The true survivors of the Santa Paula Animal Shelter


Olivia Mowad

S.P.A.R.C. is a no-kill shelter located in Santa Paula, whose workers are focused on healing and finding good homes for these adorable pets.

Melanie Hernandez and Emilie Huovinen

Thousands of animals a year are kept in shelters, locked behind the crusted chain bars watching other animals come in and come out. Eight thousand animals come into Santa Paula Animal Shelter (SPARC) each year, and the numbers of animals becoming homeless, neglected and surrendered are increasing day by day. Santa Paula Animal Shelter is the first no-kill animal shelter in Ventura County. SPARC offers educational advice, makes reclamation of lost pets easier for residents and provides a more convenient location for license renewals and adoptions. 

The SPARC staff members allowed us to view what they see every day, but there is more that lies behind closed doors. A staff member, Lindsey Holman, walked us through the location in the back of their office where the cats and rabbits reside. 

The front desk is one of the most welcoming places, with treats for the pets and smiling employees ready to help. (Olivia Mowad)

Walking into the enclosure, we could feel the weight pulling our shoulders and body down, the hopelessness filling the air entering the entirety of our bodies and minds. There was an abundance of cats and kittens without homes and exactly two rabbits but there are more rabbits that are currently in foster homes. The number of cats was insane, as we were walking past the enclosures we could see the pain and lost souls through the cats’ and rabbits’ eyes. Even though these animals had been seriously neglected, abused horrendously and surrendered by their owners, they still made the effort to come near us.

There was one story with one of the cats named Freckles, which truly made us utterly distraught. Holman took us through what exactly happened, “There is one kennel in this entire enclosure as you can see. Due to her past owner never taking her out, she adapted to always being in this kennel, which also means she never learned how to socialize with people properly. Her kennel is also facing the entrance so that she can see who is coming in and coming out, you can see she is also overweight because she has been in this kennel for years.”

Other specific cats that make it much harder to adopt are feral cats. What this entails is that these cats aren’t your typical cats who love to be cuddled and on your lap twenty-four-seven, but still are incredible and have amazing personalities. They may be hesitant at first, but if given patience they can make an incredible house cat. 

When inside the cat and rabbit enclosures, we were able to set how amazing and clean the room for the animals is. Calming music played as the animals slept and played. There were different rooms dedicated to different cats. One room was dedicated for cats who needed to be socialized more, and there was a room where the social cats had access to the whole room and the patio area, so they could get sun and play. The cats who were either kittens or in the medical hold were kept in big enclosures by themselves until they could join the rest of the cats. 

We were then directed into the area that is dedicated to small dogs. This enclosure was indoors as well but in a different part of the building away from the cats. The first small dog we saw that made our hearts ache is Tilly Drake. SPARC tried multiple ways to get ahold of her owner, and finally reached the owner by postcard. However, when the owner came in, they told SPARC since it was their neighbor’s fault Tilly escaped, that they would not pay the fee since it was the neighbor’s fault. Until the fee is paid, Tilly Drake will remain at SPARC. Tilly Drake’s story needs to be shared because there are animals in the shelter that have been surrendered for no reason and are looking for a forever home.

The second dog we met that made our hearts grow cold of sadness is Pev. When first meeting him, he was very shy and anxious due to neglect from the past owner. He originally had come from Riverside and was going to be put down due to overpopulation from the shelter he was located at before. Many dogs that come from SPARC have a history of trying to be put down by past owners or even by other shelters because the dog is “too much work” or they just do not want the dog anymore. When SPARC has space available, they always try to pull dogs from LA County, Riverside and any other locations that tend to be overpopulated or locations that euthanize their animals. 

The last area we were shown was the area we had been dreading, because of how neglected, abused and frightful these dogs were going to be. The metal bars of cages crackling and bouncing, the intimidating barks of the dogs growing louder and louder as we neared them. Once they saw us the room grew silent. The barks stopped all of a sudden. 

As we walked towards the first kennel, we met Milo who was a surrendered dog. He had such a sad story but still kept on this beautiful happy smile. He was so playful and jumping up and down as we neared him. The main reason why some are cautious when adopting dogs such as Milo is due to the fact he’s a pit bull. The false misconception is that pit bulls are aggressive and dangerous, but in reality, their temperament is based on how the dog is raised. Being a pit bull owner myself, and seeing how sweet and gentle Milo is, he deserves a forever home that will treat him with love just like every other dog.

Next, is the story of Harper, the most severe case the shelter has ever seen. Harper was stripped of her puppies and was left in terrible condition on the side of the road near a homeless shelter. When someone finally found her, she was so lethargic she couldn’t walk, she had to be picked up out of the car and put in the stray kennel at SPARC. After arriving, a staff member examined her and found that her back had an enormous amount of scars and lacerations. Staff could see how neglected she had been to the point where her bones had been sticking out due to starvation. She was so underweight and tiny. 

When nearing the end of the kennels, we met the last dog named Vinny. Vinny’s case is special and is truly tragic and utterly heartbreaking. When listening to his story our legs started to shake and we could feel water building up in our eyes. The anger builds up as to why and how someone can do this to an animal. Vinny was rescued from a neglect situation in LA County, he spent most of his life chained to a pole facing four concrete walls which kept him isolated. He experienced so much mental trauma, that he spun in circles all day to the point where he chewed off his own tail. He has come so far, before he was anxious and spinning in circles barking constantly, he is now without the cone, running wild and making the effort in rehabilitation. Furthermore, he went from only being able to be managed by the kennel manager to now being able to socialize and be handled by many people. He has come so far in the two months of being at SPARC and his progression is just absolutely incredible. 

The tour, which allowed us into the area for small dogs, was beautifully set up which allowed an area outside and inside for the dogs to do many different types of exercise and activities, along with daily walks three times a day. In addition, the bigger dogs’ enclosures offer a big space for them with blankets and water. There are misters all around the enclosures that spray water on the days where the temperature is hot to make sure the dogs don’t overheat.

Taking everything in after the tour, we could see the majority of these dogs were so kind-hearted and are looking for a forever home. Most of them are breeds such as pit bulls, but don’t let that name intimidate or scare you off. Doing research on the dog breed before adopting is highly suggested by staff members that have so much experience with many breeds. 

Staff member Kayla Del Rio states, “the animals that get adopted the most tend to be kittens and cute dogs, meaning dogs that have bad reputations or misconceptions due to their breed aren’t adopted as much. Instead, the breeds we see getting adopted the most are Golden Retrievers, Labradors, even cattle dogs.” 

SPARC takes care of the animals very seriously, every day they try to get five to ten dogs out of their kennel to socialize and rehabilitate in the office. The biggest advice to hear before adopting is to be patient and caring, but most importantly apathetic for them. They have experienced trauma, and they won’t be perfect pets right away.

Del Rio mentioned how special SPARC is, “seeing these animals every day but also seeing them pick the homes they choose. Hearing stories of their updates after adoption such as how they are thriving and happy is always the best part of my job, overall the staff and environment is incredible.” 

Overall, the way SPARC helps our community is absolutely astonishing! Even if the animals come in with medical issues or problems, SPARC takes them in with open arms. SPARC provides these animals with shelter, food and love, providing a great resource for our community. SPARC’s main goal is to rehabilitate their animals and get them adopted into a new home. SPARC manages their animals without cruelty, with a veterinarian clinic, and many outside spaces.

Lance Hunter the CEO of SPARC adds, “after adopting, I highly encourage and recommend getting training, exercising your pet daily, following up on veterinary appointments and licensing. Making sure to give the pet love and support is very important. The biggest part is making sure your fencing is high and locks are on the fence doors to ensure your pet’s safety. All in all, it is very important to educate yourself as well”. 

There are many ways you can help SPARC including donations, volunteer work and adopting! You can also visit their local thrift store in downtown Ventura, named SPARC. Since they are a non-profit, they are always looking for donations from money, food or even pet toys. On their website, they also have an Amazon wish list that people can purchase from. Most importantly, of course, adopting always helps. If you are underage and unable to volunteer, SPARC offers opportunities to read to the animals and make toys for the animals to play with.

What do you think?