Former Santa Barbara Humane Society Employees Speak Out

Below the Surface of the Santa Barbara Humane Society

While we are grateful for the Independent’s recent coverage of concerns at the Santa Barbara Humane Society, we are concerned that the brief story could not capture the full scope of the problems there. Further, we are not disgruntled employees unhappy about our treatment. The truth is, we care about animals, which is why we worked there, and we feel that the community needs to understand that the animals, and those who donate for their well-being, are not being treated as they should.

Behind the scenes at S.B. Humane, the lack of hands on deck has let the messes pile up. | Credit: Courtesy

The story mentioned concerns about dog euthanasia and described the case of one 6-year-old pit bull mix who was euthanized for being fearful with no effort to rehabilitate her. A more disturbing case involved a 7- to 8-month-old Labrador puppy, Bolt, who was turned in because of his fear of strangers. There was no indication he had bitten anyone. The owners donated $1,000 toward his training and a subsidized adoption fee to make sure he got a good new home. Bolt never received any training while at the Santa Barbara Humane Society. He was placed quickly in spite of this (being a cute, desirable breed type), nipped someone while in his new home, was returned, and then euthanized, with no effort at training. The $1,000 was never put toward helping him to overcome his fear. There is no one at Santa Barbara Humane working with dogs on behavioral concerns, although the organization used to have a trainer onsite.

Santa Barbara Humane is severely understaffed, and as a result, shelter conditions are poor at a facility that is already decades out of date, with deteriorating kennels and runs. Laundry and dishes are unwashed with too few staff to do all that is needed. Water bowls are fouled. Poop sits in play yards and staging areas. With so few staff, the dogs are not getting the exercise and attention they need, and staff are not able to get to know them well enough to do a good job counseling the people who adopt them.

The Santa Barbara Humane Society is one of the wealthiest animal welfare organizations in the region, with nearly $50 million in assets. Yet the main facility, in Goleta, is dilapidated. The satellite shelter in Santa Maria recently renovated its management offices, although it was only built a decade ago. Executive Director Kerri Burns received a 30 percent pay raise in the early days of the pandemic, even as more than 20 ground staff were furloughed.

The Santa Barbara Humane Society has enormous resources but does little to help the larger community. When the pandemic hit, S.B. Humane shut its doors, instead of ramping up to help the many thousands of pet owners hurting economically. It was CARE4Paws, with a mere $1 million budget, that had to step in and find the means to distribute four tons of food per week to pet owners. CARE4Paws provides free spays and neuters and very low-cost vaccines and vet care, while S.B. Humane runs two vet clinics that charge $125-$250 for a dog spay or neuter. These prices are well beyond the reach of the low-income pet owners that Humane Society clinics are supposed to serve.

With so much money in its coffers, the Santa Barbara Humane Society could and should be doing much, much more to help animals, both in the shelters and in the community. Instead, they are understaffed, doing little to help the animals, and sitting on huge amounts of money. Many animals depend on the Santa Barbara Humane Society for the quality of their lives, and the very generous local donors who support it trust that their money is being well spent. It is up to the Board of Directors that provides the oversight to ensure that happens.


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