Anything involving the confluence of elected officials and furry critters tends to engender an outsized political heat, and Santa Barbara County’s plan to recoup the cost of providing animal care services — from roadkill cleanup to shelter services — proved no exception.
Supporters of dogs, cats, and bunny rabbits showed up at the county Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday and lobbied for a much more gradual plan — to be phased in over five years — to charge the county’s unincorporated areas and eight cities with an annual $950,000 for their share of the care that the county’s Animal Services Department provides. Had the supervisors insisted on a more aggressive timeline for full cost recovery, the fear was that the City of Santa Barbara, in particular, might balk at the extra $200,000 and bolt from a countywide system of care that’s grown more frayed and fragile during the past two COVID-infused years.
In that time, pet ownership skyrocketed, as did many of the attendant problems that go with poor pets and poor people. One of the county’s three animal shelters was shut down; the other two now operate by appointment only, making the adoption of abandoned strays more problematic. More recently, the current director of animal care, Angela Walters Yates, just announced her resignation, and the Santa Barbara Humane Society, embroiled in its own controversy over leadership and service, has reportedly expressed interest in competing to provide some of the services the county now does.
County supervisors were persuaded that a sudden price increase might spook participating cities into thinking they could do better and cheaper on their own. If one of the big-ticket cities — like Santa Barbara or Santa Maria — were to go solo, the house of cards upon which the county’s whole system of animal care depends might collapse. Or, as supervisor Das Williams put it, “We want to provide services to people who are barely there.” If the county doesn’t, he predicted, “The animals will suffer.”
To that end, the supervisors voted to phase in the higher charges over five years.