The Montecito Journal | Joanne Calitri
This week we visited with Kerri Burns, CEO of SB Humane and her team of CPO Paige Van Tuyl, and COO Dori Villalon at the Santa Barbara location on Overpass Road. The four-acre property holds a veterinary clinic and surgery center, food, lodging and training of dogs, a cat hotel, and offers shelter during local disasters for pets like rabbits, chickens, and horses.
It is obvious this team loves animals and their job, as evidenced by the animals that are there. The tour started with the vet clinic where we were greeted by the dog manning the clinic; yes, seriously. Dogs are assigned to various tasks for socialization skills. This dog was great, smiling, attentive, and followed us around – it did appear he was managing the place!
The Chief Veterinary Officer holds a Masters in Shelter Medicine, and the clinic is staffed with licensed veterinarians. They perform up to 30 surgeries a day, do blood work in-house, sterilize equipment via autoclave, do health exams, and provide vaccinations.
Burns said that services for animals are provided whether the pet owner has funds or not. “Those who can pay are actually helping pay for those who cannot, and of course anyone can make a donation towards that.”
The cat shelter features music – which research has shown calms the cats – and pheromones released into the air which smell like a mother cat, so the cats instinctively feel safe. The cats’ cages are roomy and split-level, and have a doggie door so the felines can go outside.
We next toured the property where there are large open areas for individual dogs to run and play on a rotating basis. There is a recreation and skill learning plan, so dogs are both exercised and socialized. They go to the beach, to Home Depot, and other types of outings. The dogs have heated individual outside pens they go to only for sleep at night and feedings. Burns asked if I noticed any dogs barking. There was a friendly bark as we walked through, but not the expected chorus of barking from all the dogs. She mentioned this was because of the programs they have at the center.
Q. What is your role at SB Humane?
A. My role is to establish and fulfill our strategic direction while being flexible enough to pivot and respond to the needs of animals and people in our community. I thrive on cultivating and engaging donors and community partners in our work. I report to and collaborate with a Board of Directors committed to governance and fiscal oversight. I provide leadership to our team of experienced animal welfare professionals who oversee day-to-day client and animal services at Santa Barbara Humane’s two campuses. And, I ensure the integrity of our work and commitment to Socially Conscious Sheltering.
How long have you been with the SBH?
I have had the honor of leading this organization for the past five years. I’ve been in the field of animal welfare and protection for more than 23 years, working across the U.S. and abroad. My experience includes leading disaster response and large-scale animal rescue efforts, nonprofit management, and shelter operations.
What do you want the community to know about SB Humane, and where it is headed?
SB Humane is more than just an animal shelter. We play a key role in the overall quality of life for animals and people in our community by nurturing and supporting the human-animal bond. We provide access to low-cost or free veterinary care and safety net programs, such as affordable dog training, emergency boarding, and pet food – all to help keep animals and families together. Our impact extends beyond our campuses when we accept animals from overcrowded shelters to provide them with veterinary treatment and placement. We also work with local volunteers to support feral cats in our community.
Another important fact – since there is some understandable confusion – is that we are not associated with or funded by any national animal welfare group. SB Humane is an independent 501(c)(3) organization, separate from County Animal Services, and has been part of the community for more than 136 years. We don’t receive tax dollars, so our programs and services are supported solely by contributions and grants from the local community.
Our future reflects the needs of our community – attainable, affordable veterinary resources; behavioral training and support for owned and shelter animals; and diverse outreach strategies to reach all residents of Santa Barbara County.
What is the average number of animals per month available for adoption.
Last year, 1,666 animals were adopted from our two campuses with an average length of stay of just 11 days. This success can be attributed to our experienced animal care and veterinary teams who ensure animals are evaluated on an individual basis, and that their medical and behavioral needs are promptly addressed.
Of the animals adopted, how many return again?
We take a conversational approach to adoptions and recognize that every person and every animal has unique needs. Instead of adoption applications, we work with adopters to explore which animal may best fit their interests, abilities, and lifestyle. Our nine percent adoption return rate is well below industry standards and not something we spend a lot of time worrying about. Instead, we establish relationships with our adopters, so they feel comfortable letting us know if an animal isn’t the right match. They give us the opportunity to keep working together and they share valuable information about the animal that helps us with the next placement.
How long has SB Humane been practicing Socially Conscious Sheltering policies?
Socially Conscious Sheltering is a shared set of values that guide us and help us communicate our commitment to the highest standards of care for animals and the community. The tenets emphasize integrity, transparency, and public safety.
I introduced Socially Conscious Sheltering to Santa Barbara Humane in 2019 because it reflects how we approach our work and ensures we are all aligned.
Current staff-to-animal ratio?
We are fortunate to have a staff-to-animal ratio that provides each animal with one-on-one daily nurturing, exercise, and enrichment, and a level of service that far exceeds industry standards. While we are an open-admission shelter, we admit owner-surrendered animals by appointment, and we strategically schedule incoming transfers to ensure we can maintain our commitment to the animals already in our care. Currently, our two campuses have eight Animal & Client Care Specialists, Shelter Supervisors, and Shelter Directors. We have a Manager of Animal Behavior and a Manager of Volunteer Engagement. We are fully staffed seven days a week.
Who manages accountability for how the animals are sheltered and cared for, e.g., is there a third/independent organization/inspection process?
This is a great question and one I introduced at a recent meeting of California animal welfare leaders. Unlike some states, Colorado for example, California does not have a licensing and inspection program to oversee public and private animal shelters and rescues, boarding facilities, and breeders.
I’m committed to continuing the conversation about a regulatory program in order to protect animals from harm.
In the meantime, and at SB Humane, our operations are guided by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters and the American Veterinary Medical Association. I’m fortunate to have a leadership team that includes a Chief Veterinary Officer who holds a Masters in Shelter Medicine and a Chief Operating Officer with more than 30 years of experience in the field.
Who manages the SB Humane TLC Fund, and decides where the monies go?
All animals should be able to access the veterinary care they need. Nationwide, the skyrocketing costs for veterinary care prohibit many dogs and cats from receiving important treatments and procedures to help them live healthy, pain-free lives.
The TLC Fund was established at Santa Barbara Humane to provide low-cost and free veterinary care to animals in need countywide, whether they are part of a loving family or waiting at the shelter for a home to call their own.
This fund made a difference in the lives of nearly 4,000 local pets in 2022, a 78 percent increase from 2021. Recipients include animals transferred from overcrowded shelters to Santa Barbara Humane for more comprehensive medical support, local pets whose care is simply beyond their owners’ means, and shelter animals whose health is essential to their overall well-being and their adoption opportunities.
This particular program is funded by local donors and foundations, and through a generous allocation from our Board. Our veterinary and leadership teams work diligently to maximize the impact of these funds on a case-by-case basis, and we are always searching for new funding opportunities to ensure no pet or owner is turned away for a service Santa Barbara Humane is able to provide. Community members are encouraged to give to the TLC Fund during their clinic visit or through a designated giving page on sbhumane.org/give. There are many other opportunities to financially support our organization through annual donations, planned gifts and donor-advised funds.