Bites and Barks Over County Animal Services

Tensions Persist Between Department Staff and Community Volunteers

Last week, a pit bull bit a county employee in the neck at the Santa Barbara animal shelter. The employee recovered quickly; the dog, which had previously been deemed unadoptable, was euthanized. The employee has returned to work, but the matter briefly arose Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting, which included an update about the county’s Animal Services program, long fraught with contention.

The attack highlighted longtime tension between county staff and volunteers ​— some ​associated with BUNS (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter), ASAP (Animal Shelter Assistance Program), and DAWG (Dog Adoption & Welfare Group), among others ​— ​that long have supported the department.

In an effort to improve the department, the county supervisors last year hired an independent firm to audit Animal Services. In February, the study recommended, among many things, “The practice of the County Government allowing volunteers to exert undue influence over euthanasia decisions must stop.”

But passionate volunteers — some new, some not — continue to play a significant role in the discussions. On Tuesday, some critics contended the department wastes money and lacks efficiency, even though the supervisors funded four new positions in June. Specifically, they called for the immediate establishment of an independent commission and to set a time-certain date to finalize their contracts, now in draft form.

Supervisor Peter Adam ​— ​a conservative supervisor who owns Adam Brothers Family Farm with his two siblings ​— ​empathized with the nonprofit members, calling the county “just incredibly slow. But I think we have some good things going on; you have to wait for them to bear fruit.” One volunteer shot back: “The thing about animals is they don’t wait. As we are here, there are animals suffering in our shelter.”

Jan Glick, director of Animal Services, reported a 19 percent decrease in animals taken in to the three county shelters from 2013-2016; that included an increase in animals redeemed by owners and a decrease in euthanizations. Some of the contracts are scheduled to be completed in January. Next spring, the department will consider establishing a commission.

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