A few weeks ago, I interviewed Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Wayne discussed the Pets For Life (PFL) program that his organization is spearheading. The HSUS saw that there were communities who were not getting access to much needed services for their pets. The PFL program helps reach the estimated 23 million pets living in poverty across the country and gives them access to those services that their pets desperately need. Little did I know that here in Santa Barbara, there is a wonderful organization that does exactly what the HSUS is trying to accomplish. That organization is called C.A.R.E.4Paws.

Lisa Acho Remorenko

Since 2009, C.A.R.E.4Paws—short for Community Awareness, Responsibility & Education—has worked to reduce pet overpopulation, prevent dogs and cats from ending up in shelters, and inspire a greater sense of compassion and accountability for animals in Santa Barbara County and beyond.

The nonprofit offers many different programs, most of them geared toward low-income pet owners: free spays/neuters, low-cost or free pet vaccines, animal behavior training, delivery of pet food and assistance with vet care. The group’s Pawsitive Thinking school program focuses on kids K-8 with the goal to inspire compassion for all living beings.

Each year, C.A.R.E.4Paws spays and neuters about 1,000 dogs and cats owned by low-income community member through its partner veterinary clinics and the “Spay Mobile,” the only mobile spay/neuter clinic on the Central Coast.

Isabelle Gullo-Abitia, Executive Director of C.A.R.E.4Paws, says that the organization’s goal is to intervene before an animal gets abandoned, and this is where its bilingual community outreach is key. “Our outreach team works directly in the community to promote responsible pet ownership, including the importance of spaying/neutering, and ensurespet owners have access to the services they need.”

C.A.R.E.4Paws’ outreach program mirrors the spay/neuter outreach program of HSUS’s Pets For Life program. Gullo-Abitia states: “We weren’t aware of Pets for Life when we first started our outreach, but local animal activist Lee Heller, who helped us get the program off the ground alongside Carlos Abitia, our bilingual outreach coordinator, learned about some of PFL’s effective techniques and encouraged us to incorporate them into our work.” Although C.A.R.E.4Paws’ outreach program is similar to the HSUSPets for Life program, C.A.R.E.4Paws doesn’t have the financial resources that the HSUS does. They’re trying to raise funds to hire a full-time bilingual outreach coordinator so that they can have a large presence countywide.

Part of the C.A.R.E.4Paws outreach program is the free vaccines clinics that they offer to attract low-income petowners. According to Gullo-Abitia: “At C.A.R.E.4Paws’ clinics in Lompoc, for example, we typically vaccinate 300 or more dogs and cats, and a third of those pets get signed up for a free spay/neuter. Equally as important, the clinics give us a chance to build relationships with local pet owners so that they know to come for us for help, whether it’s for questions about spaying/neutering, animal behavior problems they can’t solve, or financial issues that prevent them from providing even basic pet care. We want to intervene and offer support so that dogs and cats don’t have to suffer needlessly, reproduce or get abandoned.”

Gullo-Abitia believes that in addition to outreach events, the Spay Mobile is crucial when it comes to providing a bridge to reach that last segment of pet owners who have yet to alter their pets. “We know that many pet owners are reluctant—or unable—to travel to our partner veterinary clinics, even if the surgery is free. Thanks to the Spay Mobile, we can park directly in neighborhoods where we’re needed the most, eliminating any obstacles that may get in the way of pet owners altering their dogs and cats. Our services are free and accessible!”

The results speak for themselves: In 2013, C.A.R.E.4Paws spayed/neutered 297 dogs and cats in Lompoc alone and performed 700 surgeries countywide. In 2014, they spayed/neutered a total of 1,020 animals. So far this year, they have spayed/neutered a total of 800 animals countywide.

At the shelter level, Gullo-Abitia says that animal intake numbers in Santa Barbara and Lompoc are at an all-time low, which they take as a sign that their spay/neuter and outreach efforts—and the efforts of the animal groups they collaborate with—are paying off. Gullo-Abitia says: “We’re excited about the growth of our programs and the results we see in our target neighborhoods and beyond. We’re also grateful for our strong relationships with County Animal Services, Santa Barbara City Animal Control, the county’s three local humane societies and local rescue groups, as we have always believed that collaborations are the key to success. It’s only by working together that we can make a real difference for animals in our community.”

To learn more about C.A.R.E.4Paws, visit: CARE4PAWS or call 805-968-2273.

C.A.R.E.4Paws does its important work with help of community donations and grants. If you’d like to support their programs, simply click here DONATE to make a tax-deductible donation.


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