Lenka Tinka: C.A.R.E4Paws is dear to my heart and does so much for animals in Santa Barbara County. I’m so curious as to how you got started and what inspired your mission to reduce pet overpopulation and keep animals out of shelters in Santa Barbara County?
Isabelle Gullo: I co-founded C.A.R.E.4Paws in 2009 with my husband, Carlos Abitia. We were shelter volunteers at the time, and we were tired of seeing all these animals being abandoned. We decided that rather than spending all of our time caring for the animals in the shelter―as much as that work is needed, too―we wanted to prevent them from coming in in the first place by attacking the root of the problem in our community:
We looked at these issues and designed programs to tackle each one of them. Every year, we spay and neuter close to a thousand dogs and cats owned by low-income community members. Our free intervention services, like vaccine clinics, animal training, delivery of pet food and assistance with vet care, help keep animals in their homes. As part of our “Pawsitive Thinking” youth program, we talk to kids about animals―including topics such as spaying/neutering and why you don’t want your pet to be isolated in the backyard, for example―and we try to inspire kindness for all living beings. Also, our bilingual community outreach focuses on areas of the county where you find high numbers of unaltered animals. This program is truly THE key when it comes to creating awareness and reaching pet owners who have not previously heard the message of responsible pet ownership and are unaware of the resources available to help them.
Q: I think all animal lovers struggle with the overwhelming thought that we can’t take home every single animal from a shelter and save them from being put down. Or upon hearing news that an animal has been abused and mistreated, being overcome with emotion. How do you cope with these realities when you are in the trenches?
A: It’s always heartbreaking to hear about abuse cases. Just like it’s hard to know that so many animals live (and die) in this country’s shelters each year. But this is what motivates so many of us to keep doing what we do. The solution―even if the results are not always immediate―comes through creating awareness about what it really takes to be a loving, responsible pet owner and by providing services that allow low-income pet owners to do the right thing for their pet, like spaying/neutering, vaccinations, flea medication and other basic pet care. And, of course, making your pet a part of your family. These are all core components of C.A.R.E.4Paws.
Q: How many animals do you have at home and what are their names? TOO MANY TO NAME?
A: C.A.R.E.4Paws is not a rescue group, although my house sometimes look like a small shelter. We have five dogs and five cats, plus chickens and homing pigeons. As often as I can, I foster animals privately and find them homes.
Q: Do you have a favorite animal success story?
A: There are so many to choose from. One of my favorite stories is from September 2014, when we drove our Spay Mobile (spay/neuter clinic on wheels) straight up to a man’s house and altered and vaccinated his two dogs and their litter of seven puppies all at once. It was not the first litter from these two dogs, and without our help, they puppies would have gone to their new homes unaltered and perpetuated the cycle of pet overpopulation.
Overall, the most gratifying stories involve pet owners who truly love their dogs and cats but are not able to provide the level of care their pet needs for financial or other reasons. They are usually so grateful for the help and you truly feel you made a difference for them and their animals. Of course, the biggest motivator is knowing that our shelter intake numbers are going down every year, because of the efforts of C.A.R.E.4Paws and other animal groups that help with spaying/neutering.
Q: What is the biggest challenge C.A.R.E.4Paws faces?
A: We have a lot of work to do in Santa Barbara County still, not to mention other counties, states and even countries. Yes, we’re aiming big! The need for our services is huge, but right now, I’m the only staff person. It’s hard trying to run the organization, including managing our programs, all of the events, the finances, the administrative part, and the PR, and then also fundraiser to make sure we can continue our work. Having more resources would help us tremendously!
Are there any animal causes you wish got more attention? Animal abuse and neglect. C.A.R.E.4Paws just joined the county’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force. There’s a strong correlation between animal abuse and child and spousal abuse. I encourage everyone to speak up when they see or suspect abuse. We are the animals’ voices, and when you report abuse, you not only put an end to an animal’s suffering, but you may save a human life, too!
Q: What is one thing people can do to support animals on the global scale?
A: All of the organizations in the world that help animals need funding to do their work. Whether the group is in Mexico, Thailand or California, the best way to support them is to help fund them―even if it’s $20 a month. You just have to pick the causes that are closest to your heart.
Q: What are easy things that Santa Barbara Locals can do to help make the lives of animals better?
A: For one thing, find a group whose mission you support and either volunteer, donate or both. And help create awareness around the importance of spaying/neutering, etc., because that is the key to lowering pet overpopulation and keeping animals out of shelters. Also, always, always report abuse or neglect, even if it’s your next-door neighbor. Who will speak up for the animals if we don’t?
Q: How can those who want to support C.A.R.E.4Paws get involved?
A: They can visit www.care4paws.org to learn about us and then decide how they’d like help. Some people love to volunteer, and other don’t have time to donate so they instead contribute funds so that we can continue our work.