Labrador puppy Ruki flopped through the gates into the play yard at Woods Humane Society. With her eyes open wide, she darted in a zig-zag fashion and whipped her head around as she noticed each new toy. Woods’ Director of Marketing and Community Programs Steve Kragenbrink followed closely behind and tried to get her attention with treats.
“I want to take her home so badly, but I can’t because I rent,” Kragenbrink said. “I’m not worried though, because I know that she’ll get adopted.”
Two days after the interview, Ruki had been adopted. However, in the majority of San Luis Obispo County, confidence that pets will be adopted is merely a dream.
Before dogs like Ruki are up for adoption at Woods, a nonprofit organization, they often reside next door at the San Luis Obispo County Animal Services (SLOCAS). SLOCAS is the only public open-intake animal shelter in San Luis Obispo county and receives an estimated 4,500 animals annually. Due to a 2005 agreement, Woods is required to transfer in at least 300 animals from animal services to their care yearly. This year, Woods expects to transfer approximately 3,000 animals with an adoption rate of 98 percent.
The stark contrast between private funding and state funding is made clear upon entering the facilities. Woods has earned enough money from the community and grants that they have recently incorporated “cat condos” and a behavioral training program, according to Kragenbrink. Right next door, SLOCAS operates in a building built on an old Camp San Luis Obispo landfill in 1975, with damage determined to be too expensive to be worth repairing.
“Unfortunately, the costs to fix the existing facility are so great that it makes more sense to replace the building,” Assistant County Administrative Officer Guy Savage said in a statement in February 2017. “We hope to build a new facility that will better benefit the animals in our care and encourage more people to visit and adopt animals or reclaim their lost pets.”
In 2015, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved a $31.7 million grant to completely rebuild SLOCAS. In October 2017, the cities of Atascadero and Paso Robles announced they would withdraw from the agreement due to the cost. The plan was expected to be completed by December 2018. Currently, construction has not yet started.
SLOCAS did not respond immediately for comment.
Both Woods and SLOCAS provide spaying and neutering for all animals that arrive at the shelters. Kragenbrink said that in recent years he has noticed that the majority of animals who come in have been given up by owners and are not strays.
“Being able to see that change is a real testament to the partnership that Woods and Animal Services has,” Kragenbrink said. “It’s a testament to the spay and neuter services that we make.”
Kragenbrink said he and his coworkers are not picky about which animals they transfer into their shelter. However, he said behavioral problems, health issues and likelihood of adoption are all taken into consideration.
“It’s not a matter of cherry picking,” Kragenbrink said. “They [animal services] have animals next door to adopt as well, and they are a great resource in the county.”
Funding for Woods is generated from fundraisers and grants, many of which are grassroots efforts by Cal Poly students.
“When we talk about a humane society, it’s not a physical entity — it’s a group of people, it’s the animals, it’s the programs,” Kragenbrink said. “It’s everything that we’re doing out here, and I think that that’s something I always try to reiterate with the community, that [fundraising is] so vital and important.”