Angela Yates bring lifelong passion to work as Animal Services director
Angela Yates grew up with zoo animals.
She went on to become a champion for sharks, a diver for Greenpeace, a hero to cats and a supporter of Earl the rooster.
Earl is awaiting adoption at the Santa Maria Animal Center, and it’s Ms. Yates’ job to find him a home. She’s the new director of Santa Barbara County Animal Services.
“Earl is a really special rooster,” the Santa Barbara resident told the News-Press about a rooster who needed extra loving care because of a skin mite that deformed his feet. “He’s so sweet. He’s tolerated all the treatments. We have a fondness for Earl.
And Ms. Yates has a fondness for cats, from her tabby Alfalfa to all kittens and cats that she helped at Animal Shelter Assistance Program. That’s the feline nonprofit with a shelter kitty corner to Animal Services in Goleta, and Ms. Yates, ASAP’s executive director since 2011, only had to walk a few yards when she left ASAP for her new job.
ASAP certainly was a good stepping stone.
Ms. Yates’ responsibility now goes beyond cats. Even beyond dogs.
For example, there’s that rooster.
“I don’t know why I”m talking about Earl so much,” Ms. Yates said, chuckling. “The bunnies are going to get jealous!”
In fact, Animal Services works in Goleta with Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter, and there are rabbits at the Animal Services’ shelters in Lompoc and Santa Maria.
“I’m moving full circle into animal sheltering across species,” Ms. Yates said. “I feel like I’m re-connecting with that part of me, growing up to think of all these animals as part of my family.”
When Ms. Yates was growing up in Houston, her mother worked for the Houston Zoo and took a van outfitted with animals to schools, Scouts, etc.
“We had a prairie dog, ferret, raccoon, skunk and a hedgehog,” Ms. Yates said. “I loved the hedgehog!
“I got used to handling different animals very respectfully. I got comfortable with snakes,” she said.
As much as she loved animals, they weren’t her first choice for a career. Ms. Yates earned her bachelor’s in architectural design in 1988 at the University of Texas at Austin.
She thought she would continue her architectural studies at a graduate school. But in the summer of 1988, she started campaigning door to door for Greenpeace, which was doing testing on water pollution between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. That involved work by divers.
“One of the divers broke his ankle playing Freesbie,” Ms. Yates said. “I happened to be a diver. So I went from having this part-time job to being on the Greenpeace boats, diving for Greenpeace.
“My dive buddy was an ex-Navy SEAL,” Ms. Yates said. “I would hold the flashlight on whatever he was doing.”
After Greenpeace, Ms. Yates set sail for another career path. She earned her master’s in environmental management in 1991 at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Her thesis was on sharks.
She saw them as something to be admired and protected, not feared.
“Like any apex predator, they’re incredibly vulnerable to hunting, but they play a very important role in our ocean’s ecosystems,” Ms. Yates said.
After Duke University, Ms. Yates’ environmental career took her to Washington, D.C, then New Orleans. She later moved to Ojai and about 20 years ago to Santa Barbara, where she had a different career using her design skills at her then husband’s homes business.
“I joined ASAP as a volunteer when I moved to Santa Barbara. I wanted to do some volunteer work, and I loved animals,” Ms. Yates said.
She joined the ASAP board, became its president and was hired as ASAP’s first executive director in 2011, around the time she was going through a divorce.
“I needed that work. It was a life saver for me when I was going through the challenges in my personal life,” she said.
Over the years, ASAP has become known for its dedication to cats and special programs such as ones preparing feral kittens and cats for home.
Ms. Yates said leaving ASAP for Animal Services wasn’t easy.
“It was definitely bittersweet because ASAP is dear and near to my heart and always will be,” said Ms. Yates, who got her tabby Alfalfa from ASAP. “I feel ASAP is part of my family.”
But she explained she saw her new job as an opportunity to serve the community and help all animals, not just cats.
Ms. Yates comes to Animal Services during the challenges of COVID-19, but noted the pandemic has inspired new ways of thinking that could benefit animals far into the future.
“We’ve been stuck in this brick-and-mortar model where the solutions to homeless animals is people bring them to the shelter, and they’re put in shelters or cages,” Ms. Yates said.
She said during the pandemic, there’s been a greater emphasis on foster homes.
In fact, earlier this year, a News-Press story about shelters throughout the county showed an increase in adoptions and foster homes.
“When COVID hit, everybody wanted a dog or a cat,” Ms. Yates said. “Nationwide, shelters got empty. Suddenly the prospect of spending all this time at home made people want to have animals. Suddenly landlords were more open to allowing them to foster an animal. These were breakthroughs.”
She noted a high percentage of animals in foster homes end up being adopted.
“Can we keep that up? Can we keep this model of having more of our animals in foster homes?” Ms. Yates said. “It’s a big question mark. If the community wants that model, the community will step up to it.”
She said she also sees merit in people seeing animals on Zoom. “You get to see the animal interact more naturally and see their true personality. It’s in an environment where it’s already comfortable without a new person who’s distracting it.”
Ms. Yates said shelters in modern times also emphasize match making over window shopping.
“It’s not that dissimilar from an online dating service,” said Ms. Yates, who describes herself as “happily remarried” to entrepreneur Steve Yates.
She’s trying to persuade him into having their home become a foster one for a dog.
“My husband is worried if we foster, he will become too attached to the dog. I said, ‘If that happens, we’ll just adopt!”