Animal services in northern Santa Barbara County continue to expand with the recent addition of Santa Maria Valley’s first 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic, a growing trail system that welcomes on-leash animal companions, evolving services for pets and owners at Santa Barbara County Animal Services and Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, and countless volunteer opportunities for animal lovers.

“In a dream world, our adoptable animals that are medically checked out by our veterinary staff and behaviorally assessed would be adopted from our shelters,” said Jan Glick, director of Santa Barbara County Animal Services.

Santa Maria Valley Humane Society has evolved from a simple rescue organization to a model training facility, shelter and clinic.

“In child welfare, we teach stranger danger. In animal welfare, we work at the front end of getting animals very desensitized to people. When you come to visit the shelter, everyone is given an assignment. No longer do you walk in the building and stare at animals in cages. We need you brushing puppies, feeding five dogs, feeding a handful of cats. It’s all geared to desensitization,” said Santa Maria Valley Humane Society Executive Director Sean Hawkins.

Families are welcome to sit in the cat roam room to do homework together while kitties get comfortable. Visitors can walk dogs, visit kennels, or play fetch in the play yard.

“The shelter is like socialization bootcamp, so there’s always something happening with the animals,” Hawkins said.

At Animal Services, a stable of volunteers helps feed, walk and socialize stranded animals. Volunteers are always needed for hands-on care for dogs, cats and rabbits, exercising animals, adoption counseling, fostering, greeting the public, helping at special events, administrative work, even database management and assistance in the medical clinic.

Volunteer efforts are paying off across the board.

In recent years, the adoption trend has been on the upswing while euthanization has decreased, and public education programs like The Big Fix — providing free and low-cost spay/neuter in Santa Maria Valley— continue to expand.

“What we look at in animal welfare are the number of animals in the community, and the number of animals euthanized in animal shelters because there are too many pets and not enough homes,” Hawkins said. “Because of the time and money invested on the Central Coast, because of the spay/neuter efforts here, because of the volunteer base, shelters aren’t jammed to the rafters year round, so we get to focus on other issues.”

From 2014 through 2017, the county’s Santa Maria Valley animal services facility handled an average of 3,340 wild and domestic animals per year. Adoptions rose from 896 in 2014-15 to 1,148 in 2016-17. Relocations through animal rescue organizations, shelter partners as well as wild animal relocations varied from 1,018 in 2014-15 to 942 in 2016-17.

“The total number of animals euthanized is going down because of stronger efforts to do the transfers, stronger efforts to reunite with owners, innovative adoption programs including free adoptions and incentives, and we also have a really nice expansion of medical care we provide largely because of the partners we work with. They support extraordinary medical care on a case-by-case basis we couldn’t do in the past,” Glick said.

County Animal Services continues to provide stray animal shelter services, stray and injured animal pickup, and 24-hour emergency response. The department assists police departments, investigates reports of dangerous animals, and a gamut of animal control responsibilities.

“We don’t euthanize for space. We euthanize animals that are suffering or are a public safety danger, and that’s really been an accomplishment in the last few years at our sites,” Glick said.

Working with partner organizations including Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter (BUNS), K-9 Pals, Animal Care Foundation, La PAWS Animal Shelter, Dog Adoption and Welfare Group (DAWG) and the support of volunteers, Animal Services also provides vaccine clinics, spay/neuter clinics, and Project PetSafe, a campaign dedicated to increasing owner responsibility.

“We have a very good working relationship with Santa Maria Valley Human Society, and we work with a number of veterinarians locally who are very supportive,” Glick said.

Both Animal Services and SMVHS offer reduced-cost clinics to help owners care for pets. They’re focusing on keeping loved pets in their homes, even when families can’t afford unexpected, emergency animal expenses.

“I believe the tide rises all ships. We don’t think just because animals are loved by poor families, that they should be denied animal care. When people can’t afford care, it denegrates the veterinary industry. If a hard-working, low-income family has a dearly loved dog that gets hit by a car and they can’t afford the emergency care, that’s a disconnect. We’re at a point where we, as the humane society, can start to focus on that,” Hawkins said.

It’s a move that comes with mixed reviews from local veterinarians.

“We need more subsidized pet care. We have mixed feelings as vets because those clinics take away from the standard of care. We provide thorough exams before vaccinations, but that comes with a cost. Not everyone can afford it, so it’s good to have the humane society doing that,” said Janice Seidenberg, practice manager at Animal Care Clinic of Santa Maria.

Veterinary care services throughout Santa Maria Valley also have expanded over the past decade. Practices vary in scope from Animal Clinic of Santa Maria’s traditional office setting to long-time local veterinarian Ruth Corbo’s Vet2Pet Mobile Holistic Veterinary service.

In 2016, PETS Hospital ER/Urgent Care, 4854 S. Bradley Road in Orcutt, became Santa Maria Valley’s first 24-hour emergency animal care provider.

“It’s very exciting for pet owners here. We’ve never had one before,” Seidenberg said.

The growing list of service providers has meant a growing need for veterinary technicians, the nurses of the animal care world. Hancock College has stepped up with its own vet tech program, led by Animal Clinic of Santa Maria’s own Richard Seidenberg and Helen Harris.

“There was a need. We were having a lot of trouble drawing registered techs to this area. Now we’re training our own,” Janice Seidenberg said.

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