C.A.R.E.4Paws distributed two tons of free pet food in all of 2019 to people in need.
Since March, that amount skyrocketed to somewhere between 150 and 170 tons.
That’s unprecedented for the nonprofit, which is doing more work than ever to help low-income pet owners and seniors hit hard by the pandemic and an economy that took a nosedive.
“In a normal year, we usually help more than 5,000 families,” Isabelle Gullo, C.A.R.E.4Paws executive director and co-founder, told the News-Press this week. “Because of the pandemic, those numbers are blown out of the water.
“This year, it’s thousands more,” Ms. Gullo said. “The number has tripled.”
Other numbers tell the story as well.
The nonprofit, which offers medical services throughout Santa Barbara County in its mobile clinic, saw its free spay and neuter surgeries grow from 1,300 in 2019 to 2,000 last year, Ms. Gullo said.
And the number of pets receiving general medical care increased from 1,170 in 2019 to more than 1,800 last year, she said.
In addition to the free spay and neuter surgeries, C.A.R.E.4Paws offers low-cost services varying from vaccines to dental cleanings and treatments for skin conditions and ear and eye infections.
“We’ve added mobile clinic days, from 140 clinic days in 2019 to 190 in 2020,” Ms. Gullo said. “That’s a big jump. We’ve kept adding clinic days to make sure we can accomodate the need.”
C.A.R.E.4Paws also provides foster care and boarding for dozens of pets of domestic violence survivors. And the nonprofit supplies grooming, pet food, veterinary care and other services for more than 500 homeless people.
Fortunately, donations are keeping up with the need, Ms. Gullo said. She noted C.A.R.E.4Paws’ budget grew from $560,000 in 2019 to more than $1 million last year.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in our expenses, but we’ve also received more income from donors and granters than ever before,” she said.
In addition to money, C.A.R.E.4Paws has received donations of pet food and supplies and gets great discounts from Lemos Feed and Pet Supply, Ms. Gullo said.
“We need a lot more help,” she said, noting that people can go to care4paws.org to donate. “The need is not diminishing whatsoever.”
Ms. Gullo and others were volunteers at the Santa Barbara County Animal Services shelter on Overpass Road in Goleta when they started C.A.R.E.4 Paws in 2009. They saw a need. (The “C.A.R.E” stands for “Community Awareness, Responsibility, Education.”)
Ms. Gullo said the goal was to always prevent homelessness for animals by providing resources for pet owners with financial challenges.
“We wanted to provide a safety net to the public for low-income, seniors, homeless and disabled pet owners to make sure they have access to services that they needed for their dogs and cats,” she said.
Instead of having people come to a specific site, C.A.R.E.4Paws has gone out into the communities throughout Santa Barbara County. And it has done its work with a staff of 10 full- and part-time workers and 30 volunteers who help on a regular basis.
Hiring Wendy Domanski as the community program coordinator has helped a lot, Ms. Gullo said. “We hired her right before the pandemic. We’re a small organization with a small staff, so adding a full-time person was a big jump for us. We could not do it without Wendy.”
During the pandemic, C.A.R.E.4Paws also invested in a Ford van to more easily distribute pet food throughout the county, Ms. Gullo said.
“In general, we have recruited a lot more volunteers for pet food packaging to prepare for the distribution,” Ms. Gullo said. “We have more volunteers at the mobile clinics.”
And C.A.R.E.4Paws is continuing its Paws Up For Pets program for youths, which has included summer camps and everyone in masks and properly socially distanced, she said. “It’s so important to show children the importance of compassion and accountability for animals and sympathy for other living beings. We want to be able to run this program year round, with or without a pandemic.
“We still bring in our ambassador pets, which include a few dogs, a cat and a miniature pony,” Ms. Gullo said. “We teach how to interact with the ambassador animals, the importance of veterinary care … We bring in a dog trainer to talk to the children about how to meet a pet for the first time or what to do if you come across a loose dog.”
The Paws Up for Pets program is presented in conjunction with United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County and the YMCA. Ms. Gullo said C.A.R.E.4Paws hopes to expand the program after the pandemic ends and life returns to normal.
“We’re hoping to increase our presence in the Santa Maria Valley,” she said. “That was the goal for 2020, but the pandemic hit. We had to scale back due to restrictions and schools closing.
“There are still so many unknowns about 2021,” she said. “We hope we can continue expanding the program in the future.”
But Ms. Gullo noted one new program was started. At the United Boys & Girls Clubs in Lompoc, C.A.R.E.4Paws has recruited youths to paint portraits of pets. “People can contact us to have a portrait made of their dog or cat.
“It’s been a huge hit and allows the kids to be creative,” Ms. Gullo said. “Pet owners love getting their portraits back.”