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C.A.R.E.4 Paws
updated: Jul 03, 2010, 9:30 AM

Here's what makes C.A.R.E.4 Paws so special-it isn't just another animal welfare organization (Santa Barbara is knee-deep in them) but a nonprofit that joins the many animal groups in town and knits them together with a common purpose: to reduce the large number of unwanted animals ending up in our shelters. It proposes to do this with a fresh, community-based approach: thus the name C.A.R.E.4Paws, which stands for Community Awareness Responsibility and Education. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to combat pet overpopulation-and C.A.R.E.4Paws has the vision to bring that community together.

Maybe C.A.R.E.4Paws (C4P) is different because neither of its co-founders, husband-and-wife team Carlos Abitia and Isabelle Gullö, was born in the U.S. (He's Mexican; she's Swedish.) They think outside the "box" of traditional approaches. For them, and the many C4P volunteers, this means more than helping at the animal shelters or holding adoption events (although they do those too-witness last year's highly successful Wags n' Whiskers adoption festival). It means organizing the community around responsible pet ownership in several key ways:

Education: Not only does C4P go into schools to teach about animal care; Gullö and Abitia have authored a children's book, "Pawsitive Thinking," that has been embraced by UCSB's Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. Fun and kid-friendly, the book helps children learn, and teaches parents, about proper pet care. This educational emphasis extends to the whole community: C4P also partners with Animal Services and all three Humane Societies to educate pet owners about the importance of vaccination, licensing, microchipping, and spaying/neutering.

Training: C.A.R.E.4 Paws understands that education is for owners and their dogs. Its "Project ResponsiBull" reaches out to pit bull owners through free seminars and obedience classes to teach them how to have safe, well-behaved pit bulls. Classes are available for all dog owners, since behavioral problems are a common cause for dogs to be relinquished to animal shelters.

Spay/Neuter: Everyone in the animal welfare movement understands the importance of spaying and neutering to control pet overpopulation. C.A.R.E.4Paws recognizes, however, that some pet owners can't afford even the cheapest "low cost" surgeries, so it offers free spaying and neutering through "Spay Days" and weekday clinic appointments. With the support of local vets and their staff, who donate their time and clinics, C4P has provided free surgeries to hundreds of animals. It has reached a part of the population that traditionally has not altered their pets or taken seriously the need to do so. Co-founder Carlos Abitia understands the perspective of the local Hispanic community and has been able to persuade many to "buy in" to C4P's vision.

The essence of C4P's vision is that "buy in": it has asked every vet clinic, pet shop, rescue group and other animal related organization to contribute whatever they can to the common effort to make Santa Barbara County truly pet friendly. It's this vision that makes C.A.R.E.4Paws a stand-out among animal welfare groups, not just locally, but nationwide.


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