The Working Stiffs of the Animal World

Meet the Horses, Hawks, and Cats Who Put In 9-to-5 Days

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Not all animals live lives of leisure. Some, like these 9-5ers, have real jobs. But they don’t complain. It’s always fortunate when one can turn their passion into their profession.

Sheriff’s Mounted Unit

The Mounted Unit of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office regularly deploys on any number of important assignments — the 10-member team offers search and rescue support; provides crowd control during large regional events, such as the massive Trump rally in Anaheim in 2016; and conducts regular rural patrols, including of Lake Cachuma on holiday weekends and county beaches during COVID.

But perhaps the unit’s most critical role, explained its leader Lt. Erik Raney, is public relations. “Everybody loves horses,” he said. “People come up to us all the time and ask about them. That gives us a chance to have casual conversations with folks without the law enforcement vibe.”

Quarter horses, an all-around solid American breed, are the mainstay of the program, Raney said. They look for candidates that are youthful but not too young, don’t bite or kick, and possess the right disposition to handle loud sounds and fast action. Finding the right fit can be difficult. The unit trains monthly and will sometimes drive a patrol car into the arena with lights and sirens blaring.

The team rides “Western” style, as opposed to an “English” style, and uses Western saddles, boots, and tack. Each member is a sworn deputy and participates in the unit on top of their regular assignments. So it’s a commitment, Raney said. “We look for team members willing to dedicate themselves above and beyond normal shift work.”

Some of the deputies own their own horses that live with them; others ride mounts lent by others. The unit, which isn’t immune to budget cuts, occupies a seven-stall barn located at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center and is heavily supported by donations. For ways to contribute, visit

Miramar Raptors

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Though they’re brothers, the two Harris’s hawks that patrol the Rosewood Miramar Beach resort are easy to tell apart. “They’re named Jekyll and Hyde, and their personalities match their namesakes,” explained handler James Yu. “Hyde is a beastly hunter, and his tail is quite ragged from crashing into brush in pursuit of jackrabbits. Jekyll is feather-perfect, and very gentlemanly.”

Since the hotel opened, the birds of prey employed by Adam’s Falconry Service have helped deter gulls and crows from roosting and nesting at the property. Gulls especially. “Gulls can become quite territorial and brazen in their attempts to get food,” he said. “If they nest, they’ll defend the nest by dive bombing anything that comes near and pooping on them.” Yu, who left a career in real estate to become a master falconer, has also worked cherry orchards, landfills, and anywhere else that needs a full-time abatement specialist.

The brothers, who are each on the clock for four-hour shifts, like to perch high, usually in a tree or atop a pole or roof, to make themselves visible, Yu said. They use updrafts from the ocean to soar over the beachfront villas and bungalows, and their training tells them to follow Yu as he patrols the perimeter. 

As an added benefit to the Miramar and its guests, Yu often acts as a stand-in naturalist and explains what he does to those who ask. “Guests of the resort are always curious about the hawks,” he said. “They often get to see how the process works firsthand — they’ll watch a flock of gulls flying overhead, and when the flock sees the hawk they immediately veer away. If they’re lucky, the hawks may even pay a visit to their balcony while they’re sunbathing.”

ASAP’s Working Cats

It used to be that feral cats didn’t stand much of a chance if they found themselves caught. Adverse to human attention and contact, they’d often be placed on the dreaded “unadoptable” list and face either the needle or a lifetime of shelter confinement.

But thanks to a long-running and much-beloved initiative launched by ASAP (Animal Shelter Assistance Program), these wild cats now have the opportunity to embark on a new career path. “This is the best option for them,” explained lead volunteer Mary Scott. “They get a second shot at living a healthy, productive life.”

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ASAP’s Working Cats program places feral felines with homes and businesses that could use a good mouse and rat killer, including farms, ranches, greenhouses, warehouses, and the large lots of Montecito and Hope Ranch. All that’s needed is a safe, out-of-the-way place for the cats to bed down at night and a two-week period for them to acclimate to their new surroundings. Scott and others perform rigorous due diligence to make sure matches are made right, briefing property owners with all the necessary information and providing regular follow-ups. 

Dark, short-haired cats do best, Scott explained. They’re better camouflaged from predators and don’t need grooming. They can coexist with owl boxes and chickens, as well as indoor cats and kids, who are warned to keep their distance. Scott said she consciously places the less-wild hires with families with children. 

ASAP deployed 90 working cats in 2019, and 108 in 2020. “I’m really glad COVID didn’t hamper things,” Scott said, noting the waiting list can get long. In December, they placed eight cats at Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institution. “They requested a cat colony, and we were happy to oblige,” Scott laughed.

COVID did, however, move Basil’s Big Bash Fundraiser, a major annual moneymaker for ASAP, to online. It’s scheduled for June 5. To participate, and to make a donation, visit And to apply for Working Cats, call (805) 699-5739 or email


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