Public Defender Jess McHarrie and her new puppy, Rio
Erika Carlos

When over 100 homeless residents were evicted from the Santa Ynez riverbed in Lompoc in September, so were their pets. In the effort to help displaced people access critical resources, Santa Barbara County Public Defender Tracy Macuga and her team also found themselves placing the evictees’ most loyal friends into shelters and foster homes. One of those pets was Rio, a three-month-old puppy who got his new name after Macuga placed him in a new forever home with Public Defender Jess McHarrie.

At three months old, Rio is “simply a lover,” as his new owner described him, and has happily settled into his new digs at the Public Defender’s Office in the Santa Barbara Courthouse, where he will be spending most of his time. For the homeless community in Santa Barbara County, it is often a challenge to access and qualify for shelter placements, treatments, and recovery programs. It is even more so when pets are involved, since most programs don’t accommodate or allow them. The homeless owners must either give away their pets or refuse the aid altogether. Luckily for Rio, the Santa Barbara public defenders were there to help.


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