“Cranberry” enjoys Santa Barbara Humane’s indoor cat condo. Credit: Courtesy

This letter is specifically regarding last week’s Independent article on Santa Barbara Humane, where some former employees campaigned the newspaper regarding the leadership style of executive team members.

Following our surprise in learning this story was pending, we did our due diligence, meeting with our management team; auditing records, exit interviews, and personnel complaints; and meeting with our existing staff about the workforce environment, both in-person and via an anonymous, in-depth survey.

The perceptions of the group of former employees who were part of last week’s article do not accurately reflect what we have seen in our due-diligence process — between our two campuses and with our working staff. It’s unfortunate that these individuals chose to use the media to air their grievances instead of utilizing the human resources and supervisorial channels that were available to them while they were employed. These tactics pose a threat to the adoptability of our animals and support of our mission. More than the personal attacks, that’s what hurts us most.

We want to address the most egregious assertions:

First, as a community, we should celebrate that Santa Barbara Humane has one of the highest live release rates in the nation at 96 percent. The national average is far below this, at 89 percent. Our number is a testament to the deep level of scrutiny we apply to our compassionate care. If an animal is not thriving in the shelter environment, the Outcome Evaluation Team (OET) ensures that all viable options are exhausted for that animal before a euthanasia decision is made. The team is composed of 8-10 employees, including veterinarians, certified dog trainers, and experienced animal-care and medical staff who meet and discuss everything they know and have observed about the animal — and whether the team thinks that animal can be a safe member of our community. No one person ever makes these decisions alone.

The claims that the animals are not happy because these former employees were not happy are grossly misleading and insulting to the incredible efforts of our shelter teams and volunteers. We are currently at low capacity with our facilities. Our length-of-stay for animals at our facility is half of the national average, and we have a strong staff-to-animal ratio. Our dogs are walked two or three times every day and have physical and social enrichment in between, with large yards where they can run and play. Cats have large indoor areas and enclosed outdoor condos where they can roam. The quality and care of our animals is — and has always been — our utmost priority.

People are drawn to shelter positions from a deep place of passion for animals, as all of us here at Santa Barbara Humane can attest. However, shelter executives are often unfair targets of criticism because of the tough decisions they are forced to make — and the expectations and efficiencies they are required to impose on employees and volunteers. Like any other job, these positions still require accountability, adhering to set schedules and protocols, and working with different management styles. (Having a job at a shelter is much more than petting and playing with animals.)

As many of us know, the workforce is volatile in America across the board. Labor shortages are impacting most industries. According to research in the article “The Great Resignation,” published on Toolbox.com on January 10, 2022, and written by Sumeet Wadhwani, a survey by ResumeBuilder found that one in four U.S. workers is planning to quit their jobs in 2022, and half will leave in the first half of the year.

These are particularly tough times for nonprofit organizations and staff who must tap their own strained compassion bandwidths to care for those in need. At Santa Barbara Humane, we operate in an emotional environment, assisting animals during very disruptive and challenging circumstances. It’s work that is at the same time rewarding, noble, and hard.

Still, we acknowledge there is always work to do as an organization and areas where we can grow and improve. We are listening, we are open, and we are truly invested in making strides to support a happy and productive staff — while maintaining one of the highest live release rates in the nation for the sake of our beloved animals and our community.

As we were preparing to submit this rebuttal, we have learned that these former employees are being given even more space in the Independent. We are not privy to the claims of their letter, but we stand by our current team of staff and volunteers, we stand by our successes and data that affirm those successes, and we are very proud of the topmost level of care we provide our animals — which is considered a gold standard in the industry.

We will use this challenge as an opportunity to continue bettering our work and expectations around our service. We ask for your ongoing support as we continue our focus on this path. As always, my door is open.


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