Animal Services Updates

Published:  January 10, 2018

Happy New Year! While we are still in recovery mode following the fires, we have had some time to reflect on our work in the immediate response to the fires. 

Through our de-brief process, regular check-ins with regional partners and community feedback, we’ve learned a lot about what worked for our community and where we have room to grow. We are so grateful to the animal welfare community we have been so fortunate to work with, especially during the fire response.

Collaborators near and far, from pet supply stores to shelters and rescues to local restaurants, veterinary professionals and committed community members—we couldn’t have done it without you! By sharing this update, we hope to share not only our success, but the success of our animal care community as a whole.

Field Operations

Field operations includes all work done by Animal Services Animal Control Officers and partner agencies responding to animal-related needs in our county. During the fires we worked county-wide. During non-emergency times, our officers jurisdiction includes the City of Santa Rosa, the Town of Windsor and the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County. Field operations works closely with Shelter operations, especially upon the arrival of stray animals at the shelter.

  • Field operations ran 24/7 for the first 10 days following the fires. Hours for officers have since returned to the regular schedule (7 days/week) with officers on-call after hours.
  • Officers and mutual aid officers cared for hundreds of animals in the field performing welfare checks, leaving food and water, creating temporary enclosures, providing veterinary care (with veterinary professionals), and evacuating animals.
  • Officers have responded to nearly 5,000 calls for services since October 10, 2017—a 51% increase over the same time last year.
  • In the past month, disaster-related calls have been significantly reduced and field work has re-focused on full-time rabies control, enforcement of state, county, and local animal ordinances and regulations, and ensuring the safety and welfare of animals and our community.

Shelter Operations

Shelter operations includes all medical and behavioral care that goes into sheltering stray, surrendered, and adoptable animals. Shelter operations works closely with Communications to ensure up-to-date information on an animal’s status, opportunities to reunite an animal with its family, programs and services at the shelter, and any changes to regular operations.

  • Since the fires broke, Animal Services has seen a 40% increase in stray animals arriving at the shelter since the same time last year.
  • Managing the shelter population is essential to ensuring animals in our care are healthy and have the best chance at finding their "forever home." Transferring animals to trusted partner shelters and rescues is a great resource to help manage the size of the shelter population. Since the fires, Animal Services has increased their transfers by 217% since the same time last year. When the fires first started many of our regional partners stepped up to help empty our shelter of animals to free up space for those animals that were affected by the fires.
  • Reuniting lost/stray animals with their families are some of the shelters greatest success stories. Since the fires, Animal Services has returned 243 animals to their families! Current microchips, licenses and identification tags were a huge help with this!
  • Adoptions did not resume, following the fires, until November 17th due to the extended stray hold time put in place to allow fire-affected families more time to search for their lost animals.
  • Animal Services has seen a significant reduction in the animals coming in with fire-related injuries in the past month. However, Animal Services is still treating a few fire-affected animals that have arrived at the shelter more recently and has partnered with another local organization to provide some veterinary care to fire-affected families for their animals if they cannot otherwise afford it.

Communications and Outreach

Communications connects the work of the shelter to our community by providing up to date information on animals in our care, programs, services, changes in operations. Communication at Animal Services also works with and through communications officers at the Department level and in the Joint Information Center during times of emergency. Outreach efforts focusing on meeting the needs of our community through direct-service programs. 

  • Animal Services website and Facebook page have been the primary channels for direct communication from Sonoma County Animal Services.
  • Both Adoptable AND Lost and Found animals are updated every hour, on the hour. Just follow the links to either Adopt an Animal or Lost and Found (and click the buttons) to view them.
  • Reunification of families with their lost pets is on-going. During the fires, Animal Services used full-page print and recurring digital ads in the Press Democrat, posted flyers for hard-to-reunite animals in the areas they were found, posted photos and videos on the website and Facebook page, and collaborated with our local and online partners who had teams of individuals working to match lost animal reports with photos of found animals at our shelter and at other locations.
  • Animal Services added an additional (optional) statement in the Adoption Contract that allowed an adopter of a fire-animal to opt-in to being contacted by Animal Services should the original owner of a fire-animal come forward following the adoption.
  • Animal Services has distributed more than 20,000lbs of donated animal care supplies to our fire-affected community members in the form of food, crates, beds, collars, leashes, litter, litter pans, toys, and more!
  • Regular programs for low-cost spay & neutering of owned animals have resumed after being suspended during the fires
  • Education and outreach events have also resumed following a hiatus during the fires. See our Events Calendar for more information.

Areas for Growth During a Disaster or Emergency

  • Managing donations—we were overwhelmed by the amount of in-kind donations that were brought to the shelter doors. We needed storage for donations and consistent process for receiving donations from the start.
  • Getting the word out we were open to the community—with our power out during the first 48 hours of the fires. It took us another couple days after power was restored to get the word out to our broader community that we were here and ready to help them with their animals.
  • Managing lost and found reports—the volume of reports of lost and found animals was disproportionate to the available personnel to try to match the two. Thankfully, we had some great partners to work with who helped us streamline and comb through all these reports. We hope to have an established, unified system in place for lost and found animals moving forward to make it more manageable for shelters like ours and create less work for our community searching for their lost companions.
  • Utilization of our volunteer force to supplement our operations—There are many ways to volunteer with the shelter. We have such a generous volunteer base and while we were able to use some volunteers on a limited basis, we would love to have involved more volunteers. We’re already working on our Animal Disaster Service Worker program to build up our coordinated and safe volunteer response during disasters!
  • Better coordination with private sector organizations and resources—We found we were doubling up on efforts to serve the same members of our community in the same ways. This led to some inefficiencies for our organizations and proved to be a bit overwhelming for our community in need. Earlier (and more often) communication with these groups would help in the future.
  • Community education about Animal Services role in disaster response—We all had a lot to learn in responding to the disaster but we’d like to play a larger role in educating our community in how to safely get involved in responding to animals in disaster.
  • Utilizing the media in a way to provide more updates—we were busy taking care of animals but making time to communicate what we do for our community is important. We would like to be more proactive in getting the word out to local media sources about our work.

Accomplishments in Response to the Fires

  • We made ourselves available to our whole community—we were open 24/7 for the first 10 days following the fires with extended hours for another week. We made sure our emergency and department operations centers knew where to refer animal-related calls and inquiries, teams of volunteers and mutual aid officers were able to help us attend to each member of the public who walked through our doors in the wake of the fires.
  • We made space for all animals—Animal Services transferred nearly 100 animals (that had been at the shelter prior to the fires and whose stray holds were up) to local shelters and rescues in the first week following the fires effectively making space for any animal coming our way…including birds, rabbits, cats, dogs, chickens, goats, pigs, and koi fish!
  • Our shelter never reached capacity-we were always one step ahead of the incoming animals and had kennels and animal care facilities ready to receive every stray animal (and even owned animals that needed boarding or veterinary care).
  • Donation distribution-while we were overwhelmed by the influx of donated animal care supplies, we have successfully distributed more than 10 tons of them to our community through on-going communication, outreach events and collaborations with our partners in the county and other community-based organizations.
  • We utilized the expertise of partners who had lived and worked through disaster response before, and reached out to local (and far off) animal care partners for help when we needed it. Animal care really is a collaboration!

Contact Information

Business Hours
*Dispatch Hours 8:00–5:30
Closed to public
Tuesday – Saturday
Adoption and Shelter Hours by Appointment Only
Phones 9:00AM to 5:30PM
*Dispatch Hours 8:00–5:30

*Dispatch is unable to answer financial questions. For assistance regarding licensing, billing and collection proceedings, please call during our phone hours to speak with customer relations staff. Due to high call volumes, there may be long hold times; we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We can also be reached by email:

Contact us by Phone
Sonoma County Animal Services
1247 Century Ct
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

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