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Leadership change proposed for Santa Maria's animal shelter

Posted at 10:31 PM, Oct 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-21 16:11:44-04

A leadership change could be coming to Santa Maria’s animal shelter.

Santa Barbara County Animal Services currently runs the Santa Maria Animal Center, but the city is looking at other options as projected costs continue to rise.

Santa Barbara Humane is looking to take over operations at the Santa Maria Animal Center.

“We developed something that we think really outlines how animal care can be elevated and how customer service and the community’s care can be elevated,” said Dori Villalon, Chief Operating Officer at Santa Barbara Humane.

Santa Barbara County Animal Services hopes to continue running the shelter which serves the entire Santa Maria Valley.

The agency’s new director says they offer consistent county-wide service which benefits both people and pets.

“We feel that having a single service point is gonna be the most efficient and beneficial for pets and the families that may have lost their pets and are trying to find them,” said Sarah Aguilar, Director of Santa Barbara County Animal Services. “They don’t have to go to different locations or check with different entities. “

Aguilar says that the county board of supervisors recently voted to withdraw some of the shelter’s funding, which is prompting the price hike.

She adds that the county will still give the city nearly $145,000 in financial support each year.

“That’s the ultimate goal is to have dogs come here, feel like it’s camp--get some training, get some reassociation with some great behaviors--and then put those positive things back out in the community and involve the community in doing that,” said Joyce Melerski, a volunteer at the Santa Maria Animal Center.

Melerski is raising concerns that a leadership change could draw down resources for a shelter that serves a city of nearly 110,000 people.

“Switching it to the humane society-- they don’t have the staff; they don’t have the training or expertise. The current administration is not an administration at the humane society that is conducive to partnerships,” she said.

Santa Barbara Humane--on the other hand--insists that it can handle the facility.

“We have two veterinary clinics, we have four veterinarians on staff. Today—for instance—our staff in Santa Maria are doing 30 surgeries,” said Villalon.

The county’s new animal services director wants the city to continue with the recently signed five-year contract.

“One of the goals that I have is to take my experience at a variety of locations throughout the country—both rural and metro--- and to create services that really honor the human-animal bond and are animal-centric—like we’re focused on the animals,” said Aguilar.

Santa Barbara Humane-- on the other hand-- hopes that the city sides with them.

“If somebody comes to us and cannot afford care for their animal—we have the ability through donor funding to help them with either low-cost care or free care,” added Villalon.

The animal center also provides pet food pantries as well as vaccine and microchip clinics.

According to a cost analysis report presented to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in April, the costs to operate the shelter could increase by anywhere between 7 and 34 percent under the current trajectory.