Santa Barbara County is exploring the option of consolidating the La PAWS animal shelter in Lompoc due to the declining numbers of animals in shelters throughout the county.

“We are in the beginning stages of this conversation,” said Esteban Rodriguez, the county’s operations manager of animal services. “This is just an exploration.”

The animal numbers had been falling steadily even before the eruption of COVID-19, according to Rodriguez, due to new strategies and promotions the county recently implemented for adopting and fostering animals.

He said the Lompoc shelter, at 1501 W. Central Ave., currently houses 15 animals, a stark contrast from when it was at capacity with about 80 or 90 animals last October. He noted that the decline at the La PAWS shelter is similar to that at the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria shelters.

If the Lompoc shelter were to be closed, the county would not reduce shelter staff but would just relocate them to the Santa Maria shelter.

“We don’t intend to stop services to the city of Lompoc,” Rodriguez told Noozhawk. “It would actually improve services to the city by consolidating the staff and animals.”

Within the consolidation plan, there would be efforts to keep field staff available to Lompoc residents. Those wanting to adopt, foster or find a lost pet, however, would have to go to either the Santa Maria or Santa Barbara shelters.

“I think people will still get the services that they need, and it will be quality service,” Rodriguez said.

Not every involved party shares the same sentiment about the potential closure of La PAWS.

“It would be very disappointing for the county to close the animal shelter,” Mayor Jenelle Osborne said.

“It is disheartening to see services cut from a community that holds so much of the population and has such a high population of low-income individuals,” she said, noting that Lompoc is the third largest city in the county and 30 percent of its population is low-income.

The City Council unanimously approved a contract in June that mandated that the city would pay Santa Barbara County nearly $335,000 to continue providing animal services through June 2021. This is a 2.5 percent increase proposed by the county due to rising costs in food, medical services and supplies for animal care.

It was surprising to Osborne to hear talk of consolidating the shelter so shortly after the city approved the additional funding to maintain animal services.

There has been no formal proposal to the City Council about the plan for consolidation, she said.

“I’m disappointed that there was no formal proposal brought to us first, but there’s this public discussion being used to gain traction,” Osborne said.

Rodriguez said that animal services reached out to City Manager Jim Throop to make the city aware of the exploratory process and that he was “conceptually agreeable” provided that animal services would continue.

Lompoc has a large number of commuters traveling south for work, according to Osborne, and consolidating the shelter in Santa Maria would make these services less accessible to them.

“Traveling an hour or more to retrieve or take care of your pet might be a detriment,” she said. “This is a complication and a burden I hope the county wouldn’t create.”

However, Rodriguez does not perceive this to be as big of an issue and said the county could facilitate “some kind of service” for those who couldn’t make the drive.

While there has yet to be any concrete action to move forward with a consolidation, Rodriguez believes it will come back for later discussion. Ultimately, the City Council will have the final say in the approval of the plan.

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.