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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 98  |  December 7, 2021

Zak adds a therapeutic touch to Dr. Ed Smith’s medical practice


Photos by Mary Hurlbut 

 Although Zak isn’t a certified therapy dog, he offers a calming presence to Dr. Edward Smith’s patients. Zak has been providing this service for 11 years, quietly lounging in the corner of the examining room, his rhythmic breathing – or snoring – creating peaceful background noise for anxious patients.

Twelve-year-old Zak, a 110 lb. Golden Retriever, has been coming to the office with Smith for 11 years. 

Raised in Northern California, Smith attended private schools, and left the area to earn his Biological Sciences degree from the University of California Santa Barbara. It was there he began pursuing a medical career. He attended Western University of Health Sciences in Southern California and in 1980 received his doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine.

After settling in South Orange County, Dr. Smith joined a large practice focused on HMO health care in Laguna Hills, attending to very large patient base. Understandably, he couldn’t take Zak there. 

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Dr. Smith and Zak in examining room

In 2010, he realized he wanted to provide more personalized care to his patients. When Smith and Allison French, his office manager, opened his office, Zak became the “shop dog.”

As patients come in, Zak gets up to greet them. “When the front door opens, he wants to see who it is, and then he walks patients back to the examining room,” Smith said.

Smith is known to spend more time with patients than the average physician. It varies per day, but French says that they see 10-15 per four-hour shift. 

“Patients are seen at the time of their scheduled appointment, so there are no long waits in his office,” Smith said. “The office staff is just Allison and me.”

“It’s very personalized,” French added.

Hence the name of the practice – PHC, Personal Healthcare. Smith is an “old fashion family doc” whose patients feel a true sense of personalized caring, while being at the cutting edge of medical advances. It offers family medicine and so much more.

“People come and go, but we have around 700-800 patients,” French said. “One of our patients flies in from Montana twice a year just to see Dr. Smith –another comes from Albuquerque.”

Some of Smith’s patients have been with him since the beginning. “I have some patients from 30 years ago,” he said. “We’ve grown old together.”

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Allison French, Dr. Smith and Zak 

Smith and French have known each other for 28 years. “I stole her from a Town Center Laguna Niguel shoe store when I opened my practice,” Smith said. Now she is the backbone of the office, handling all aspects of the operation. 

French is a self-described “jack of all trades.” “I do a little bit of everything,” she said. She does the tests, billing, etc. and is the one-person contact in the office – offering individual attention and immediate response. She is available via email or text and is familiar with all the patients’ healthcare history. 

“Patients can email or text me,” she said. “We provide preventative healthcare. My favorite part of the job is interacting with all of the different folks that we see. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to form relationships with such a wide variety of personalities over the years, as well as the mutual respect and friendship that Dr. Ed and I share.”

Their mission is to provide excellent healthcare to a limited number of patients in a comfortable environment stressing prevention and early detection of any disease process. 

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Zak is on the move 

That comfortable environment includes Zak’s laid-back presence.

Zak is Smith’s fourth Golden Retriever – and was preceded by Chloe, Max and Duffy. Zak came from Mattiaci Golden Retrievers in Montana. “At the time, we lived in Mystic Hills and didn’t have a fenced in yard, so due to guidelines, we weren’t approved to get a rescue,” said Smith.

“I saw a Golden here on the street and asked the couple where they got him. It turned out to be from Mattiaci Golden Retrievers in Montana. “Personality is everything, and he is so mellow. When we picked him up at Delta Cargo, he was in a crate on a shelf, not making a peep.”

On the few occasions when Zak isn’t in the office, he stays in Palm Springs for the week. “Patients will ask where he is,” Smith said.

Back and forth

Dr. Smith splits his time between his two homes, one here in Laguna near his office and a magnificent home designed and built by his partner Laguna architect John O’Neill on an acre of land they purchased in Palm Springs. O’Neill  has designed more than 175 homes, 50 of them in Laguna Beach.

Having a legendary architect as a partner, I wondered if Smith had any input into the design of the Palm Springs house. “Yes, some,” he answered. 

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Zak waits in the lobby for a patient to arrive 

According to Smith, Zak loves to sit on the second step of the 75 ft. lap pool in the courtyard of their Palm Springs home. A quirk (but a good one) that he acquired in the desert is a fondness for having his teeth brushed in the morning. He also bites the water coming out of the sprinklers, which was verified by a hilarious video. When Zak is here in Laguna, he enjoys his twice daily (morning and evening) treks to Aliso Creek Beach. 

“When we get there, he flops on his back and kicks his legs in the air,” Smith said. “He won’t go into the water, but stands at the edge. For a long time, he had a seal friend. Zak would stand on shore and the seal would stick its head up in the water and come close to the shoreline. It was always the same one. He used to sit on the rocks at the Montage.”

Of course, Zak loves treats, but evidently, he can’t have just any old snack. His favorites are Glycoflex.

“He has a bit of a delicate stomach,” French said.

Very few patients have objected to Zak being in the office.

“If they’re new patients, I tell them on the phone ahead of time that’s there’s a dog onsite,” said French. “One woman had allergies and another just didn’t want him in the exam room.” 

Otherwise, he seems to have a large fan base and a very special place in Smith’s practice. The prescription for a peaceful and pleasant office visit is having Zak greet you at the door.

PHC is located in the Three Arch Professional Bldg., 32322 Coast Highway B, Laguna Beach.

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Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

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Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

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In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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