A Santa Barbara Humane Society staff member, holding two little puppies in her arms, takes the animals out of a van after they were transported from Maricopa County. A different staff member, a Humane Society volunteer and the pilot unload three dogs —Duncan, Kiko and Petunia — flown from Parlier. The canines are headed to the Santa Barbara High School campus for adoption.
Some privately supported nonprofit agencies operating as rescue groups in Santa Barbara participate in a trend of receiving animals transported from partnering shelters that are overcrowded.
Animals are moved to shelters with demand for adoption, including those in the Santa Barbara area. Cats and dogs from other areas are often transported to Santa Barbara, where they are more likely to be adopted.
“The reason that we are able to transfer in many animals is because this community is stepping up to do adoptions,” said Kerri Burns, executive director of the Santa Barbara Humane Society. “Any time we can help out our partners and help out the animals, its a win-win for everybody.”
In 2018, the Santa Barbara Humane Society transferred more than 260 cats and dogs, Burns said. The organization transferred 858 animals in 2019. Of that number, 241 animals were from Santa Barbara County Animal Services, Burns said.
Last year, the Santa Barbara Humane Society had more than 1,000 adoptions for cats and dogs, “which is just unreal,” Burns said.
The Santa Barbara Humane Society works with places such as Los Angeles, Fresno and shelters outside Santa Barbara County “that are overcrowded, and we want to help alleviate the stress of the animals and staff,” she said.
The Santa Barbara Humane Society receives animals from the county partner first before asking other shelters, she said.
“We want to help all of our groups here in our county,” Burns said.
The main reasons that pets are given up to animal shelters in the county is because of landlord requirements. The second reason is because people are moving and unable to take their pets, Burns said. The third top reason is health or death of an owner.
Since 1887, the Humane Society has offered service to people and animal populations of Santa Barbara County.
Santa Barbara County Animal Services operates three “open admission” animal shelters, serving all of the county with the exception of Carpinteria. All of the animals come from places in the county, operations manager Esteban Rodriguez said.
The county-run shelters accept animals in need, regardless of its age, behavior or health. Many private organizations also choose not to turn away animals in need.
In addition to the Santa Barbara Humane Society, the shelter works with locally operated Animal Shelter Assistance Program and Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter.
There have been occasions when residents surrendering a dog without identification have said that they brought it from somewhere else.
“Circumstances like that, we will ask to see if they are a county resident,” Rodriguez said. “Depending on the health and well-being of the pet, sometimes we will take that pet in to make sure we give it a safe place to live.”
Santa Barbara-based ResQCats is a nonprofit sanctuary dedicated to the rescue, care and adoption of abandoned cats and kittens. Jeffyne Telson established ResQCats in 1997 and said she has always pulled cats from “high-kill” shelters in order to help.
“In the first few years that I did that, there was some criticism or raised eyebrows,” Telson said. “If I have empty enclosures, I can not, in my heart, sit there and think of something else dying in a high-kill shelter like San Bernardino, Downey and Devore.”
Each year, about 6.5 million “companion animals” enter shelters nationwide, and roughly 1.5 million are euthanized, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. More than 40,300 at-risk animals were relocated to U.S. areas where adoptable pets are in greater demand in 2018, according to the ASPCA.
Cat Therapy is a business in downtown Santa Barbra dedicated to assisting rescue organizations helping cats that could be euthanized because of a lack of space at shelters outside of Santa Barbara County. When it opened nearly three years ago, Cat Therapy initially received four-legged occupants from several local rescue organizations, according to owner Catalina Esteves.
At the time, Cat Therapy received 12 to 15 cats each month from local partnering rescue groups.
“We were running out of cats really quickly,” Esteves said. “Due to logistics, we decided we wanted to work with just one (group) at a time.”
Cat Therapy alone has fostered more than 400 cats since it opened in 2017, and it has increased the number of cats it takes in.
Cat Therapy works with the Stray Cat Alliance, a nonprofit group aiming to reduce the number of at-risk stray cats that could be put to death and cats facing euthanasia at overcrowded shelters. The Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization has partner shelters.
Cat Therapy fosters up to 30 cats in the café, Esteves said.
Relocation efforts make more room in other shelter facilities to use for cats that need immediate rescue, therefore saving more cats, Esteves said.
“Not only are they getting more cats out of shelters, but they are also getting a lot of exposure because people visit us a lot,” Esteves said. “We are getting a lot of them adopted. We, in no way, are competing with the local shelter or think that the local shelter isn’t providing a good service.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.