Animal Services Sick as a Dog?

County Hears Grim Assessment of Troubled Department

ASAP executive director Angela Rockwell
Paul Wellman

An independent evaluation brought a grim report to the Board of Supervisors about the county department responsible for stray animals. Animal Services ​— ​which oversees three shelters and fieldwork ​— ​has long been supported by several rescue groups known best by their acronyms, including BUNS (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter), ASAP (Animal Shelter Assistance Program), and DAWG (Dog Adoption & Welfare Group). Animal Services has experienced significant dysfunction in recent years, and supervisors expressed openness to privatizing ​— ​or partially privatizing ​— ​the department.

Last summer, the department’s first external review started after volunteers brought a host of complaints to the board. Detailing the findings of that review, American Human Association (AHA) interim director Dr. Robin Brennen said on Tuesday that problems included undefined responsibilities of staff and volunteers, lack of fundraising, no performance metrics for employees, and a reactionary management style.

Thirteen public commenters ​— ​all volunteers from rescue groups ​— ​thanked Brennen for the report, but they also pointed out that it lacked a complete understanding of animal welfare in Santa Barbara, where volunteers are crucial. A few objected to the recommendation to centralize authority. “[That] works [only] if you are paying all of the bills,” said ASAP executive director Angela Rockwell. Rockwell expressed optimism about the idea of a contract model, which could be a stronger, more defined partnership between Animal Services and volunteer rescue groups.

According to longtime animal activist Lee Heller, Santa Barbara used to be held as an example of the no-kill shelter model. “That has shifted to be the opposite,” she said. The AHA report stated that the county department has an 89 percent live release rate; 90 percent is considered the benchmark. But that percentage, Heller said, is not consistent across the three shelters. An oversight committee is expected to draft its recommendations and return to the board later this summer.


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