santa cruz county animal services picket
Santa Cruz County Animal Services employees stand along Rodriguez Street in Santa Cruz on Nov. 30 to call attention to staffing shortages, among other issues. Photo: Todd Guild/The Pajaronian

Dozens of Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter employees briefly walked off the job on Nov. 30 to conduct an informational picket highlighting what they describe as untenable working conditions and inadequate pay, with no support from their management.

The issue is exacerbated by a recent 23% increase in animals coming into the organization’s shelters at 1001 Rodriguez St. in Santa Cruz and 580 Airport Blvd. in Watsonville, said Animal Services Coordinator Jillian Ganley. 

“Things have just come to a boil here at the shelter,” Ganley said. “We are overworked and underpaid.”

Much of the work has fallen to volunteers, whose duties are largely walking the animals, as well as playing with and socializing them, which boosts their adoptability.

The duties of the staff, on the other hand, include cleaning, vaccinations, euthanasia and helping veterinarians, in addition to adoption services, for which clients come from as far away as other counties, said Animal Services Coordinator Karen Coullahan.

“But we can’t continue to do that under these circumstances,” she said. “We are exhausted.”

The Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, and its roughly $5 million budget is overseen by a Joint Powers Authority made up of the county and the cities of Santa Cruz, Capitola, Watsonville and Scotts Valley. 

Ganley says that employees have asked several times for increased staffing and salary increases, which they say would help them deal with the “predictable dramatic rise of animal intakes,” which this year is more than 6,600 animals.

But management has not heeded the demands, according to Ganley. 

“So now we’re demanding it,” she said. “We are raising our voices and showing that we can’t be silenced, and that we need this and we are doing this for our community and our animals.”

The employees are also asking for an additional 5-10 staffers to round out the 35 or so currently on the payroll, which Rowland said would be difficult, as the shelter has a set amount of people they can hire under their budget, and after hiring one additional staff member, they will reach that limit.

“I support animal shelter employees and I always have,” she said. “That’s part of the reason I came back to the animal sheltering world after a seven-year hiatus. Because I know that animal sheltering work is hard and under-recognized.”

Managers are typically restricted from discussing employee salaries, and Rowland declined to comment on the issue of pay increases.

Rowland said that animal intake at shelters is tied to several factors, including housing costs, the economy and employment.

“It’s always difficult to know what the intake is going to be, especially when you’re an open-door intake shelter,” she said. 

This dramatic influx has led to the shelter stopping “Planned Pethood,” which offers low-cost spay and neuter services to the public.

“Animal intake increased exponentially, but staffing has remained the same, so we are working very long hours,” Coullahan said. “It’s very hard work, and even taking time off makes us feel guilty because there are not enough people to cover our shifts.”

It is not clear what actions the employees will take if their demands are not met, and employees stopped short of suggesting a strike is on the table. But Ganley said that “you may see more of us” if the demands are not met.

The action on Nov. 30, she added, was to seek help from the community. 

“I want to be sure that our community understands that we need their support,” she said. “We are here every day assisting them with adoptions, reclaiming strays. We were here during the fires, we’ve been here during the pandemic. This time we are asking that they step up and support us and help us to help the community.”

A previous version of this story referenced a since retracted petition calling for the termination of management.

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


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