County division establishes measures to reduce shelter intake
Santa Barbara County Animal Services is fetching a new vision to help the region’s furry friends, aiming to engage community partners and provide alternatives to impounding.
The new vision, which centers on principles established by the nationwide Human Animal Support Services coalition, focuses on two primary goals. The first is reducing shelter intake and moving animals through the system quickly, and the second is reallocating resources to serve more animals and people outside of the shelter walls.
In action, the fulfillment of these goals looks like engaging with local organizations to host free community clinics and creating pet food banks within local resource centers. It also means promoting the Animal Services’ foster program, which allows community members to care for an animal outside of the shelter until the pet is adopted.
Animal Services, which is part of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, is already making strides to achieve these goals.
Just a few weeks ago, Animal Services held a joint community clinic in Guadalupe, where more than 360 animals were served outside shelter walls.
Additionally, Animal Services plans to open two community resource centers at the Lompoc and Goleta shelters next week, which will provide a free food bank for local pet owners.
Angela Yates, the director of Animal Services, presented the new vision to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors Tuesday and received unanimous support from officials.
By focusing on these goals, Ms. Yates is hopeful Animal Services can address the reasons why someone chooses to abandon their pets before it happens. She hopes that by adopting a preventative approach, Animal Services can decrease shelter intake and keep pets united with their owners.
“When we talk about, you know, reducing intake, it’s about getting in front of the reason (for pet abandonment),” Ms. Yates told the News-Press. She added that “providing the veterinary care, or the pet food that somebody needs, or the behavior support” are all services that could prevent someone from giving up their pet.
“It’s a terrible thing for somebody to have to think about giving up a beloved animal because they had to make a choice between putting food in their dog bowl, or food on their own plate, or food on their children’s plates,” Ms. Yates said. “And so we really don’t want those choices to be made by our community members. And so being able to partner with C.A.R.E.4Paws and these other organizations to provide free pet food to people that need it is a huge way of preventing animals from being surrendered, as well as access to low-cost or free veterinary care.”
Animal Services’ new focus comes after a year of reimagination for the animal services industry as a whole, Ms. Yates said.
With people stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, local interest grew in the department’s animal foster program, which allows community members to bring shelter animals into their homes and house them until they are adopted. Over the past pandemic year, hundreds of animals sheltered by Animal Services were fostered by individuals and families across the region, Ms. Yates said.
It’s for this reason Ms. Yates found a “silver lining” in the COVID-19 crisis, pointing to the past year as inspiration to partner with community organizations and reshape the department’s mission.
“We taught ourselves, our community members and our decision makers that the only way to help animals is to scoop them up and bring them into the shelter,” Ms. Yates said. “And then we measure our success based on the number of animals that we take in and the number of animals that leave to, you know, live outcomes. We really have to rethink that model because if we can get ahead on the prevention side, and we can start measuring our success by prevention, it’s better for the animals, and it’s way better for our community members.”
Looking toward the future, Ms. Yates said she sees the department moving further from the traditional model of impounding animals for long periods of time with the county’s shelters in Santa Maria, Goleta and Lompoc.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Yates told the Board of Supervisors that the shelters in Goleta and Lompoc are “outdated” and do not reflect the current culture in the animal services industry.
Moving forward, Ms. Yates said she could see the shelters being converted into multifunctional spaces where housing animals is just one of the facilities’ many functions.
“We have the benefit of the lessons that are being learned over this past year of COVID and the changing landscape of the animal sheltering industry before we embarked on making big capital changes to our shelters,” Ms. Yates said. “We’re not alone in Santa Barbara County in hoping that the future of animal sheltering isn’t about building gigantic shelters that house hundreds of animals — that the lessons that we have learned during COVID allow for the possibility that shelters will be multifunctional and they’ll really be more community service-oriented.”
She continued, “(The shelters) will be about, you know, providing the services (and creating) meeting space education spaces. Animal housing will certainly be a component of that, but not to the large degree that they did previously. And that’s our sincere hope.”