Angela Walter Yates won’t have to move too far for her new role.
Ms. Yates, the now-former executive director for the Animal Shelter Assistance Program, has been named the new Animal Services director for the county, a position she will officially take over starting Monday.
ASAP is kitty corner to the county Animal Services on the same campus on Overpass Road in Goleta. The cats are all adopted through Animal Services, and ASAP is the nonprofit that cares for the animals and provides them with support services. Ms. Yates will move into her new office this week as she looks to continue making an impact throughout the county.
Ms. Yates first became involved in animal welfare in 2002 upon arriving in Santa Barbara. In search for community involvement, she visited the shelter looking to volunteer and within a week was helping clean the cages at ASAP. She has since taken on various roles, including serving as board president and eventually executive director for the past eight years.
Ms. Yates told the News-Press it was “bittersweet” to leave ASAP, but is excited about her new opportunity.
“I love ASAP and I loved my role there and it will always be near and dear to my heart,” she said. “They’re just a phenomenal organization, but I also felt like that in taking on the role with Animal Services that I could have a much greater impact on all of the animals in the county.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have that greater impact.”
An only child who grew up with cats, dogs, a guinea pig and a duck, Ms. Yates has always had a strong bond with animals. While her most recent experience has involved strictly felines, she is confident that she can help assist all types of animals at the county’s three shelters, including Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Lompoc.
“The fundamental best practices and sheltering and the policies and how we manage the shelter system moves across all species,” she said, adding that ASAP has previously partnered with C.A.R.E.4Paws, the local Humane Society and Animal Services.
She intends on spending the first month or so getting to know her team. ASAP has eight full-time staff members and, at one point, as many as 250 volunteers. They all worked at the same facility. Animal Services has 36 staff members and operates out of the three shelters.
“In some ways it’s a much larger staffing at animal services, but in some ways not,” she said. “I think one of the biggest changes or differences is that there’s three physical shelters in our county that animal services is responsible for… and I think for the size of our county, it’s an interesting thing to try and straddle three different physical locations and provide really high-quality services to the community at each of them.”
Ms. Yates anticipates more administrative work in her new role, but explained that she fully intends on taking her breaks and walking one of the dogs at the shelter.
The shelter cares for any and all companion animals, including chickens, roosters, or exotic species.
Ms. Yates said that the current environment serves as an exciting time to review the sheltering system. As has been the case with countless businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has led officials throughout the country to rethink the animal sheltering model.
All animals were cleared out of the shelters when the pandemic hit, with many of the animals going to foster homes.
“Through that process of engaging with the community, and seeing how these animals responded in foster homes versus the shelter, it really sort of broke down some of these assumptions that we had around temporary fostering and empowering the community to help us with solutions and actually delegating some adoption responsibilities to the community and fosters and letting them advocate for the animals that they had in their care,” she explained. “It’s been so beneficial, both for the animals and the people involved, that it spurred a whole national conversation in the industry around, ‘How can we do this better?’
“The human-animal bond is so profound and people really feel like their cats and dogs, or their guinea pigs and rabbits, are members of their family.”
Regardless of what changes may come about, Ms. Yates said it would be done through partnership.
“It’s not going to just be on Animal Services. We’re going to really have to look at our partnerships and the organizations and how can we dovetail and support each other in moving our whole community forward with this,” she said. “I think the fact that I’m a known entity and I have really strong ties to the community, I think there’s a lot of trust since I’ve been working on these issues for a long time here. I think that will help. We’ve navigated some challenges over the past two decades. I don’t look at this so much as a challenge but just a tremendous opportunity.”
Ms. Yates currently owns one pet, a 13-year-old tabby cat named Alfalfa, who arrived at ASAP when he was just one day old.
“I’ve raised him since he weighed probably about three ounces,” she said. “He’s 13 lbs. now. I’m the only mom he’s ever known. I bottle-fed him just like an infant through the night.”
Ms. Yates tried to introduce a new cat into her home a few months ago, though Alfalfa made it clear that he would be the only cat in the home.
“He went on a hunger strike and refused to eat,” she said. “A lot of drama and some vet bills, and I finally said, ‘Alright, I surrender. You’re going to be the king of the house.’”
One could say she is well qualified for her new position. Her mother served as a docent at the Houston Zoo when she was growing up, allowing her to handle snakes, lizards, ferrets, a skunk and even a hedgehog. Her master thesis in graduate school was on sharks.
“I’ve kind of run the gamut,” she said. “I haven’t run into animals that challenge me. I’m fascinated by them. There’s always something to learn.”