Published November 26, 2022

While shelters along California’s Central Coast do their best to provide care for abandoned dogs and cats, the facilities can be extremely overcrowded as animals face a long wait to find forever families. And, sadly, not all animals find a new home.

Isabelle Gullö has a solution: Why not step in earlier with programs that reduce pet overpopulation and prevent pet homelessness in the first place?

In 2009, Gullö, who at the time was a Santa Barbara County Animal Services shelter volunteer, cofounded C.A.R.E.4Paws alongside Carlos Abitia and other shelter volunteers to fill a desperate need and provide resources that keep pets healthy and with their families for life.

C.A.R.E.4Paws – short for Community Awareness, Responsibility & Education – offers an array of services to low-income, senior, disabled and unhoused pet families in Santa Barbara County’s most underserved communities. This includes free spaying or neutering, assistance with veterinary care and low-cost vaccine events in the nonprofit’s two mobile veterinary clinics; distribution of pet food and supplies; support for pet families exposed to domestic violence; a youth education program called Paws Up For Pets; and even Pet Emergency Training (P.E.T.) for First Responders.

More than 20,000 pet families in need receive assistance every year in Santa Barbara County. Also, in February 2022, the organization expanded its mobile wellness services to San Luis Obispo County, where it has already assisted hundreds of low-income pet families.

The nonprofit is having a sizable impact on reducing overpopulation.

“Since our founding, C.A.R.E.4Paws has spayed and neutered more than 16,000 dogs and cats for free,” says Gullö, who’s also the nonprofit’s executive director. “That has contributed to a significant drop in shelter intake numbers. By the end of December 2022, we will have altered another 2,200 animals.

Also sizable is the amount of free pet food C.A.R.E.4Paws provides annually. In fact, the nonprofit has distributed well over one million pounds of food since the pandemic began. Much of the food is distributed through Pet Resource Centers co-operated by C.A.R.E.4Paws and various partners. Some is provided during community events. For example, during weekly visits to Santa Barbara’s Alameda Park, volunteers provide food for pets of the unsheltered, along with blankets, bedding, and flea treatment. Once a month, C.A.R.E.4Paws brings A’s Mobile Grooming to the park to bathe the dogs of the unhoused for free, a service also provided monthly in Santa Maria with Doggie Parlour.

“Times are hard for so many community members, and families should not have to choose between caring for their animals and putting food on the table,” says Gullö. “We do everything we can to ensure pets stay healthy and with the people who love them. This prevents suffering and pet homelessness.”