City pledges $60K to support pet population 

Merry Jayne Machado, an animal care advocate, discusses a past fundraising effort to support the Castaic Animal Care Center in front of Santa Clarita City Council while giving her opinion on some of the problems there during Tuesday's meeting. Perry Smith/ The Signal

The city of Santa Clarita pledged to support the local pet population with a $60,000 commitment Tuesday to be spent on grants to support nonprofits working with the local animal population and local adoptions, according to city officials. 

The lion’s share, $50,000, will be to provide grants to nonprofits that are vetted and approved by an ad hoc City Council committee, with individual grants of up to $7,500. The other $10,000 is to promote adoptions.  

Advocates began taking concerns to City Hall last February over operations at the L.A. County-run Castaic Animal Care Center, through which the city contracts with the Department of Animal Care and Control. 

With the city’s solution — support for nonprofits working directly with the issues facing the animal population — the city will be able to best target its help and ensure local dollars are applied to where they can make the most impact here, according to City Councilwoman Laurene Weste. 

“We’ll target what is necessary for improvement — ‘OK, we have a need here, we have a need there, let’s do that,’” she said, describing how the grant funding might help. “It will be an improvement. I’m very happy the city is stepping in to do something.” 

Weste, citing years of experience in working with the L.A. County Animal Care Foundation, volunteered to serve on the board that will review animal care grant applications alongside Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs. 

Once the city works closer on the issue, she said, it will have a much better ability to address the problems.  

“As you work with a program, you learn more definitively where the gaps are,” Weste said. “We’ll find the gaps. We’re starting now and we’ll fill the gaps as we go.” 

The initial call from advocates last year was a request for the city to build its own no-kill shelter. 

However, a feasibility study the city commissioned in response to the concerns that focused on the county’s Castaic location indicated that wasn’t necessary based on figures provided — numbers repeatedly challenged by shelter volunteers and supporters who have been showing up to City Hall. 

City Council members Weste and Marsha McLean brought up separate but similar arguments against a city shelter: McLean said at the last council discussion such an investment would disincentivize L.A. County from providing services that are already being paid for by residents; and Weste, saying Wednesday that animals on the city side of Interstate 5 have the same needs as animals on the unincorporated side and adding everyone would likely take their animals to the city shelter, creating a new challenge, unless the city had valleywide borders. 

Jordan Diem-Roberts, a local animal advocate who runs a popular online group to support adoptions, was glad the city was stepping up to support the local population, and agreed with Weste on the need to support more trap and release, with both mentioning how feral cat populations can quickly multiply exponentially, which was a major challenge for the shelter. 

“I am happy about the progress but we aren’t done,” she said in a message sent online, adding that she “can’t wait to see” a trap, neuter and release program, which would help with the cat issue. 

Another advocate, Kiza Hilton, who spoke at the May meeting in which the city first discussed the shelter-feasibility report, said by phone Wednesday she was happy to hear the commitment to support the animals was planned as an annual, ongoing one.  

Toward the end of the discussion on the dais, Weste questioned staff on the potential timeline for a TNR program. City Manager Ken Striplin said the direction from the City Council identified that program as a separate discussion from the $60,000 that was approved, but also one that had been identified as an opportunity to support county efforts down the road. 

When finding out there was no timeline, but rather the item was part of an ongoing quarterly discussion with county staff, Weste called for more urgency. 

“Every month that you don’t get that resolved,” Weste said, “you’re going to have thousands of kittens more. Every month.” 

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