Humane Society Sees Huge Increase in Pet Medical Needs

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Source: Santa Barbara Humane Society

January 28, 2021- In 2020, the Santa Barbara Humane Society and the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society merged to create a countywide network of animal care. Then the worldwide pandemic consumed our lives. Among other needs, the pandemic magnified the challenges many families were already facing in accessing affordable pet care. The overall focus needed to shift to better serve the community’s immediate needs.

“Although our adoption program remained steady during the pandemic with nearly 1,500 adoptions in 2020, what we saw was a huge need for affordable or free high-quality veterinary care,” said Kerri Burns, the CEO of the merged organizations. “People lost their livelihoods, but they didn’t want to lose their pets.”

The push to help owners keep animals in the home has never been greater. “Through the medical clinic for instance, family members thought they would have to relinquish a pet in order for that pet to receive medical care,” Burns continued. “When they realized there is a donor supported veterinary medical assistance fund available to support their pet, they were overcome with joy.”

Created in 2020, the Veterinary Medical Assistance Program (VMAP) made a difference in the lives of more than 1,000 families by providing services and procedures to keep pets healthy, happy, and safe in their homes with people who love them. With the security from generations of donors, this fund was started to limit suffering of pets and provide a place for families who need help to be supported.

Although the pandemic changed operations at both campuses including contactless adoption processing and adoptions and medical visits by appointment only, it did not change the commitment to serving pets and the people who love them.

At the two clinics, nearly 25,000 services and procedures were provided for more than 12,000 animals throughout the County. The affordable veterinary program will expand in 2020 through Latinx outreach and increased funding dedicated to the effort with a goal to serve even more in 2021.

Another win for people who love animals in 2020 was the shift to open-admission. This change provides a new chance for all publicly surrendered animals to receive care and an opportunity for a new home. This safety net provided care for 497 dogs and cats who were surrendered by families who had to relinquish their pets. Organizational programs aim to address the root causes of relinquishment such as the prohibitive expense of veterinary care and behavioral challenges.

To provide support for families experiencing training issues, two full time behavior specialists were added in 2020 at the Santa Maria campus. Added to the two additional training staff members in Santa Barbara, the expanded behavioral team provided one- on-one guidance, held socially distanced classes, and developed training plans for nearly 800 dogs. “Affordable behavior advice and training is another area where owners have needed help and reimagining how that could be provided during a pandemic enabled more dogs to be served,” said Burns.

The partnership with nearly a dozen other animal welfare organizations in the community and beyond benefitted the adoption program; 823 animals were transferred into both the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria campuses from overcrowded shelters. Regular partners include Santa Barbara County Animal Services, ASPCA Los Angeles, and Fresno Humane. Locally, organizations like Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society and Cause4Cats reached out for our support for medical services they could not provide. This partnership allows the animal welfare community to help more.

Because Santa Barbara Humane Society is not affiliated with a regional or national animal welfare organization, the shelters in Santa Maria and in Santa Barbara are locally funded. Donations from community members support the programs and services that provide this extra care to animals and the people who love them in Santa Barbara County.

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