Q&A with Local Nonprofit President Isabelle Gullö

C.A.R.E.4Paws—short for Community Awareness, Responsibility and Education—was created with the mission to help put an end to pet overpopulation in Santa Barbara County, and to inspire a greater sense of accountability, compassion, and respect for animals in the process. I sat down with C.A.R.E.4Paws’ president Isabelle Gullö, who co-founded C.A.R.E.4Paws alongside husband Carlos Abitia, to find out more about their programs in the community.

When was C.A.R.E.4Paws founded? What prompted you to start it?

We officially got started in August 2009, although we began developing the idea of CA.R.E.4Paws more than a year earlier. Both Carlos and I, and all of CA.R.E.4Paws’ core volunteers, are also longtime shelter volunteers. What we experienced at the shelter was that as soon as one cat, dog or bunny got adopted, another—or several—would immediately come in to take its place. The same was true for all the rescue groups. We realized that to end the vicious cycle, we have to get to the root of the pet overpopulation problem and change what isn’t working in the community.

How were you able to do that?

We identified several corner stones, if you will, that we believe will help reduce pet overpopulation and keep animals out of our shelters. This includes education for kids and adults about loving, responsible pet care; a spay and neuter program that is affordable for, and accessible to, all low-income pet owners; and retention programs that help owners keep their pets—people give up their animals for a number of reasons, from behavioral issues to financial problems.

How does C.A.R.E.4Paws collaborate with area shelters and rescue groups to help increase pet retention?

We offer free dog training classes that help owners work and bond with their dogs. As part of this program, Project ResponsiBull is created specifically for owners of pit bulls and pit mixes, and includes breed education, free training and a free spay/neuter. As part of Companion Pet Assistance, C.A.R.E.4Paws also assists senior, disabled and low-income pet owners in need with the feeding and basic care of their dogs and cats to keep these animals from ending up in a shelter. Program volunteers deliver pet food and supplies and offer assistance things like grooming, cleaning of cat litter boxes and dog walking. We also recently got a generous grant to help us launch a Veterinary Intervention Program for pet owners who cannot afford vet care, so that they don’t give up their dogs and cats for this reason.

What kind of adoption events is C.A.R.E.4Paws involved in?

We organize regular adoption events that join local shelters and rescues in featuring dogs and cats outside the shelter environment. Our annual Wags n’ Whiskers Festival at Girsh Park is now the biggest adoption event in Santa Barbara County, including nearly all of the county’s rescues and shelters along with dozens of pet service providers and animal welfare groups. In 2011, the festival led to more than 30 dog, cat and bunny adoptions and provided great exposure for the animal organizations—and the important work they do in our community.

How does C.A.R.E.4Paws help with spaying and neutering pets?

In partnership with the Santa Barbara Humane Society and the local veterinarian community, we offer Spay Days as well as weekly spay/neuter appointments at clinics county-wide to low-income pet owners and rescue groups. The program includes free spays and neuters for pit bulls in a new weekly project called Fix-a-Pit, which is hosted by Santa Barbara’s DAWG. As many as 16 vet clinics from Carpinteria to Santa Maria now participate in the program, along with a great team of 25 veterinarians and twice as many vet techs who come to our Spay Days. We also collaborate closely with Santa Barbara County Animal Services to promote spaying and neutering. In 2011 alone, we helped more than 700 low-income pet owners fix their dogs and cats. That feels great!

Tell me a little bit about your Pawsitive Thinking Outreach Program.

Education is the key to long-term change for animals, and we need to teach today’s children how to grow up to be great pet caretakers. We take our Pawsitive Thinking workshops to elementary schools county-wide and talk to kids about animals and how to best care for them. We discuss pet behavior, how to choose the right pet for your family, and we also cover topics like pet overpopulation, spaying and neutering and adoption. Additionally, to complement our school program, we’ve released a children’s book called Pawsitive Thinking: How to be Your Pet’s Best Pal.

C.A.R.E.4Paws recently received grant funding for 2011. What types of work are you able to do with this funding?

Grants from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the A.S.P.C.A. will fund Carlos’s work as C.A.R.E.4Paws’ part-time Critical Communities Outreach Coordinator. Carlos is bilingual and bicultural and trained as a veterinarian, and he’s doing an amazing job reaching out to Santa Barbara County’s Hispanic community to spread the message of responsible pet ownership (including the importance of spaying/neutering, vaccination and licensing) and instilling a message of respect and compassion for all animals.

These two grants will also fund our pilot Critical Communities Targeted Neighborhood Spay-Neuter Program, which will focus on a specific, “critical community” in the City of Santa Barbara, where you find a high volume of intact dogs and cats that disproportionately end up in Santa Barbara shelters. The program is designed to saturate households with information and services, including onsite, low-cost vaccination and spaying and neutering using our newly acquired spay-neuter clinic on wheels—I’m proud to say it’s the county’s first such mobile unit! Our goal is to permanently change the culture in the targeted neighborhood by educating residents about the importance of responsible pet ownership, and by providing them with affordable and accessible services on location.

The grant received from the Hildegard H. Balin Charitable Foundation will cover roughly 10 percent of the costs of C.A.R.E.4Paws’ Fix-a-Pit/Train-a-Pit spay-neuter and education program, which is part of Project ResponsiBull. Fix-a-Pit addresses the specific challenges of pit bull overpopulation in the county’s shelters—40 percent of our shelter dogs are made up of pit bulls and pit bull mixes—and aims to reduce the number of unwanted animals by preventing unwanted births. Train-a-Pit, offered by C.A.R.E.4Paws since 2009, aims to give pit bull owners the tools to properly manage their dogs and establish stronger dog-owner relationships. We’re excited to share that long-time trainer John Sorosky from Camp Canine has partnered up with C.A.R.E.4Paws in 2012 to head our monthly Train-a-Pit classes.

The program alters (“fixes”) 8-10 pit bulls a week at no charge, and enrolls their owners in training seminars with support services. The goal is to create better-behaved dogs and more educated owners, resulting in fewer dogs breeding irresponsibly or being relinquished to area shelters. We’ve already had 250-plus dogs participate in the program since the fall of 2009, and we hope that as we reach more owners, we can keep more pit bulls with their families, and reduce the number of dogs sitting in kennels at our shelters, waiting for their forever homes.

The Santa Barbara Independent named you and Carlos Local Heroes. How did it feel to be called a hero?

Santa Barbara is home to an extraordinary number of people doing extraordinary things, so for us to be recognized by the Independent in such a way is very humbling and, of course, a huge honor. But the award is not just for Carlos and I. It’s for everyone who has helped create and grow C.A.R.E.4Paws—our dedicated volunteers, donors, vet clinics, animal trainers, pet stores, and so on—believing that if we work together, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s the way in which our county’s animal welfare community is joining forces to combat pet overpopulation and making the future brighter for our animal friends. Like I always say, “It takes a village….”

For more information about C.A.R.E.4Paws, visit C.A.R.E.4Paws.org.


2012 SBIFF Celebrating Santa Barbara Families and Adoptable Dogs. Saturday, January 28, 9:30 a.m.-noon, Arlington Theatre

K-9 PALS volunteers will be participating in and bringing out adoptable pups to the 2012 edition of Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) children-centric screening program called AppleBox. AppleBox celebrates the families of the Santa Barbara community by allowing children the opportunity to be exposed to and intrigued by film.

This rare opportunity includes free admission, pre-movie entertainment, and popcorn for attendees.

The first installment of AppleBox features a 9:30 a.m. Red Carpet walk, followed by fun, interactive events, including face painters, arts and crafts, photo opportunities, live music, and stage performances by–of course–dogs.

The event concludes with a screening of the independent Australian film, Red Dog. Based on a true story, this family film features an irresistibly lovable wandering dog that jumps in the front seat of a young couple’s day as they are on their way to work will capture the hearts of kids and parents alike.

C.A.R.E.4Paws’ FurEver Valentine’s Friendraiser, Saturday, February 11, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Oreana Winery

Join C.A.R.E.4Paws’ for a fun-filled event to raise funds and awareness for Santa Barbara County animals in need. Enjoy wonderful wine, a chocolate tasting, great food, and music by Jesse Rhodes. Plus, bid on amazing silent auction items (all proceeds go to support C.A.R.E.4Paws’ spay and neuter programs). If you’d like to contribute to the silent auction or help sponsor the event, contact C.A.R.E.4Paws: http://www.care4paws.org/contact.html

Tickets are $35 (includes food, a glass of wine and gourmet chocolate). To buy your tickets, visit www.care4paws.org/valentines.html.

You can also mail your payment, with checks payable to C.A.R.E.4Paws:


P.O. Box 60524

Santa Barbara

CA 93160-0524

Adoptable Pet of the Week


Kaley is an adorable six-year-old little kitty with a sweet meow. She can be a little shy when she first meets you but once you become friends she is affectionate and loving. She can also be very playful and would have a great time running around the house. Kaley would make a great companion, so come in and meet her today!

For more information, visit the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Road, call (805) 964-4777, or check out www.sbhumanesociety.org. Shelter hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.


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