Pamela Christian, a veteran of the City of Santa Barbara’s Animal Control department, walked slowly into the forest clearing near Lake Cachuma and called out as loudly as she could, “Spindle!” She waited a beat and went deeper into the woods. She was looking for her fawn. Not just any fawn, but Spindle, a deer that had been turned over to her years before. As with so many other lost and wounded creatures in our city, it had been Christian’s job as animal control supervisor to decide what to do with the poor beast. What she had chosen to do didn’t surprise her coworkers-they’d seen it before. Christian opted to take the baby deer home with her and care for it. After raising it in her backyard, she took it back to the wild and let it go. After that, each year she’d drive up to Lake Cachuma to see how Spindle was doing. Amazingly, the adult deer would respond to her name and come out of the wild to nuzzle her benefactor. But this last year, Spindle hadn’t come. Christian decided to give it one more try.
Christian and her fellow officers Marko Mendoza, Jeff Deming, and newcomer Anthon Nu±ez have the thankless job of trying to take care of the tens of thousands of animals that inhabit our fine city. Their duties range from rescuing horses from ravines to capturing albino raccoons from our parks, from stopping animal abuse to acting as arbiters in neighbors’ dog barking arguments. Anything that is alive and not a human being in Santa Barbara is under their jurisdiction. They are very busy folks.
Headquartered in a small, nondescript office behind the fire station, Christian and her crew have the herculean responsibility of trying to control and protect the pets and wild animals of Santa Barbara from the many dangers they face in the wild and on our city streets. They also are charged with protecting the people and property of our town from the dangers and nuisance of uncontrolled animals. They have long, full, frustrating, and often dangerous days. But they get it done.
In any urban situation, uncontrolled animals are a problem. They bite people, spread disease, destroy property, breed, cause traffic accidents, and die. Taking care of the nearly 40,000 animals in Santa Barbara is not cheap. In addition to the costs from injury and property damage, millions of our tax dollars have to be spent each year to shelter and euthanize homeless, unwanted, or injured animals. Christian and her merry band of control officers are the shock troops for our city.
Each day they travel throughout town trying to bring some order to the chaos that tens of thousands of urban animals bring to a community. (See accompanying articl about a county animal control officer.) Their duties include cruelty investigation and enforcement of laws governing humane treatment of animals; complaint investigations into noisy, destructive, or threatening animals; and animal rescue, ambulance, and quarantine.
In the silent movies, Christian and her cohorts were depicted as hapless dogcatchers, waving large nets and chasing clever beasts through city streets. Nothing could be further from the truth. What they do is save taxpayers buckets of dollars by trying to control the massive spread of animal populations in our city. They sponsor low-cost and free spaying and neutering programs. They work with veterinarians and animal welfare societies in trying to teach Santa Barbara citizens how to practice responsible pet ownership. They keep track of our animals’ health and make sure all house pets in the city are up to date on their shots. Most importantly, they bring order to a system that would otherwise overwhelm our Santa Barbara lifestyle.
Marko Mendoza has spent a quarter-century taking care of the animals of Santa Barbara. He’s rescued foxes, bobcats, dogs on the freeway, and cats from places you can’t imagine. He’s a man who has given his adult life to taking care of animals. His best day on the job was when he busted a gang that had been stealing puppies; his worst was when he had to put down a cute little kitty he’d been playing with every day at the animal shelter. Nobody had claimed the kitten, and all the shelters in our city face vast shortages of space and resources. So, after playing one final time with the cat, Mendoza had to do his job. As Mendoza put the little cat to sleep, he wished he could share this experience with pet owners throughout the city and make them realize how important it is to spay or neuter their pets.
Finally, back to Christian and her former pet deer. Moving deeper into the forest, she again cried out, “Spindle!” Suddenly the 22 years of service that Christian had given to animal control seemed worth it. There was Spindle, and walking timidly behind her was a new fawn.