The Lompoc City Council has been criticizing the animal services contract with Santa Barbara County for at least a decade. Each time another contract renewal comes up, the county raises the price and lowers the service.
The City Council seems frustrated. It is required by law to provide animal services, and the county has a monopoly on it.
In May of 2022, the council was advised by staff that “It is anticipated the City would then pay an estimated $410,000 for animal services ($1,123 a day) annually over a 5-year period. The Board of Supervisors also approved annual CPI increases estimated at 2.5% ($10,000) each year.” Back in 2013 they charged $300,000 per year.
In December 2020 the county abruptly shut down Lompoc Animal Shelter, without notice. Residents were simply told they would have to travel to Santa Maria to reclaim their pets, and would just have to wait for an animal control officer to arrive if they called about stray or injured animals roaming the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, residents were now finding out that if they call for service it could take hours for assistance to arrive, so they simply tried to handle matters themselves.
Last July one couple was preparing to take their dogs for a walk when they noticed someone reporting a lost dog on social media.
They spotted the runaway dog inside the bike skills course at Riverbend Park and, with the help of some passersby, were able to calm the dog down and put a leash on her.
Then they called the owners using information from the dog’s tags, and the dog was quickly reunited with its family.
Last month another family found a dog wandering around, apparently lost during the night on a weekend. The family stopped and made the dog feel comfortable. Within in minutes the animal began to trust them, so they packed it up and took it home for some food and rest.
The family started then started looking online for any posting for a lost dog. They shared their find with others who could post it on social media that they didn’t have access to.
The next day they checked online to find out how to turn in a found dog. They located a form that needed to be completed, but later learned the form applied only to lost dogs, not dogs that had been found.
When the family tried to contact county animal control in Lompoc to discover how to turn the dog in to the shelter, their call was answered by the mental health hot line.
Bewildered, they asked the person who answered the phone if they had called the right place to report a found dog. When the reply was “no,” the couple confirmed that they had called the phone number listed on the website.
The person who answered the phone acknowledged that somehow calls to animal control in Lompoc had been automatically forwarded to the the mental health hot line several days before.
Next at their own expense, the couple took the dog to their veterinarian, and had it checked for a chip that would identify the owner. There was none, so after the vet gave the dog a quick health check, they took it back home with them.
The family already had a male puppy (due to be neutered in April) and since the found dog was a female, they didn’t want any unwanted pregnancy, so they investigated the spaying process. The cost with the vet was $700, but there was no appointment available until April.
The county website offered spaying services for around $250, and the dog could get in sooner. The family scheduled the appointment online, then received a phone call regarding the details of the “lost dog” only to be informed they should have turned the dog in to the animal shelter within 24 hours of finding it.
But … the shelter wouldn’t be open until a week later at 10 a.m. on Fridays, due to staffing shortages. And, since the dog wasn’t theirs, they couldn’t schedule the procedure.
So, back to the $1,123 a day, 365 days a year, the city of Lompoc pays for animal services. You must wonder how much “service” we are getting if residents must take care of matters themselves; and animal control won’t answer the phone and instead transfers your call to a mental health hot line.
Councilman Victor Vega seemed to sum up the frustration of the both the council and the citizens they serve when the council reluctantly approved a five-year contract.
“We’re going to continue with substandard services because we don’t have the facilities or the infrastructure, or even have any kind of agreements with other service providers,” Vega said.
Other councilmembers seemed to think this would give staff and the council five years to figure out a better way to provide services. But considering the same five councilmembers expressed the same concerns two years ago when the shelter was abruptly closed, and it’s been a matter of concern for at least 10 years, they’ll probably start thinking and complaining about it again just prior to the next renewal.