Chickens living at Sandy Coupal's property before the raid.


Chickens living at Sandy Coupal's property before the raid.

Helping or Hoarding?

County Seizes Hundreds of Birds from Mountain Property

Santa Barbara authorities seized more than 400 birds from a West Camino Cielo ranch this Saturday, accusing the owner of hoarding and neglecting the animals kept on her secluded property. In addition to the birds — hens, roosters, turkeys, guinea hens, quail, doves, and pigeons — a cat, two dogs, and an alpaca were also taken.

The property owner, Sandy Coupal, contends the birds were well cared for, always provided clean water and high-protein food, and housed in spacious aviaries. She said she’s helped by a few volunteers and takes in aging birds that wouldn’t be adopted at a shelter and would instead be euthanized. Calling her property a sanctuary for unwanted or displaced animals, Coupal — who is a retiree from UCSB’s study abroad program — sees the crackdown as retaliation after she, with the help of an attorney, successfully thwarted the county’s attempt three years ago to confiscate her animals.

Jan Glick, director of County Animal Services, which led Saturday’s raid, said her department recently received a complaint from a concerned citizen. The person said they witnessed a large amount of animals on the property and was worried about the care being provided to them. After an Animal Services representative and a sheriff’s deputy inspected the ranch on December 2, the county obtained a signed search warrant and returned on December 10, armed with nets, cages, and a line of trucks. Personnel rounded up the birds and transported them to the Humane Society in Goleta, where they are being held.

Glick, citing the ongoing investigation, wouldn’t go into the alleged problems with Coupal’s property or the health of the 445 total animals taken. “If we thought the conditions were satisfactory, we wouldn’t have served the search warrant,” she said, invoking the 600 starving mustangs that were rescued from a Buellton ranch in 2003. Glick admitted it’s been difficult to house the hundreds of birds but said many area residents donated food and supplies when they heard about the incident. And animal care facilities, because of the rash of fires in recent years that left many cats and dogs temporarily homeless, now have the means to “get creative” when it comes to caring for a sudden influx of animals, Glick said. Animal Services will forward a report sometime this week to the District Attorney’s Office, which could potentially file animal cruelty-related charges against Coupal.

Coupal, who is currently trying to secure an attorney to fight the seizure, said she hasn’t taken in any rescues for some time, recognizing she’d reached her care limit. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “My worry now is that [the birds] will die in the shelters while I’m trying to get them back.” Confident she eventually will, Coupal explained one of the things that attracted her to the ranch six years ago is its agricultural zoning, which lets a person keep as many animals as they want on a property, assuming they’re healthy and living in clean conditions.

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