C.A.R.E.4Paws Steps Up Pet Assistance in COVID Times

County Sees Huge Increase in Demand for Pet Food and Veterinary Care

Executive Director and Co-founder Isabelle Gullo. | Credit: Courtesy

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With the economic hardship brought on by COVID-19, many pet owners throughout our county would be struggling to meet the basic needs of their pets if it weren’t for the remarkable work of C.A.R.E.4Paws, which has stepped up its food assistance, veterinary care, and other programs. 

A novel program fosters pets of victims of domestic violence while another does outreach to ensure the pets of people who are homeless receive all they need. All assistance is geared to keeping pets healthy and with their owners.

During COVID, C.A.R.E.4Paws has been distributing an astonishing amount of pet food and cat litter — about four tons each week —through events hosted by Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and other organizations, through its mobile clinic, and directly to seniors and people with disabilities (including through a 2-1-1 emergency hotline). This level is unprecedented — in all of 2019, it distributed a total of two tons — and critical: According to Executive Director and Cofounder Isabelle Gullo, the provision of food can mean the difference between a pet staying with its family and ending up in a shelter. 


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There has also been a big spike in demand for veterinary care. While the hard economic times have led to an increased need for free and low-cost services, at the same time the clinics at the Santa Barbara Humane Society (which now includes the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society) have been closed, as has S.B. County Animal Services’ clinic. While these have shuttered, C.A.R.E.4Paws has heroically ramped up its services, adding clinic days and working longer hours to meet the increased demand. 

Through its mobile clinic, C.A.R.E.4Paws offers to low-income and homeless owners free spay/neuter services and low-cost or free veterinary care, including wellness exams, vaccines, and wound care. The clinic visits Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Lompoc on a weekly basis, and also goes to Goleta, New Cuyama, Guadalupe, and the Santa Ynez Valley. As of June 1, C.A.R.E.4Paws had performed 726 spay/neuter surgeries this year (up 22 percent from the same period last year). It anticipates providing other types of veterinary care services to 1,500 pets this year (compared to 1,070 in 2019).

Community Medicine & Spay/Neuter Outreach Manager and Co-founder Carlos Abitia and Vet Tech Cristy Culligan.

When veterinary services are beyond the scope of what C.A.R.E.4Paws’s clinic provides or when an urgent need cannot be timely met because of the clinic’s current location, C.A.R.E.4Paws refers owners to one of a dozen veterinary clinic partners, most of whom offer reduced rates, including Animal Medical Clinic in Carpinteria and Advanced Veterinary Specialists (AVS) in Santa Barbara. To the extent its budget allows, C.A.R.E.4Paws covers part or all of the costs.

Through COVID, C.A.R.E.4Paws continues its outreach and assistance program for homeless pet owners, which provides food, other supplies, and veterinary care. According to Gullo, “For so many community members, and especially homeless pet owners and seniors, pets are a lifeline that provide much-needed companionship and emotional support.” The key to reaching homeless pet owners is its Pet Resource Centers located throughout the county, where owners can pick up food and supplies and sign up for the mobile clinic. In South County, the centers are at the S.B. Rescue Mission, Unity Shoppe, Noah’s Anchorage, PATH Santa Barbara, the Salvation Army, and Isla Vista Community Service District. 

A new and very timely program is the Safe Haven Domestic Violence Assistance Program, launched in February with Domestic Violence Solutions (DVS). Pet owners exposed to domestic violence can seek emergency shelter for themselves at DVS, while C.A.R.E.4Paws arranges immediate, anonymous foster care for their pets. Victims also can come in directly, through law enforcement, and through the District Attorney’s Office Victim-Witness Assistance Program. Already, the program has taken in more than a dozen dogs and cats. Some pets have been reunited with their owners which, Gullo related, is “such a wonderful, heartwarming experience.”

Regarding all of C.A.R.E.4Paws programs, Gullo stresses that it’s only through the collaboration of staff, volunteers, individual donors, business donors, foundations, and community partners that C.A.R.E.4Paws has been able to rise to the incredible challenge that COVID times has presented. “Everyone wants to help make a difference, and so it’s truly community supporting community.” 

Lemos Feed and Pet Supply donated several tons of food and has given big discounts on food purchased. Montecito Pet Shop has also donated and offered discounts, and Healthy Pet has donated, as well. Dioji K-9 Resort & Athletic Club donates the use of its Santa Barbara facility to store and package food, and it, along with ResQcats and Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP), have raised significant funds. 

With the drastic increase in demand anticipated to continue, C.A.R.E.4Paws is in need of further contributions to sustain its programs. It also needs foster families and always welcomes volunteers. 

C.A.R.E.4Paws operates countywide, with about 30 percent of assistance in South County, 5 percent mid-county, and 65 percent North County. Its small staff is supplemented by about 60 volunteers. For more info or to donate, go to care4paws.org.


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