Peeking out from her crate, a small kitten scanned for her potential owner. Suddenly, her big, brown eyes began to widen as a young girl emerged from the crowd.
“She’s so cute!” the girl exclaimed.
Locking gazes, the two brought hand to paw. The girl turned to her mom. “Can I adopt her?”
C.A.R.E.4Paws held their 11th annual Wags n’ Whiskers Festival on Saturday, featuring 25 animal shelters and rescue groups with dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, and reptiles up for adoption. Over 1600 visitors, and hundreds of animals, packed SBCC’s West Campus Lawn, with at least 45 leaving as new pet owners.
As the largest pet adoption and animal festival on the Central Coast, Wags n’ Whiskers works to raise awareness for pet adoption, highlighting local shelters, rescue groups and animal welfare organizations across Santa Barbara County.
“The idea was not just to promote adoption but provide a venue where all our groups could form partnerships so we could all help a lot more pets and pet owners in need,” said Isabelle Gullo, C.A.R.E.4Paws co-founder and executive director. “We can do so much more when there’s many groups all working for the same cause.”
Founded in 2009, C.A.R.E.4Paws helps Santa Barbara’s most underserved communities keep their companions as their own. Through their services, low-income, senior, disabled and homeless pet owners have access to everything from free spays/neuters to affordable veterinary care. C.A.R.E.4Paws collaborates with the whole county to ensure a better life for pets and pet owners alike.
Wags n’ Whiskers is certainly the culmination of this cause, allowing animals to find their people, and people to find their best friend. One of those people is Santa Barbara resident Mali Sheridan, who came to the Festival looking for a new puppy and walked out with Emory, her eight week-old Pyrenees-mix.
“I’ve been wanting one for a while, so I just decided to come out here,” said Ms. Sheridan. “My daughter needs an emotional support animal too, so I think this will work out.”
Ms. Sheridan has been bringing her daughter to the festival for three years. At 8 years old, her daughter hopes to become a veterinarian one day, making Wags n’ Whiskers the perfect place to explore.
“Dogs, cats, the whole festival — it’s her thing,” said Ms. Sheridan. “Emory is so cuddly and big. I know [my daughter] will love her, I mean she already does.”
Growing up in Santa Barbara, Ms. Sheridan always had a dog. To her, rescuing a pet means gaining an adventure partner, and someone who’s happy to see you when you get home. But most of all, Ms. Sheridan looks forward to the cuddles, she said.
The festival also attracted those who weren’t looking to adopt. Instead, pet owners brought their cuddle-buddies along for the festivities, enjoying new pet products, costume contests, and agility races. Pets could even take a break in one of several kiddie pools scattered around the park, for when they were really pooped.
In addition to the fun, longtime pet-owners Tim and Jan Wight brought their three dogs for the community.
“I like looking at all the other pets,” said Mr. Wight. “Usually we see people we know from the dog parks, and it’s a good cause, too.”
For the Wights, this cause hits close to home. Yoki, the Wights’ youngest dog, was rescued off an Indian reservation in Arizona, where they found her on the side of the road.
“Now, they’re just members of the family,” said Mr. Wight.
Throughout the festival, animal shelters and rescue groups worked to form these connections. Morgan Sokolow, director of Pet MatchMaker Rescue, tries to match pets with their families based on personality and temperament, rather than physical characteristics.
“I jump in to remind them they’re making a lifetime commitment,” said Ms. Sokolow. “I want them to keep their dog for as long as it lives.”
Likewise, Erika Calle, owner of rescue group One Dane at a Time, looks forward to what happens after adoption.
“My favorite part is getting the updates,” said Ms, Calle. “Once they’ve been adopted, I love getting those pictures and knowing that they’re living their best lives ever.”