Santa Barbara County animal shelter in Lompoc (copy)

The La PAWS shelter at 1501 W. Central Ave. in Lompoc is shown in this June 17 file photo. Santa Barbara County's manager of animal services said the facility is still under consideration for closure, but he said he doesn't expect services to decrease in the city.

In the same month that a new one-year agreement went into effect that calls for Santa Barbara County to provide animal services within the city of Lompoc, the county’s manager of animal services confirmed that the county is still exploring closing down the Lompoc animal shelter.

Esteban Rodriguez, the county’s operations manager of animal services, said Friday that the county was “exploring possible consolidation” that could result in the Lompoc shelter shutting down, but he cautioned that the process was still in the early stages and said that it shouldn’t have any effect on the immediate status of the La PAWS shelter at 1501 W. Central Ave.

“We’re going to continue to serve the city of Lompoc and provide services, no matter what happens,” he said.

The status of the county’s animal services has been at the forefront in recent months.

On June 16, the Lompoc City Council unanimously approved a contract that stipulates the city will pay Santa Barbara County — which has traditionally provided animal services in Lompoc — nearly $335,000 to continue providing the services through June 2021. That move occurred less than a week after the County Board of Supervisors allocated $188,200 to the county’s Division of Animal Services with the hope that the funds would help prevent the closure of the La PAWS shelter.

Under the consolidation plan being considered, the Lompoc shelter would essentially merge with the one in Santa Maria, leaving the county with just two shelters. The facility in Santa Maria would serve the North County, while the one in Santa Barbara would serve the South County.

If that consolidation happens, Rodriguez said it could provide a boost to the county’s overall animal services operation, even in Lompoc.

Redirecting employees to Santa Maria would help ease some of the staffing issues faced there, he said, and make the entire system run smoother.

Rodriguez noted that most service calls that his department receives require an officer to go out into the field. If Lompoc’s shelter were to close, he said it would be highly likely that a field officer would remain in the city and be able to respond to those calls.

Further, he pointed out, all of the shelters are seeing declining animal numbers, a trend he attributes to increased community support.

The Lompoc shelter currently has around 10 animals, instead of its historical average of around 30. The Santa Maria shelter formerly would house around 100 dogs alone, but now has only around 50 animals total.

Rodriguez, who began his job last October, said those numbers were going down even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s just the different way of doing business and making sure we’re including our community,” he said. “We’re engaging our community in the sense that we have pets to foster and our community is really stepping up. They understand that we’re a municipal shelter and the pets that come to us aren’t here for a long stay, so we want to make sure that we’re advocating for these pets and trying to get them in the best situation as possible.”

Rodriguez noted that the county stepped up its foster and adoption outreach this year. He said that both adoptions and fosters have gone up, with many foster owners becoming the ultimate adopters.

“That’s great to see,” Rodriguez said. “They fall in love with the pet in their home, instead of the pet sitting here at the shelter picking up bad behavior because it’s confined in a kennel. When you can put a pet out into a home and somebody’s caring for it and giving it the love it needs, that changes the whole dynamic for that particular pet.”

The Lompoc animal services contract is set to be negotiated again next year, but a report released by city staff ahead of the June 16 City Council meeting noted that the “city has researched doing animal control on its own, but the research showed that it would [be] a much larger financial burden to the city, than it would be contracting with the county.”

Rodriguez said the Lompoc City Council would ultimately have the final say on any potential consolidation involving the Lompoc animal shelter.

More than anything, though, Rodriguez said he was thankful for the support of the community in helping to keep animals safe and out of the shelters.

“There’s a lot of people out there that really understand responsible pet ownership and are doing the right thing, as far as vaccinating, licensing and microchipping their pets,” he said. “That’s crucial to how Santa Barbara County animal services moves forward.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Reporter

Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Lompoc Record. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.