Fostering Shelter Animals


I was late. As usual. And on the phone with my mom. “I have to go,” I said. “I’m late.” I locked my front door behind me and turned around. “There’s a duck.”
“What?” My mom said.
“A duck. There’s a duck in the street. It’s in front of my house.”
“A duck?”
“Yeah. It’s huge. It’s the biggest duck I’ve ever seen. It’s just walking down the middle of the street.”
I followed the duck. With my mom on the phone. I forgot about being late. Because there was this… giant duck. I live near downtown. So, I was asking all the big questions. How had this duck survived so many car-filled streets to get here? Why did the duck cross the road?
Eventually the duck waddled up to the gate at the end of the street. It couldn’t leave the neighborhood. It would have to turn around and backtrack. And that would never do because there was this obtrusive person in the way, talking on the phone to Mom. So, the duck curled up under the front of a truck and took a nap.
This was a job for Animal Services. I hung up with Mom and called the local heroes and then perched in wait. They quickly arrived and delivered the duck safely to the Lompoc shelter where it was then christened, Puddles the Duck.
Puddles, a she-duck, modeled for Facebook. She was quickly adopted and went to live with other ducks of her kind. Just another everyday act of benevolence by Santa Barbara County Animal Services. They do it all the time.

“Dart” All photographs and graphics courtesy of Jan Kays for CAPA/SBCAS

Santa Barbara County Animal Services is enthusiastic about Antioch students getting involved! There is a lot that students can do. The three open-admission shelters, located in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Lompoc, accept more than 6,000 animals in a year. These include dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and a variety of birds. Sometimes even horses, snakes, pigs and iguanas will pass through the shelter system on their way to permanent homes.

SBCAS never refuses to accept an animal brought to their door. And the live release rate countywide is a stunning 94%. But this success isn’t incidental. The effort is a collective accomplishment and Antioch students are encouraged to participate.

“Peaches and Cream” All photographs and graphics courtesy of Jan Kays for CAPA/SBCAS

There are a variety of ways to volunteer with the county. Many participants choose to engage with animals at the shelters. Walking dogs, snuggling cats, offering opportunities for play and socialization on site are welcome activities. Santa Barbara’s shelter exclusively houses dogs. Volunteers who love dogs can enjoy taking these excited canines on healthy walks. This is especially suitable for students interested in combining exercise with their volunteer efforts. Lompoc and Santa Maria shelters not only have doggie residents, they have enjoyable visiting rooms for cat enthusiasts. These felines are anything but austere and are happy to engage in petting and climbing and playing with toys. The bunny hutches are also attractive options for volunteers invested in spending quality time with little, round balls of fluffy cuteness.

All photographs and graphics courtesy of Jan Kays for CAPA/SBCAS

Another way to help is to in-home foster animals. And Antioch students are ideal candidates for this type of volunteer work. Fostering an animal equals four hours of community service per day for the duration of the foster visit. Animal Services relies heavily on non-profit groups and foster families to ensure long term adoption placement for its tenants. Without these interventive efforts, the numbers of safe and loving adoptive homes would not excel. Any students who would like to work with the county animals for their Service Learning credits are encouraged to foster or volunteer.

“Julius” All photographs and graphics courtesy of Jan Kays for CAPA/SBCAS

Animals most in need of foster homes are young kittens and puppies under eight weeks of age, animals recovering from medical procedures, animals who are not thriving at the shelter or need additional socialization, and animals needing to be housed during events of overcrowding, such as times of community crisis or evacuations.

Antioch students, many of whom seek psychology degrees and are motivated by the school’s progressive humanitarian vision are empathetic and sensitive personalities who would be drawn to the plight of these vulnerable creatures.

Almost all of Antioch classes have a therapeutic perspective regardless of their focus. So, Antioch students would be especially adept at identifying behavioral challenges and promoting positive social skills that enable foster animals to be adopted into loving permanent homes.

“Holly” All photographs and graphics courtesy of Jan Kays for CAPA/SBCAS

As adoption is permanent, many college students believe they must live without animal companions during their university years due to travel requirements. Fostering is a much needed, important, yet temporary commitment. It does not limit travel or important trips back home to family. Also, students daunted by the financial requirements of providing for the health and well being of an animal companion will be relieved to know that the medical and nutritional needs of foster pets are offered by the county. There is no financial obligation.

Stacy Silva, the Community Outreach Coordinator, says, “We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved and open their homes to animals. We provide supplies. We provide medication, resources, food, toys, and general support to help fostering succeed.” She adds, “Shelter volunteer work is a great way to get involved and know what is happening in your local shelter and your animal community.”

All photographs and graphics courtesy of Jan Kays for CAPA/SBCAS

As many college students rent, it’s useful to know that renters insurance usually covers pets so that landlords do not have to worry about being accountable for implementing certain breed restrictions. This goes a long way to making rental homes available for fostering. And any home available for fostering could genuinely be the gift of life for animals who are not suited for the shelter community.

“Freda” All photographs and graphics courtesy of Jan Kays for CAPA/SBCAS

In addition to all of these volunteer opportunities, Animal Services sponsors an annual Santa Slumber Party where individuals and families foster pets for the holidays. This fun and meaningful event adds a perfect bundle of love for the season of giving.

Animals are able to leave the shelters and spend quality time in a holiday home and foster caregivers enjoy companionship and warmth. This is especially important for students who cannot see their families or return home for the holidays.

There are so many ways to get involved with local animals in need. The shelters encourage inquiries and have literature available for students interested in volunteering and fostering. The rewards are abundant and the meaningful contribution to the lives of shelter animals is profound.

“Mr. Right” All photographs and graphics courtesy of Jan Kays for CAPA/SBCAS

The contact and location information for the three shelters is:

Santa Barbara:
5473 Overpass Road
Santa Barbara, Ca 93111
Open: Mon-Fri 9:00 am – 4:45 pm (closed for lunch 12:30-1:30)
Sat.10:00 am – 4:00 pm

1501 West Central
Lompoc, Ca 93436
Open: Mon-Fri 9:00 am – 4:45 pm (closed for lunch 12:30 – 1:30)
Sat. 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Santa Maria:
548 W. Foster Rd.
Santa Maria, Ca. 93455
Open: Mon-Fri. 9:00 am – 4:45 pm
Sat. 10:00am – 4:00 pm


About Author

Bebhinn McIlroy-Hawley

Bebhinn McIlroy-Hawley is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Antioch University in Santa Barbara, California. She previously studied writing, contemporary literature, and art at the University of Alaska Southeast in her hometown of Juneau, Alaska. Bebhinn is joining the Creative Writing MFA program at AULA with a dual emphasis in poetry and fiction. While in graduate school, she will continue her work in AUSB’s Writing Center. Bebhinn enjoys spending time with her children and visiting her family. She is particularly inspired by the Central Coast’s gorgeous natural landscape.

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