.Party Like An Animal

Local animal shelter benefit celebrates third year

The late author and activist Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” By those terms, Santa Cruz is a great city because of how compassionately we give back to our community. But how many people will use their birthday as an opportunity to throw a kick ass party with bands, burlesque, drag and local artists selling their crafts while simultaneously raising money for needy animals?

Local musician Jesse Kenneth Cotu Williams is doing just that.

On Friday, July 21 he is hosting a birthday bash at the Blue Lagoon and 100% of the proceeds at the door will benefit the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (SCCAS).

“The animals can’t advocate for themselves so it’s our responsibility to speak up,” explains Williams who volunteered at the shelter since 2013 before gaining employment there in 2022.

The benefit, which has become an annual event, began in 2021 when Williams and a fellow July birthday friend raised around $1,300 for the shelter.

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“That day we used both rooms [at the Blue Lagoon] and we had bands all day,” he recalls.

This year the festivities will only take up one room but are packed throughout the day. It starts at 1pm with a makers market of local artists selling everything from jewelry and crocheted goods to pottery, paintings and handcrafted candles.

From 5-pm, the audience will be entertained by burlesque performers Miss Monsterra, Foxy Feldman and Jubilee—as well as drag favorite Trashy—before the music kicks off.

“We’ve got Barf, Knuckledragger and of course you put your own band on it,” Williams says referring to his blues-based metal project, Chase the Monster.

“It’s about bringing our community together and how people can get involved,” says Rosebud Widmann, co-organizer of the benefit. “Even if they don’t have money they can still help out.”

“The county budget does afford the shelter the basics—food and accommodations—but we don’t have a budget for some things like toys and other enrichments,” explains SCCAS Animal Care Coordinator, Karen Coullahan.

According to its website, the shelter cares for and shelters approximately 5,000 animals a year.

“During kitten season we probably have close to 150 cats [a day] in the building and close to 30 dogs,” says Coullahan, who is a 13-year veteran at the shelter.

At any given time creatures big and small from rabbits and chickens to pigs and horses might be at the shelter. Pigs like Apples (né Scrapples), who’s been at the shelter since last December and is one of Williams’ favorites to post videos of on social media.

“This area’s gone through some recent hardships,” Coullahan says, referring to the economy as well as flooding from last winter’s rains. “So our barn population—any animal with hooved feet and chickens—fluctuates and is really unpredictable.”

Coullahan and Williams both say there are many ways to help our sheltered furry, farm and feathered friends. There’s the obvious ways like donating money or treats like non-fat yogurt and leafy greens to bedding and feeder bowls for the kennels. Not-so-obvious supplies like batteries, spoons and even can openers are welcomed.

However, one of the best ways a person can donate is with their time. Volunteers make up a huge part of shelter operations with around 100 currently on the shelter’s roster, according to Coullahan. They do everything from wash dishes and laundry to helping with off-site events and spending time with the animals.

Last month, a petition circulated by staff received over 700 signatures that called attention to a crisis of understaffing, lack of resources and low pay. These issues not only affect morale, but many of the shelter’s programs like veterinary care, spaying and neutering, vaccinations and more.

Anyone interested in working for the SCCAS can apply online at the county website. For those already employed and without time to volunteer, there’s also a third way. 

“You can go in and just look at the animals,” Williams says. “Anyone can go in, look at them, take pictures and post them on their social networks. It’s a great way to spread awareness and really brightens the animals’ day even if you aren’t adopting them. Plus, it makes you look cool.”

Or, attend Friday’s event and rock out for a good cause.

Benefit for the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, Friday, July 21. Doors 1pm. The Blue Lagoon, 923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $20 donation but nobody turned away for lack of funds.

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