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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on February 12th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 49

New beginnings

The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society is ready to save more lives with its new facility

BY KRISTINA SEWELL

Cheerful, red-heart-shaped balloons lined the fence outside the large brown building, the sun reflecting off its numerous windows. Live music greeted guests while young children hoping for new furry companions waited anxiously outside the doors.


In the dog house:
High ceilings and window cut outs in the building allow for a more open space with plenty of fresh air for animals.
PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER

The not-yet-finished shelter will replace the fading paint and cramped quarters of the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society’s old facility at 751 Black Road.

Since its inception as a funded entity in 1982, the society’s main goal has been to find loving homes for unwanted pets and to educate the community on the importance of spaying and neutering; the value of the society’s services to the community hasn’t gone unnoticed over the last three decades.

Operating out of its “no kill” shelter on Black Road since 1990, the society has adopted out thousands of cats and dogs. Last year, the society was proud to announce a tremendous milestone: Its veterinarians performed 25,000 spay/neuter surgeries at the low-cost clinic.

Over the years, the small building became more crowded with animals than the society could keep up with—signs of a pet overpopulation problem that was slowly overtaking the Santa Maria area.


Comfortable kennels:
When the project is complete, the shelter will have four spacious kennels to house up to 42 dogs. The kennels will also feature a food prep area and laundry room.

With 1,739 animals euthanized every year in Santa Barbara County—and more than half of those animals coming from Santa Maria—it would seem there’s more of a demand for the society’s services than ever before. To meet this need, the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society started to upgrade so it could continue providing services to the community’s increasing population of unwanted pets. The group has spent the last seven years developing, planning, and building a new pet adoption facility and spay/neuter clinic.

Referred to as the “Pet Project,” the new facility is quickly nearing completion. On Saturday, Jan. 26, members of the public were invited to tour the new facility and learn about the society’s plans as it moves forward in its tireless battle.

This new building marks a year of fresh beginnings as the society goes past pet adoption and spay/neuter surgeries to educate the public on responsible pet ownership.

Bigger and better

The 16,000-square-foot facility at 1687 W. Stowell Road was specifically designed to increase space, said Jill Tucker, the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society’s executive director.

“It’s evolved over the years,” she explained. “Some of the scope and details have changed.”


New beginning:
Even from the outside, the new shelter is more modern and spacious than the cramped, outdated facility at Black Road.

The project, in the works since 2005, has morphed into a more modern facility better equipped to meet increased service demands. Construction crews are still working to finish the interior.

At the Pet Project preview event, guests were greeted by Humane Society staffers and invited on a guided tour with eight station stops; people moved in small groups through the facility. The walk-through began in the reception area; Tucker said it’s a major improvement from the reception space at the current building, where cats keep the staff company.

With high ceilings, numerous windows, and bright paint, the new adoption center abandons the ominous décor of traditional animal shelters in favor of an open and more inviting environment.

Complete with large offices and a retail shop, the nearly finished facility has a lot of potential. Guides explained that one room will double as a classroom for Allan Hancock College, which will be offering a veterinary technician class starting Fall 2013.

There are also adoption-viewing rooms where pets can get acquainted with potential owners, and Tucker shared that there will now be separate areas outside the facility reserved for people who have to surrender their animals. At the current facility, Tucker said, people have to say goodbye to their animals in the reception area—typically in front of an audience.

“When people have to give up their pets, it’s very emotional,” Tucker said. “The surrender area is better kept separate; it’s more humane and private for those who may be grieving over their pet.”

Humane Society volunteer and tour guide for the day James McGloughlin revealed a new feature in the building: a dog grooming room equipped with several grooming stations and a large wash tub.

“We plan on adding dryers, and eventually we want to hire a professional dog groomer,” McGloughlin said.

He also shared that the shelter will have a food bank where struggling families can get chow for their animals.

Separate from the main building are two of four planned dog kennels. There are 12 indoor/outdoor kennels for small dogs and 10 indoor/outdoor kennels reserved for larger breeds. Still scheduled for construction is a dog exercise yard and show area; it’s expected to cost about $25,000. Tucker said that by the time the dog portion is completed, they’ll have 42 adoption kennels in addition to more traditional isolation cages, which will be used to hold animals brought over from county until they’ve been examined.


Big reveal:
Guests were guided through the new reception area on Jan.26 for a tour of the new facility and were led by Humane Society staff.

“The timing couldn’t be better to announce that we are getting close to finishing enough of our new facility to relocate,” Tucker said.

The indoor cattery is not yet complete and served as the reception area for the Pet Project event. Chalk lines marked out space for a community cat room, community kitten room, cat adoption room, kitten isolation room, and office space. The new cattery will offer more space to keep cats, as opposed to the current building where cats roam freely due to lack of available kennels.

“Cats breed the fastest and are adopted the slowest,” Tucker said, explaining the plethora of cats at the shelter.

According to Tucker, crews are busy trying to complete the main parts of the building, including the cat adoption center and quarantine facility.

The Humane Society director said the project will cost $3.8 million total; through fundraising efforts and donations, Tucker said they’ve been able to raise $2.8 million.

“We need about $350,000 to finish enough so that we can move the adoption facility over,” she explained.

To complete the project, they’ll need another $1.2 million, which they’ll have to raise. Guides emphasized that naming rights to various parts of the facility are still available and donations are readily accepted.

The emphasis must have paid off; Tucker shared with the Sun that they raised $19,000 toward the project at the Jan. 26 event.

“Our goal is to be able to move in by June,” Tucker said.

Diane Alleman-Stevens, Betty Baxter, Sandy Miller, and Jackie Smith attended Saturday’s event and were nothing but impressed by what they saw.

“It’s gorgeous,” Alleman-Stevens said. “They’ve got so much done.”

She and the rest of her companions are members of Altrusa International of Santa Maria, which donated $25,000 to the project.

The Humane Society operates as a “no kill” facility, meaning when an animal comes over from the county shelter or is relinquished by its owner, it’s allowed to live out its life in a safe and healthy environment.

With its large kennels, tall windows, lofted ceilings, and modern amenities, the new shelter aims to provide animals a comfortable residence until they’re able to find loving homes of their own.


Kitty corner:
The future home of the cat facility, which will have a community area and kitten isolation room, served as the reception area for the open house event.

Things are shaping up nicely at the new shelter, but the spay/neuter clinic still needs a lot of work, and is at the heart of the society’s war against the growing pet problem in Santa Maria.

Be responsible, save lives

At the outdated building on Black Road, spay/neuter surgeries are limited to one operation table and minimal space for recovery. Dr. Ruth Corbo, a local veterinarian, has been performing spay/neuter operations for the society since 2009.

“It’s very basic and small,” Dr. Corbo said in regard to the current clinic. “We’re limited by space as to how many animals we can operate on.”

Tucker revealed that the new clinic will have two pre-operation and two surgery preparation tables.

“We’re excited for this kind of capacity,” Tucker said. “It’s really what we need to put us in a position for grant funding.”

Corbo echoed her excitement.

“We can get through a lot more procedures, and we will have more space for surgeries,” Corbo said.


Animal art:
Creative chalk drawings of cats decorated the floor of the future cattery; officials said there is a never ending stream of cats into the shelter.

One of the guides at the Jan. 26 event shared that the clinic was originally going to be built separate from the rest of the facility, but combining it shaved about $1 million off the project cost. Although the clinic is still a shell, the finished space will have recovery cages, an x-ray room, and an exam room. Nipomo Dog and Cat hospital donated diagnostic equipment to the new clinic; Corbo said the clinic will also have a new anesthesia machine.

The Humane Society will undoubtedly use the additional space, with demand for services at an all-time high. Tucker said the current clinic is booked out six weeks in advance; sometimes vets are performing 20 operations a day.

“We’re only meeting the needs of people who come to us,” Tucker said. “Spaying/neutering is major in reducing animal surplus; we can meet community needs and save more lives.”

While the new shelter makes the Humane Society’s job slightly easier and more functional, the new space will allow more lives to be saved—and that’s the ultimate goal at play in the Pet Project.

But Tucker and the Humane Society are fighting a seemingly uphill battle; Tucker said that Santa Maria is a difficult location to manage—perhaps due to a higher poverty rate. With 77 percent of euthanized animals in the county coming from Santa Maria, the director said that’s a good indication of how the community does with animals. Simply put, there are too many homeless cats and dogs in the city, and the animals are crowding shelters and losing lives.


Free roaming:
Pending awaited funds, the unbroken ground will eventually become home to a dog show area and exercise yard.

“By and large people love animals but don’t understand the consequences of allowing them to breed,” Tucker said. “Every time you allow them to breed, you take a home away from another animal.”

In six years, a fertile dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies. Tucker said the current building is full of dogs—particularly pit bulls and Chihuahuas. She mentioned that it might be possible for the society to obtain grant funding for sterilization of certain breeds in the future.

As for the sky-high cat population, Tucker said there seems to be an endless stream of felines coming into the shelter. Cats breed at an alarming rate and can produce kittens even in their senior years. On average, a fertile cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in seven years.

“People are pretty cavalier about cat ownership,” Tucker said. “With the new facility, we will be able to hold four times as many cats.”

The endless influx of animals is felt across the community, especially at the county shelters. Tucker said county facilities have a very tough job; they take in abandoned or sick animals but aren’t able to find homes fast enough. Unfortunately, this forces the county to euthanize them.

Tucker said there’s already a valuable partnership between the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society and Santa Barbara County Animal Services; the society regularly takes animals from the county to its “no kill” shelter. However, the new facility will put the society in a position to relieve even more overcrowding at the county level.

Jan Glick, director of Santa Barbara County Animal Services, said that in addition to relieving overcrowding, the society will be able to take more surrenders from the county. Glick also said Animal Services is excited about the expanded spay/neuter services.

“All of this will lead to increased good outcomes for animals in our community,” Glick said. “SMVHS is a great partner for County Animal Services.”

Expanded spay/neuter services will go a long way in helping animals in the community, and for Dr. Corbo, it all comes down to responsible pet ownership.

“There are so many unwanted, unloved animals,” she said. “Lives are being created that need care for 12 to 15 years.”


Help our furry friends
To make a contribution to the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, please send donations to 751 Black Road.

She said overpopulation is an ongoing problem that’s like swimming upstream—plus sterilization offers other benefits.

“Spaying/neutering reduces your pets’ chances of getting cancers,” Corbo said. “They can live longer, healthier lives.”

Tucker echoed her colleague’s opinions on spaying/neutering pets, emphasizing that down the line it will save animals.

“Spaying/neutering reduces instincts to roam and breed,” she said. “It calms animals down and helps the owners.”

With six million dogs and cats living in shelters across the country and three to four million of those animals being put down every year, Tucker and Corbo said there’s really no reason not to sterilize your pet.

The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society has even made these services more accessible to the public with its low-cost clinic—the only such clinic available from Buellton to Monterey. Tucker said that a spay/neuter surgery performed at a vet’s office can cost anywhere from $400 to $500.

“A lot of people in the community are struggling financially to meet the needs of their animal,” Tucker said. “We need affordable services for animals.”

That’s why the society charges fees that are a fraction of the normal cost; while the surgeries provided are expensive, Tucker said fees are subsidized by donations.

In the future, Tucker said the society would like to offer free pit bull or Chihuahua spay/neuter surgeries to the public, adding that the most effective means of making a difference will be to obtain funding for these operations.

The Santa Maria Valley Humane Society is excited for what this year will bring, considering the completion of the new facility expected soon. As they move forward, Tucker said they’d like to expand community outreach and continue educating the public on what the society does, and what it means to be responsible for your pet—which goes beyond food, water, and shelter. In addition, the society wants to become the No. 1 choice for adoption services.

“The new facility will make adoption more comfortable and friendly, and we’ll have more animals to choose from,” Tucker said.

All animals brought to the shelter undergo immunizations and health checks to ensure they’re in adoptable condition. They’re vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and come with a microchip. Tucker added that adoption is more economical than buying from a breeder; it costs $90 for a dog and $65 to adopt a cat from the society, though younger animals cost more.

In the end, Tucker said the facility was ultimately funded by people who all have the same goals: to help the community’s animals, to educate, and most importantly—to reduce the killing.

“We have made significant strides for the animals in our community,” she said. “When the entire project is finished, the Santa Maria area will have the infrastructure it needs to save more lives.”

Contact Staff Writer Kristina Sewell at ksewell@santamariasun.com.