Santa Barbara County nonprofit helps pets and owners during pandemic

Santa Barbara County nonprofit helps pets and owners during pandemic

By Angel Russell

Since the start of the pandemic, a Central Coast nonprofit animal services organization is seeing a huge increase in demand for its services. With more people adopting from shelters, C.A.R.E. 4 Paws is working to make sure animals don’t end up back there.

People and pets were lined up in Santa Maria Wednesday outside at a mobile vet clinic. Inside is a team of technicians and a veterinarian, performing free spay and neuter operations as well as other services for pets. 

“There’s not really a lot of options for affordable vet care,” said Isabelle Gullo, co-founder of C.A.R.E 4 Paws. “So we’ve stepped up in an unprecedented way.” 

Gullo said with so many people working from home, adoptions of four-legged companions have sharply increased. But the pandemic has also brought financial hard times for so many. 

“A lot of people who would traditionally go to the humane society or to a veterinarian cannot afford even the low-cost service,” Gullo said.

Sean Holmes is one of the new pet owners in line to neuter his puppy Edward. He said having a dog is helping him get through tough times. 

“I’ve recently had a bunch of tragedies” Holmes said. “I lost my father a year ago this month and I lost my girlfriend in April—totally unexpected, and they were due to the same cancer. [Edward] has been there, just to keep my mind busy pretty much and keeping me out of a dark place.”

The organization doesn’t just help people by providing pet healthcare through its mobile clinic.

“[We] also offer pet food, supplies,” Gullo said. “We can help with temporary foster care if someone ends up in the hospital, for example.”

Gullo said if anyone has dog and cat food, as well as litter to donate, C.A.R.E. 4 Paws has drop-off locations throughout Santa Barbara County. It also accepts monetary donations through its website.

“The community really needs us right now and we don’t want to stop,” Gullo said. “So it’s important if people in the community who can help, can step in, because it takes all of us, it takes a village.”

The mobile pet clinic travels throughout Santa Barbara County four to five times a week, and accepts animals from anywhere.

C.A.R.E.4Paws and Our Pandemic Response on KSBY

C.A.R.E.4Paws and Our Pandemic Response on KSBY

The COVID-19 pandemic has made finances tight for many people. Pet ownership isn’t cheap between vet visits, food and supplies but a local non-profit is offering help to make sure once we clear the shelters, pets never end up back there.

Shelters, rescue groups, breeders and pet stores all report higher consumer demand than there are pets to meet it in 2020.

Our newfound time at home has people bringing home four-legged companions.

However, the pandemic has also brought financial challenges for millions of Americans and the expense of pet care means some newly adopted animals may end up back at the pound.

Isabelle Gullo’s non-profit, C.A.R.E. 4 Paws, is saving pets and pocketbooks on the Central Coast during these tough times.

“C.A.R.E. 4 Paws was started in 2009 with a goal to reduce pet overpopulation keep pets with their families for life,” Gullo said. “We welcome anybody to come. If they are struggling, we want to be able to help.”

They offer low-cost vet services out of a mobile clinic.

“Now, we are running our clinic four to five times a week throughout the county so we’re all the way from Santa Barbara up to Santa Maria,” said Gullo.

Gullo says C.A.R.E. 4 Paws has provided as many services so far in 2020 as they did in all of 2019.

“The line of people that we see here every time we run our mobile clinic is just a sign of the times. People need our help,” she said.

Inside the mobile clinic, a team of highly-trained vet techs and Dr. Tom Thompson performs free spay and neuter operations and other services for people’s pets.

Christopher Valdez brought his four-month-old puppy Blu to C.A.R.E. 4 Paws for a surgery he says would have cost him $3,000 at a regular veterinarian’s office. C.A.R.E. 4 Paws will take care of Blu for $150.

“They do a great job for a low cost,” Valdez said.

Santa Maria resident Tihanna Portis has been grateful to C.A.R.E. 4 Paws since before COVID-19.

“I came to them before with two of my cats for their shots and they were just way cheaper,” Portis said. “[They are] wonderful and super quick and super friendly!”

Walk-ups are welcome for vaccines, microchipping, flea control and pet food pick-up. Appointments for procedures and exams can be made over the phone.

Though the end of September, the non-profit is accepting new, unopened dog and cat food for their pet food drive to help meet the growing need.

“We are distributing about four tons of cat food every week throughout the county and to compare, in 2019, we distributed about 2 tons in the whole year,” Gullo said.

C.A.R.E. 4 Paws is helping the Central Coast clear the shelters and keep them clear by providing our furry family members with the care they deserve in exchange for all the love they give us.

“We are so excited to see all these pets being adopted through the pandemic and we really want them to be able to stay in their homes and not be returned to the shelter due to lack of resources so we’re here,” said Gullo.

Visit the C.A.R.E. 4 Paws website to learn more about their mobile vet clinic schedule and how to support the organization.


Original Article:

COVID-19 financial strain on Santa Barbara County pet owners sends need for help skyrocketing

COVID-19 financial strain on Santa Barbara County pet owners sends need for help skyrocketing

Failed businesses, job losses and temporary layoffs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have hit families hard in Santa Barbara County, and the financial strain is even greater among pet owners who may have to choose between feeding and providing medical care for their dogs and cats or giving them up to a shelter.


The effort to keep pets a part of the family has led one nonprofit organization to distribute 100 times as much pet food to those in financial straits as it did before the pandemic struck.


It’s also increased the demand for assistance with veterinary care and spaying and neutering.


“There’s been a tremendous jump since the first of COVID,” said Isabelle Gullo, executive director of C.A.R.E.4Paws, the countywide organization she co-founded with Carlos Abitia in 2009. “We’ve always had our [food assistance] program. But with the amount of food we’re distributing now, we had to reinvent it.”


In all of 2019, C.A.R.E.4Paws gave out 2 tons of pet food to seniors and other low-income pet owners who needed help, Gullo said.


Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the organization has been distributing an average of 4 tons of pet food and kitty litter per week, which could put 2020’s total distribution somewhere approaching 200 tons.


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Anezka Jahner, a volunteer from Santa Barbara, helps distribute donated pet food Wednesday at the C.A.R.E.4Paws mobile clinic at the Eagles Lodge in Santa Maria. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for help with pet food by nearly 100 times last year’s level.

“The majority of that is food,” Gullo said Monday. “The kitty litter is mostly just going to the seniors who are stuck at home that we deliver pet food to.


“Some weeks it’s 3 tons, some weeks it’s 5 or 6 tons, but the average is about 4 tons a week,” she added.


In addition to dog and cat food, the organization is now distributing rabbit and bird food as well as chicken feed in the more rural areas of the county.


Most of the pet food is distributed at weekly events held in conjunction with community partners — Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, People Helping People in Santa Ynez Valley and the senior centers in Los Alamos and Guadalupe.


Food is also distributed at each stop of the organization’s mobile clinic, which provides free and low-cost veterinary care for senior, low-income, disabled and homeless pet owners and also has seen increased demand.


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Pet owners wait socially distanced in line with pets at the C.A.R.E.4Paws mobile clinic for veterinary services and assistance with pet food in September in Santa Maria. The nonprofit organization was handing out about 100 times more food this year than last year to assist pet owners financially strapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gullo said the organization had expected to provide veterinary care to 1,200 animals in 2020, but at the current rate, the total will be about 1,700.


“We’ve been providing more mobile clinic services every year, but right now we’re already meeting our annual totals,” she said. “With COVID, the need is greater than it’s ever been.”


Low-cost spaying and neutering are also provided through the mobile clinic, and C.A.R.E.4Paws budgeted for 1,400 of those surgeries this year.


But the number reached 1,200 in the first eight months, and, if the organization can find enough funding, the total could reach more than 1,900, Gullo said.


“We don’t think this need will decline anytime soon,” she said. “We really want to keep pets with their owners through COVID and after that.”


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Miriam Torres holds 10-week-old Casper, a Portuguese podengo brought to the C.A.R.E.4Paws mobile clinic in Santa Maria for its second round of vaccinations Wednesday. The organization expected to care for 1,200 pets this year but COVID-19 is pushing that number toward 1,700.

To help meet the unprecedented demand, C.A.R.E.4Paws on Tuesday launched a monthlong Pet Food & Matching Donation Drive, asking the community to leave dog and cat food and kitty litter at one of the drop-off sites set up at partner organizations.


Monetary donations made during the drive will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000 through Sept. 30, Gullo said.


Donated funds will be allocated toward the organization’s most pressing needs, whether that’s for pet food, critical services provided in C.A.R.E.4Paws’ mobile veterinary clinic or assistance for pets of domestic violence survivors, she said.