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Early Childhood Education

LA County Delivers Its First-Ever Unicorn License To 7-Year-Old Girl

A young light-skinned girl wearing a purple dress opens holds up a pink sheet of paper that says "unicorn license" on it. She also holds what is either a stuffed animal unicorn with purple hooves, or a real unicorn using magic to disguise itself.
Madeline, a 7-year-old from Santa Clarita Valley, receives a unicorn license at Los Angeles County’s Animal Care Center in Castaic — the first ever issued.
(Mariana Dale
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Los Angeles County has granted its very first unicorn license to a 7-year-old Santa Clarita Valley girl.

LA County Delivers Its First-Ever Unicorn License To 7-Year-Old Girl

Madeline wrote to the county in mid-November asking for approval to have a unicorn in her backyard, pending her ability to find one.

Madeline says she’s loved the mythical horned equines since she was 3 years old. The reason is simple — “They’re so magical,” she says.

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We’re not using Madeline’s last name at her family’s request to protect their privacy— and that of any future unicorns in the household.

The letter landed on the desk of Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control director Marcia Mayeda.

“We never want to dissuade people from their dreams,” Mayeda says. “We wanted to help her with her quest for a unicorn.”

Unicorn Handling And Care

To receive her license Madeline had to agree to follow the rules for keeping any animal in the County, i.e. providing access to food, water, exercise, and shelter, and a few “special unicorn keeping requirements.”

“I had no experience with unicorns,” Mayeda says, but she did some online research to craft the county’s new mystical equid licensing rules.

They include:

  • feeding watermelon (allegedly unicorns’ favorite snack) once a week
  • regular horn polishing 
  • any sparkles or glitter should be non-toxic and biodegradable so that it doesn’t make the unicorn sick.

Madeline agreed to them all and added “my mom doesn't like glitter anyway.”
Mayeda presented Madeline with a pink metal unicorn license. She then affixed that license to a stuffed unicorn to keep Madeline company until she can locate the real deal.

Madeline hopes to start her search in Scotland, where unicorns are the national animal. Her dream ideal unicorn is silver with white spots, gold hooves, and a rainbow horn.

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“I would build it a stable with a glass roof so it could look at the stars,” Madeline says. Construction would comply with the county’s requirement that the animal have regular access to sunlight and moonbeams.

A young light-skinned girl wearing a purple dress holds up a big stuffed animal unicorn with purple hooves. Standing a few feet behind her is an adult light-skinned woman wearing a pantsuit.
Madeline, a 7-year-old from Santa Clarity Valley, hugs a unicorn that may be using magic to disguise itself as a stuffed animal. The plush is a mega-sized version of the stuffed animal Mayeda gave Madeline and was sent by the manufacturer after the county's social media post went viral.
(Mariana Dale

Madeline’s family has four pets already — three fish and a peachy-white hamster named Caramel. But none of them match the skills a unicorn could bring to the household.

For example, their horns’ ability to emit shooting stars, according to Madeline’s research.

So she asked her mom, Leilani, for permission to add a unicorn to the family. Leilani suggested Madeline write to the county for permission.

“We always are talking and throwing ideas out as a family,” Leilani said. “If they have a dream, or they have something that they want, to go for it and so we just support them and whatever their dreams are, and this was one of them.”

Madeline wrote the letter almost immediately and Leilani mailed it to L.A. County Animal Care and Control after at least one reminder from her daughter.

Animal Care and Control licenses dogs, cats, and pot-bellied pigs in 45 cities and unincorporated areas of the county. In addition to caring for animals awaiting adoption, the agency also handles animal abuse cases and complaints, and euthanasia.

“We make difficult life and death decisions. It can be very wearing on people that work here because everybody loves animals,” Mayeda said. “When we see something like this that’s so innocent and charming and makes you happy… We all just really, really got engaged.”

Mayeda planned the surprise license ceremony with Madeline’s family to align with her 7th birthday. They visited the County’s Animal Care Center in Castaic on Friday under the guise of discussing her application.

This momentous day also included Madeline’s last day of school before winter break, and she lost a tooth.

Others Can Learn From Madeline

Madeline also has some advice for aspiring mythical creature caretakers: “Having a unicorn is great, but you have to follow all the rules to make sure the unicorn stays healthy, lives a happy life and is safe.”

Since L.A. County shared Madeline’s story on social media, there’s been an outpouring of messages and media coverage from the U.K. to Borneo. People sent unicorn-themed gifts for Madeleine — including stickers, books, and a fleece blanket.

A young light-skinned girl wearing a purple dress  and a red bow in her hair pets a white pitbull-mix dog laying on the ground wearing a pink bandana with red hearts.
Madeline's field trip to the L.A. County Animal Care and Control Center in Castaic also included a tour and an opportunity to meet Xyla, who was adopted from the shelter last year and is now a therapy dog.
(Mariana Dale/ LAist)

The county has also received additional licensing requests from prospective unicorn owners.

The nonprofit that supports the county’s animal shelter will now mail a license and certificate to anyone who makes a donation of at least $25 to Madeline’s Magical Unicorn Fund. The money will be used to help care for animals waiting for adoption and fund vet visits for families in need.

And if you want to adopt any of those other animals: Many need a good home.

What questions do you have about early childhood education and development? What do you want to know about kids ages 0-5 and those who care for them in Southern California?
Decades of research indicates early childhood education significantly boosts children’s readiness to learn. Mariana Dale wants families, caregivers and educators to have the information they need to help children 0-5 grow and thrive by identifying what’s working and what’s not in California’s early childhood system.