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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on March 30th, 2016, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 4 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 17, Issue 4

Affordable, accessible services are vital to preventing pet suffering and overpopulation

By ISABELLE GULLO-ABITIA

In 2009, when I cofounded C.A.R.E.4Paws, I was still volunteering at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, working with the dogs. During my four-plus years as a volunteer, I saw my fair share of animals abandoned. It didn’t matter how many pets our volunteer team adopted out in a week; the shelter was always beyond capacity—we often cared for 120 dogs. Needless to say, it was heartbreaking for all of us, including the shelter staff. Not to mention how hard it was on the animals. 

I had a choice. I could either continue spending all of my time caring for the animals at the shelter, or I could help prevent them from ending up homeless in the first place. Many fellow shelter volunteers, along with my husband, Carlos Abitia, agreed that prevention was the way to go. 

Together, we looked at the reasons why animals end up in shelters—lack of awareness about the importance of spaying/neutering, limited resources to provide proper pet care, and cultural differences when it comes to pet ownership—and then we designed programs around these issues. 

Since 2009, C.A.R.E.4Paws has provided free spay/neuter surgeries to thousands of dogs and cats owned by low-income community members, reducing pet overpopulation by preventing the birth of countless litters of unwanted puppies and kittens. In 2015 alone, we altered 1,042 pets countywide through our partner veterinary clinics and in our Spay Mobile, the county’s only spay/neuter clinic on wheels. 

We also improve quality of life for pets and their owners through several intervention programs, like delivery of pet food, free dog training, and assistance with veterinary care. These services help reduce suffering and allow animals to stay with their families for life. 

We realized from the get-go that if you want long-term change, you have to shift mentalities around pet ownership. And it starts with our children. C.A.R.E.4Paws works with kids countywide through our Pawsitive Thinking program to inspire compassion and accountability for animals from an early age. We also have a bilingual community outreach team that works directly in “critical” neighborhoods—areas with high numbers of unaltered, unvaccinated animals—to promote loving, responsible pet ownership and ensure pet owners have access to our services.

We’re the only nonprofit on the Central Coast to provide bilingual community outreach. Since 2012, we have focused much of our outreach efforts on Santa Barbara’s Eastside and in Lompoc, with funding help from the Santa Barbara Foundation, Wood-Claeyssens Foundation, ASPCA, Roy & Ida Eagle Foundation, and PetSmart Charities. 

This year we’re extending our outreach to Santa Maria and Guadalupe. In fact, on March 19, we hosted our first pet vaccine clinic in Guadalupe, helping 210 dogs and cats, not just with free vaccinations, but low-cost microchips, flea medication, and dewormer. At the event, we signed up 75 dogs and cats for a free spay/neuter surgery, and we came back three days later to alter 35 of these pets. We “fixed” 12 animals in the Spay Mobile and transported another 23 pets to the Santa Maria County Shelter’s vet clinic and the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society.

C.A.R.E.4Paws has provided free and low-cost vaccine clinics as part of our outreach since the very beginning, and this is by far the best way for us to connect with local pet owners. It’s not unusual for us to help up to 350 pets in one single clinic and to sign up 100-plus animals for a free spay/neuter surgery. We also canvass and place fliers in our target areas to create awareness and build strong networks of local businesses, agencies, animal shelters, and rescue groups.

Of course, our Spay Mobile helps us reach pet owners in need, too—literally and figuratively speaking. Many pet owners are reluctant or unable to travel to our partner vets, even for a free spay/neuter surgery. The Spay Mobile, acquired thanks to generous donations and equipped through a grant from the Santa Barbara Humane Society, allows us to park directly in critical neighborhoods, eliminating any obstacles that may get in the way of pet owners altering their dogs and cats. Our services are affordable and accessible!

Also, communities such as New Cuyama and Guadalupe are located far from the nearest vet clinic, leaving locals without direct access to any low-cost or free pet services. For those who lack transportation and sufficient funds, it becomes nearly impossible to alter and provide basic care for a pet—unless the services are brought to them. 

The demand for the Spay Mobile keeps growing. In 2014, we altered 1,020 animals countywide and 231 of those surgeries were performed in the Spay Mobile. In 2015, as many as 420 of the 1,042 spay/neuter surgeries performed overall were done in our mobile clinic. This year, we are targeting 1,100 surgeries countywide and plan for at least 500 Spay Mobile surgeries.

How do we know our programs make an impact? For one, drastically reduced intake numbers at many of our local shelters confirm that our proactive approach works. In Santa Barbara, for example, the county shelter where I used to volunteer now houses about 20 dogs, compared to 120 dogs in 2009. The county shelter in Lompoc—where C.A.R.E.4Paws has focused 80 percent of its spay/neuter outreach efforts for three consecutive years—just reached “no-kill” status, meaning its animal live-release rate is above 92 percent. This is a significant milestone as only two years ago, the shelter was forced to euthanize many healthy animals simply due to lack of space. 

We hope our work in Santa Maria and Guadalupe will bring the same kind of results and that the great collaborations between local shelters, rescue groups, and animal welfare organizations, like C.A.R.E.4Paws, stay strong in the years to come, because these collaborations contribute significantly to the progress we see in this county. Please join our efforts to reduce pet overpopulation and promote animal welfare because it takes all of us in this community to make a lasting difference. 

Isabelle Gullö-Abitia is the co-founder of C.A.R.E.4Paws. Visit care4paws.org to learn more about upcoming events and services. Send comments to Editor Shelly Cone at scone@santamariasun.com.









Weekly Poll
Should the county Public Health Department help elementary schools apply for the state’s waiver program?

Yes, that’s what the department is there for.
Schools shouldn’t open at all right now, nevermind with the county’s help.
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Schools should have to fend for themselves; it shows whether they’re ready to handle reopening.

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