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Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society reports surge in pet adoptions

Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society reports surge in pet adoptions

From the What you need to know for Wednesday, December 2 series

Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society has experienced a 38% jump in pet adoptions at its Buellton facility this year, despite a three-month closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, due in part to a new foster-to-adopt program. 

Although the facility was closed from March until June, a spike in demand upon reopening has led to 590 adoptions, beating out 426 adoptions in 2019, and a month still left to go. 

"When we reopened, July, August, September — even now — we can't keep a dog here for more than seven days," said shelter manager Julie Cousino. "They go through a quarantine, a seven-day period, where we make sure that they're healthy, they're clear and good to go. And by the time they're available, we already have an appointment set up for them to go to their forever home. It's been pretty incredible."

Part of the reason behind the surge in adoptions, Cousino explained, is the five-to-seven-day foster-to-adopt program that was launched in July after a number of foster families temporarily housed dogs as a help to the shelter during its complete closure.

"We started doing more foster outreach just to get the dogs out of the shelter so we could revamp the inside of the shelter and take advantage of that time," she said. "We painted and revamped a couple of things, and put in new desks."

During that time, those same families became bonded with their foster pets and decided to adopt, prompting the shelter to launch the new foster-to-adopt program.

"It's been a great program," Cousino said. "A lot of people have seen the benefit of it."

On the other end of the adoption spectrum are owner turn-ins. Although notable, the number has not increased over last year, despite the ongoing health crisis.

"We have had a few owner turn-ins because of COVID-19," Cousino said. "There have been a couple of people who have lost their homes and lost their jobs because of COVID and have had to relinquish their animals to us because of those reasons. There are not as much as I thought there might be by now. It's not more than what we did last year."

Gift giving for the holidays

The shelter discourages adoptions for the purpose of gift giving. In fact, since COVID-19 hit, the shelter has enacted more extensive screening measures to stay safe and also ensure pets find the right families — and families find the right pets.

"We don't allow gift giving. We require everyone in the household to meet the dog, especially for adult dogs," Cousino said, exempting puppies 6 months and younger. "For instance, if a wife comes in, we call or FaceTime the husband to make sure he knows the dog is coming home. We don't want our dogs to come back to our shelter."

To further ensure a successful adoption, the shelter also has beefed up its application process.

"Our application is pretty extensive compared to other places. We're really looking for what people need when they are looking to adopt," Cousino said. "We try to make sure that whatever they put on their application is characteristic to the dog they are applying for."

Cousino recounted the numerous times families have selected a particular dog on their application based on appearances while describing opposing qualities.

"We'd say, 'That's not this dog, but let me show you this dog,'" Cousino said. "I think with adoptions, you really have to keep an open mind and not just always go for the looks. Consider personality [traits] and have the shelter help you to find the perfect match. We're matchmakers, but for dogs."

Due to the pandemic, adoptions are being conducted by appointment only after the application is approved by the adoption counselor team, headed up by Cousino and front end shelter supervisor Leslie Cortes.

"This gives us the opportunity to make sure that they are an adoptable family and if it's the right match," Cousino said. "We've been doing a really good job with that." 

Both dogs and cats are available for adoption at the shelter, although both cats and kittens are being transferred to PetSmart in Santa Maria to enable potential adopters to visit with them more comfortably.

"Most of our cats are being adopted through PetSmart," said Cousino, acknowledging the success of the program. "We drop off a cat and by the end of they day, they'll get adopted."

Helping and expanding

Like all Santa Barbara County shelters the Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society is a no-kill shelter, however, it operates independently and pulls from area shelters, as well as Kern County facilities that have a tendency to overfill and must then euthanize the least adoptable. 

"We always help our county first and do what we can for them but then go to surrounding counties and do what we can for those guys," Cousino said. 

In late October, the Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society took in 30 of the 104 Chihuahua/terrier dogs which were impounded by Santa Barbara County Animal Services staff from a pet hoarding situation in a Lompoc home.

"They are slowing becoming available and trickling out," Cousino said. "Some of them needed some work and were fostered for several weeks and are starting to come out of their shells."

Cortes reported that so far approximately 10 of those dogs have been adopted. Another three to five puppies have appointments this week to meet their potential new families.

Cousino explained that many of the pups have overbites, and one puppy in particular was born with an eye defect. But, overall, they are medically sound.

"It's more cosmetic and characteristic than anything," she said.

Adding a critical boost to overall operational capabilities is a recent merger with Santa Barbara's DAWG Adoption & Welfare Group, which had been leasing a facility from the county.

According to Cousino, the adoption facility was forced to close its doors in March when the county decided not to lease the facility to the organization any longer.

"So they had to close their doors and they were looking for someone to partner with," she said. "We're really happy that they chose us."

Since the merger, the two shelters have combined their mission statements and policies, and the adoption and welfare group has brought in an ultrasound and X-ray machine to its new Buellton home.

"We're now able to help our animals a little bit more instead of having to always send them somewhere," Cousino said. "We can actually do a lot more in-house [procedures], which we might be opening up to the public in the future."

Dear Readers: It's holiday time! Rich, delicious foods abound, but which foods are OK to share with our dogs? Most veterinarians would agree that people foods should not be given to pets. In fact, some foods are absolute no-no's.

Lisa André covers local news and lifestyles for Santa Ynez Valley News. 

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