SPARC Photo by: T. Christian Gapen Cody Gangl plays fetch with pit bull “Scrappy.”

Pet sanctuary

Santa Paula’s no-kill shelter SPARCs inspiration to save lives of dogs, cats

By Chris O'Neal 11/27/2013

When the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (SPARC) opened, it didn’t take long for the pet owning community to take notice. As the only no-kill shelter in Ventura County, SPARC’s success can be attributed to strong support from the animal-loving community and the hard work put in by its core of directors and volunteers.

Christina Morgan began her work with SPARC in early 2013 and became executive director in August. After a visit to the Camarillo Animal Shelter, Morgan said, she realized that despite the best efforts at finding homes for the dogs, cats and other animals that found their way in, Ventura County would euthanize a sizable portion of the population — and so the county needed an alternative.

According to the Ventura County Health Care Agency, the county’s intake for the month of August alone reached upward of 513 dogs and 328 cats, and of those, 117 dogs and 160 cats were euthanized while the rest were either adopted or returned to owners. Close to 17 percent of dogs were transferred to a rescue facility.

Since opening in downtown Santa Paula, SPARC runs at full capacity as the status quo, with new animals showing up weekly.

“We’re full at all times, pretty much,” said Morgan. “When there’s some space in that building or this building, bam! There it goes. Some days we have 13 intakes — that’s a lot.”

Annually, 2.7 million animals are euthanized nationwide, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), having wound up in a shelter for various reasons — whether from economic hardship at their previous homes or having been picked up as strays. SPARC boasts a 99.7 percent no-kill rate, joining only seven other no-kill shelters that have a rate of 90 percent or higher.

Up until SPARC opened, the city of Santa Paula paid Ventura County Animal Services more than $100,000 a year for use of the Camarillo facility. After reaching an agreement to open SPARC, the city began to save close to $30,000, giving $72,000 annually to the shelter.

Despite the continuous heavy flow, SPARC finds a way to manage. Through near-weekly pet adoption drives, various fundraisers and sponsorships, SPARC has thrived. Since opening in 2012, SPARC has adopted out more than 1,600 dogs, cats and other animals to the local community.

To keep the shelter open, however, SPARC relies on far more than the amount given by the city. Operating costs have reached upward of $1 million a year, and for operations to continue, SPARC will need steady support from the community and beyond.

“In order to move forward we need more donors and sponsors; we need to move to a bigger facility as well as need help with monthly operating expenses,” said Morgan. “SPARC is very important in that it is a pilot to show that no-kill can work.”

In New York, at a function hosted by the Humane Society, Morgan met with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's daughter and others who had heard of the work SPARC is doing. Communities from around the globe have “liked” the shelter on Facebook, skyrocketing its fans from 300 in the early days to a little more than 5,900 currently.

Morgan credits the “reality show” nature of putting the animals first for making adoptions and rescues as successful as they have been. On SPARC’s Facebook page, stories are told with honesty.

“We tell the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Morgan. “So some animals that have tragic stories become almost like celebrities.”

Back in California, when several dogs needed to be adopted from the pack belonging to Cesar Milan, the well-known host of The Dog Whisperer, the Cesar Milan Foundation approached SPARC for assistance. On another occasion, a rescue by the name of Sonic — a pitbull who came with a sordid history — was in desperate need of assistance.

Rescued from a home belonging to several people charged with the distribution of drugs, Sonic’s outlook was grim. When sheltered with another dog from the same location, Sonic became involved in a brutal fight that ended with both dogs injured, thus making him unadoptable.

The Cesar Milan Foundation stepped in and took Sonic in for rehabilitation. Sonic, with assistance from Milan and his pack of dogs, has not only been successfully rehabilitated but has also appeared as the mascot for a line of tea drinks in Los Angeles. SPARC assisted in getting the word out on Sonic and since, he has become a poster-dog for rehabilitation over euthanasia and is currently up for adoption through the Cesar Milan Foundation.

Jillian Dunn, executive director at the Cesar Milan Foundation, says that places like SPARC are important for a community.

“People have pride about their community,” said Dunn. “I think that a no kill shelter is welcome because it’s very positive and you don’t have to be thinking that down the street from where I live they’re killing dogs or cats.”

SPARC hasn’t been free from controversy, however. Noise complaints nearly shuttered the shelter until a petition, signed by 600 residents, saved it. Now, SPARC is on the move — potentially finding a new home in a larger area within city limits and opening, on Dec. 1, a thrift store in downtown Ventura selling new and used goods with all proceeds going directly back into operations.

Recently, SPARC received a $5,000 donation from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) toward the building of its own spay/neuter clinic. Only $19,000 away from reaching its goal for the clinic, SPARC will host a fundraiser at Primavera Gallery on Dec. 8 in Ojai featuring actor Malcolm McDowell and the canine-inspired artwork of local artist Jannene Behl. 

For more information about SPARC and to see a calendar of upcoming events and for details on how to adopt or donate, visit or on Facebook at Santa Paula RC/.


Sophie, miniature pincher mix

Sophie is a sweet 2-year-old, altered, female, min pin mix who loves attention. Sophie weighs 12 pounds and walks well on a leash, is house trained and knows basic commands. Sophie would be best suited in a house where she is the only dog with no young children as she loves to be the center of attention.

Beautiful little Sophie was adopted from SPARC a year ago. Sadly, due to a series of unfortunate events, the family is no longer able to keep her, so she is back up for adoption through SPARC.

Santa Paula Animal Rescue (SPARC) is located at 705 E. Santa Barbara Street in Santa Paula. It is open every day from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. except Mondays and Wednesdays. For more information, call 525-8609.

Pause for Paws is a new spotlight in the VCReporter showcasing animals up for adoption at SPARC and will be featured periodically in print and regularly online.


Other Stories by Chris O'Neal

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