How Your Pets Can Help the Gulf Oil Spill Recovery Effort

With the Exxon Valdez oil spill more than 20 years behind us, our nation again braces itself for another environmental disaster as the sunken BPoil rig gushes thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico daily. The April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused a spill that has spread more than 130 miles so far. The spill has reached land in Louisiana, and is expected to reach Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. According to experts, if it continues, it will surpass the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill as the worst in history. Biologists are expecting more than 400 species of wildlife to be threatened by the spill, including birds, sea turtles, marine mammals, fish, and other sea life.

Unfortunately, five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles are found in the Gulf of Mexico, and all five are listed as either endangered or threatened. Experts say that even a small amount of oil will contaminate sea turtle eggs, causing the eggs to fail to hatch or the ones that do hatch to produce weakened, deformed hatchlings. Adult sea turtles will most likely suffer from malnutrition since oil kills sea grass, one of the sea turtle’s primary food sources.

Seabirds, such as brown pelicans, herons, and other wading birds, can experience hypothermia when oil comes in contact with their feathers as it damages the insulation that their feathers normally provide. As these birds groom themselves, they will ultimately consume some oil, which can lead to diarrhea, kidney and liver damage, and eventual death.

According to experts, two orca pods lost 40 percent of their numbers after the Exxon Valdez spill and unfortunately, still have not fully recovered. Since marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, must breathe air to survive, this means they must surface frequently, coming in contact with the oil slick that covers thousands of square miles of the Gulf. The effects can range from chemical burns from direct contact to internal bleeding from consumption of contaminated prey. On Tuesday, the National Marine Fisheries Service said that dead dolphins had been found in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, but that such deaths are also common during calving season, when they swim into shallow waters. Tests are being conducted to see if the dolphins were affected by the oil.

While rescue costs vary widely, depending on the source of the information, David Jessup and Jonna Mazet of the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center have reported that “the actual cost of collecting and caring for oiled sea otters is about $4,000-$5,000 and marine birds $600-$750 each,” which they believe is comparable to “replacement values” for similar animals. There are many animal organizations pooling their resources to help with the Gulf oil spill recovery effort. Here are just a few organizations that are involved and their Web sites if you’d like to donate:

• Alabama Coastal Foundation

• Audubon Nature Institute

• International Bird Rescue Research Center

• National Wildlife Federation

• Marine Mammal Center

• Save Our Sea Birds


• Dawn dishwashing detergent is used to clean oil off of birds and animals, and Dawn is pitching in to help. Purchase a bottle of Dawn and $1 will go toward the Marine Mammal Center and the International Bird Rescue Research Center. Please note that you must go online to activate this donation—it’s not automatic with your purchase.

Report animals in distress. If you’re in one of the affected areas and see an animal in trouble, don’t approach it—call the hotline for injured-animal sightings at 1 (866) 557-1401 and leave a message with the animal’s exact location.

Ways Your Pet Can Help

The San Francisco-based charity called Matter of Trust has been collecting hair and using it to create mats that are then stuffed into nylons, making tubes or booms that help contain the oil. Matter of Trust can use all pet fur, wool, horse hair, feathers, and human hair. If you have your pet groomed, encourage your grooming parlor to donate all that hair. According to hairstylist and oil spill hair mat inventor Phil McCrory, “You shampoo your hair because it gets greasy. Hair is very efficient at collecting oil out of the air, off surfaces like your skin and out of the water, even petroleum oil.” To learn more about how you can donate your hair or your pet’s hair, visit


C.A.R.E.4PAWS Spay and Neuter Program

In response to the ever-present problem of pet overpopulation,C.A.R.E.4Paws and members of the Responsible Pet Ownership Alliance (RPO)—including the Santa Barbara Humane Society and Santa Barbara County Animal Services—have joined forces with area vet clinics and veterinarians to launch a countywide spay and neuter program that helps low-income pet owners fix their dogs and cats.

C.A.R.E.4Paws—a nonprofit promoting responsible pet ownership and animal welfare—organizes affordable and free “Spay Days” and weekday appointments to pet owners in financial need at various veterinary clinics countywide. The Spay Days and appointments are held throughout the year in lieu of the Santa Barbara Humane Society’s traditional February Spay & Neuter Month.

For years, shelters and rescue groups have been overwhelmed with the large number of abandoned pets in their care. And, sadly, only a small percentage of these animals stand a chance of being adopted. Millions of pets are euthanized in the U.S. each year because there are not enough homes for them. C.A.R.E.4paws’s Spay & Neuter Program was created to cut down on the high number of unwanted pets born by helping owners without the financial resources alter their animals.

Working with area veterinarians and animal hospitals, C.A.R.E.4Paws plans to help facilitate the spaying/neutering of thousands of animals in the years to come. The impact on animal overpopulation can be significant, especially considering these statistics:

• A single unspayed female dog and her descendants can produce 67,000 puppies in just seven generations.

• A single unspayed female cat, her mate, and their offspring can produce a total of 420,000 kittens in just seven years.

“Everyone in this community needs to work together to alleviate the overcrowding in shelters,” said Dr. Ron Faoro, owner of St. Francis Pet Clinic, where C.A.R.E.4Paws will co-host its first Santa Barbara Spay Day Sunday May 16. “We want the people of Santa Barbara to know that veterinarians and the staff at veterinary hospitals are doing their part to reduce the overpopulation problem that results in the destruction of so many potentially good pets—at such great expense to the taxpayers.”

Vet clinics, like St. Francis, can participate in the program by hosting one or several Spay Days throughout the year and/or by offering any given number of affordable or free appointments each month. Veterinarians and vet technicians can also help independently by volunteering during Spay Days arranged by C.A.R.E.4Paws at different vet facilities. (See a complete list of participating vet clinics below.)

C.A.R.E.4Paws uses a screening system to ensure that the program truly helps pet owners who cannot afford having the procedure done at a vet clinic or a low-cost facility such as the Humane Society or the Santa Barbara County Animal Services Santa Maria Center.

Pet owners experiencing financial difficulty who are interested in getting their dog or cat spayed or neutered should contact C.A.R.E.4Paws at 968-CARE (2273) or

To learn more about C.A.R.E.4Paws and its programs and upcoming events, visit

Participating Veterinary Clinics

Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Carpinteria

• Adobe Pet Hospital

• Animal Medical Clinic

• C.A.R.E. Hospital

• Cat & Bird Clinic


• La Cumbre Animal Hospital

• Santa Barbara Humane Society

• St. Francis Pet Clinic

Santa Ynez and Buellton

• Buellton Veterinary Clinic

• Solvang Veterinary Hospital


• Lompoc Veterinary Clinic

• Village Veterinary Clinic

Santa Maria

• Orcutt Veterinary Clinic

• Santa Barbara County Animal Services

• Santa Maria Shelter Clinic