The gaps between the bars of Santa Barbara County Animal Services’ metaphorical cage have widened. With the addition of new, monthly data reports alongside summaries of major highlights from the Animal Services’ director, community stakeholders will have a better look at animal care and operations across the county’s multiple shelters.
“We’re in a community that cares very much about pets and the families that are composed of pets,” said Sarah Aguilar, the new county Animal Services director. As Aguilar completes her first full month in the role, she has taken steps to increase the transparency of the Animal Services’ operations.
“We want to ensure that the community knows what we’re doing with those pets that are entrusted to us, that they understand how their taxpayer dollars are spent, that they have an opportunity to provide feedback to us about what they would like to see, and that they have all of the accurate data to make those decisions and form those opinions,” she continued.
Data from October makes up the first in-depth report released by Animal Services, which compares shelter operations between 2021 and 2022, including changes in animal intakes, adoptions, foster care, transfers to partnering agencies, and animal control officer calls — all laid out within an 11-page document. This is a big change, as Animal Services’ monthly reports have historically been just single-page “snapshots” of the animals coming in and out of county shelters.
According to Aguilar, some of the most impressive changes between October of this year versus last year include an increase of more than 1,000 volunteer hours given to shelters, with 1,766 hours contributed by 131 volunteers this year, as well as a 259 percent increase in foster placements from last year.
“For those pets, that means that they’re spending the night in a home; they’re not listening to 30 other dogs barking,” said Aguilar, who previously worked as the foster care coordinator for Ventura County Animal Services. “They’re not living most of their day in a five-foot-by-10-foot kennel space, but they have a couch to lay on or a yard to go in, and they’re getting more interaction in a calmer environment.”
The October report will serve as a kind of prototype, as Aguilar explained that they are open to feedback to continuously make adjustments and improvements to the information included in future reports. She shared that Animal Services is also looking at ways to put more “live data” from the shelters online, such as animals in their care and animals that have been adopted, to supplement the currently available lists of adoptable animals on their website.
But not everything our county shelters do can be boiled down to numbers and trends. To accompany the monthly reports, the new Director’s Summary contributes narrative updates about the paws and people behind shelter walls.
Last month’s summary includes the story of Officer C. Hart helping a lost, elderly dog named Bruno find his way back home, and descriptions of community engagement activities, such as a costume contest held between shelter dogs.
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“Every animal and person we come in contact with has some kind of story,” Aguilar said. “It’s important that people understand that Animal Services isn’t just rounding up stray dogs and keeping animals in kennels. There’s these living, feeling beings, both four-legged and two-legged, that we’re encountering and helping every single day.”
October’s summary also details recent changes made to provide shelter pets with “more equal opportunity for placement.” These include a newly adopted standard for live release rates, which counts every pet that comes in and every pet that goes out of the shelters, replacing the Animal Services’ use of Asilomar standards that did not count pets that came into their care as owner-requested euthanasias. Last month ended with a 90.6 percent live release rate, which is relatively low compared to past reports that used the old standard but better reflects the true live release rate, according to the summary.
In addition, Animal Services implemented a new “Live Release Checklist,” a form that “ensures that all outcome opportunities are considered before making behavioral euthanasia decisions.”
“You know, just like people, we get a little cranky when we’re hurting. So we want to make sure that’s not a contributor,” Aguilar said. “One of the things that we found is not just in the county, but nationally, is a lot of behavioral concerns with animals in the shelter are created by being in a shelter. No matter how nice a shelter is, it’s still a shelter. The checklist makes sure that we don’t miss any steps; it ensures that we’ve ruled out every possible option for a placement prior to an animal losing their life.”
Aguilar explained that the reports are not just to highlight what the shelters are doing right, but to also find ways they can improve and expand their services, such as potentially increasing shelters’ hours of operation to include Sundays.
“It’s not just a, ‘Hey, here’s all the things we did that are amazing,’ but it’s also, ‘Here’s the opportunities that exist, in terms of the things that we want to work on,’ and really laying out an honest explanation of what’s happening,” Aguilar said.
As her first month as the County Animal Services director comes to an end, Aguilar acknowledged that a lot is changing within Animal Services and that she is “still learning.” Nevertheless, after taking on other animal service roles in Washington, Texas, and Arizona, she said it is “wonderful to be back on the Central Coast,” and she is “glad to get the opportunity to start connecting with folks.”
To sign up for the monthly Animal Services Director’s Summary, data reports, and other SBCAS-related news, click here. For volunteer opportunities and information about fostering or adopting, visit linktr.ee/sbcanimalservices.