The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] – Volume 23, Issue 34
Potential Santa Maria animal services contract sparks controversy
By Taylor O’Connor
Santa Maria residents called out Santa Barbara Humane’s leadership issues, euthanasia policies, and mismanagement during the Oct. 18 City Council meeting as reasons the city shouldn’t contract with the nonprofit for its animal services.
The comments came after the nonprofit responded to a city request for proposal (RFP) to provide future animal services to the city. Earlier this year, Santa Barbara County Animal Services told the city its costs would increase by about 30 percent (from $860,000 per year to a little more than $1 million) in the next five-year contract, so the city decided to look at other options, Public Information Officer Mark van de Kamp said. Applicants—including Santa Barbara Humane—had until Oct. 10 to apply, and the city will announce its choice on Oct. 24.
“We are reviewing the proposal that we received. I haven’t reviewed it, but I know we have a team that will be doing so,” van de Kamp said. “Also there has been publicity about the departure of staff from Santa Barbara Humane earlier this year. The [Santa Barbara] Independent released a letter where there were accusations made about the leadership. We are aware of that, and it will be taken into consideration when looking at the RFP.”
The contract with Animal Services runs through June 30, 2027, but there’s a termination clause that could allow either party to terminate it within 60 days, he added. Euthanasia, animal release, and staff turnover rates will also be considered when looking at the proposals—something Linda Greco said she hopes the city will take a close look at with Santa Barbara Humane’s RFP.
“I would really like to have the city slow down a bit with the contract and look between the lines to find what’s not written, but will be a reality,” Greco, the Santa Barbara County Animal Care Foundation president and co-founder, said.
Santa Barbara Humane is an organization that “uses euthanasia loosely,” Greco said, and she’s concerned with countywide euthanasia rates jumping up and its 92 percent adoption and release rate dropping.
“The other side of it is whether or not Santa Barbara Humane is equipped to handle that many animals and what their euthanasia policy is going to be with it. What is the live release of those animals going to look like?” she asked.
The county works with strays, rescues, and turn-ins, and organizations like the Animal Care Foundation help pay for medical and behavioral intervention in order to get animals ready for adoption, she said. If Santa Maria parts ways with county Animal Services, there’s the potential to lose surrounding supports and partnerships.
“How is Santa Barbara Humane going to do that? I don’t see them taking a lesser-priced contract and [raising] money to fill the voids that it’s taken other organizations years to put in place,” she said.
Santa Barbara Humane’s CEO Kerri Burns said that Santa Maria would benefit from having its own facility, and that the nonprofit plans on providing access to veterinary care, and pathways to adoption and foster programs to contribute to the animals’ overall success, if it gets chosen.
Euthanasia decisions are made by an eight-to-10 person team to discuss all other viable options first, she added.
“Our leadership team [combined] has close to 100 years of animal experience,” Burns said. “We want to be able to, at the end of the day, to meet the needs of the Santa Maria community at the highest level.”
A Santa Barbara County employee told the Sun that they believe Santa Barbara Humane could do a good job managing the city’s animal services, and its leaders wouldn’t have applied if they didn’t believe the organization was capable of managing the city’s demand for services.
“There were some heated and emotional [claims] from people that I’ve seen or heard that animals are put to sleep without trying to save them, potentially even for space issues. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” the employee, who requested anonymity out of concern for their job, said.
The county’s Santa Maria shelter isn’t ceasing its services either, they added. Santa Barbara County Animal Services will continue to operate and serve the city’s unincorporated areas, Buellton, and Lompoc, but it also has its own challenges to overcome.
“Over the last six months, six out of the eight members of the [Animal Services] leadership team have resigned,” the employee said. “That speaks to a critical issue of the Public Health Department management above when you are losing that many key players to the organization.”
County Public Health—which oversees Animal Services—could not verify the number of resignations, but said via email that there have been changes with staffing at the Public Health Department including the departure of the Animal Services director in May 2022.
High staff turnover rates, kennel overcrowding, and mismanagement have made it difficult to operate the shelter properly, and there are days where staff can’t even clean the dog shelters properly, the employee said.
“I think it would be important for [residents] to know what’s happening inside the county shelter right now and how the taxpayers’ dollars are spent, when many of my coworkers have left the organization because of the mismanagement,” the employee said.