. He is looking for dogs with good temperaments that are passed over for adoption due to their costly or chronic medical problems.
“Anytime we can get a generous donation like this, it helps a lot,” says Katie Hermann, president of the all-volunteer dog rescue organization. She says Thakur’s gift can save up to 10 dogs or pay for medical care for one dog that requires expensive surgery, such as Waffles, a young mix with heart and lung problems, and Winky, a puppy with neurological problems.
“Five thousand dollars covers a month’s worth of vet bills,” she adds.
Thakur says people have commented that they are shocked that anyone would do this. “Seeing them smile was amazing.” He describes it as his way of bringing joy to the community.
Today, Aspen Winter Wonderland, at 6052 La Jola Blvd. , to be disassembled – trees will disappear in chests, lights will be separated and twisted, decorative gifts will be stored.
What about next year?
“I feel almost obligated to do that,” Thakur says. “I think it will be an annual event. …I try to do everything bigger every year.”