Animal Rescue Team moves into new home

“For once, I have a decent home,” Julia Di Sieno, executive director of Santa Ynez Valley-based Animal Rescue Team Inc., excitedly told the News-Press last week.The tireless animal rescue worker closed escrow on her new home, which is also the new home of the nonprofit Animal Rescue Team, in October 2009.

She and the myriad of animals in her care moved into their new 1.1-acre digs on Carriage Drive in Solvang the same month that escrow closed. Ms. Di Sieno lives on the property in order to provide round-the-clock care to the animal boarders she helps rescue, rehabilitate and release back into their natural habitat after they are nursed back to health. Last year, the Animal Rescue Team released more than 100 rehabilitated large mammals back into their natural environment.The Animal Rescue Team had leased a property on Covered Wagon Road, just around the corner from their new home, until the owner of the property defaulted on his payments, forcing Ms. Di Sieno and the animals to look for a new home.

With the help of some private investors and by liquidating most of her stocks, she was able to put a down payment on the new $675,000 property. Although Ms. Di Sieno contemplated purchasing the previous property, which sat on 1.4 acres, the owner was asking $1.1 million – well above her price threshold and about $300,000 more than it was actually worth, she said.Although she was devastated when she learned she had to move, the predicament ended up being a blessing in disguise by providing a permanent address to the rescue operation. “I’ve moved 10 times in 10 years” because of outgrowing previous facilities and other challenges, she said.

The previous property was larger, but the new one has more usable space, Ms. Di Sieno said, adding that it will allow her to take in more hurt and needy animals.

Ms. Di Sieno currently has three dozen rescued wild animals in her care, including a vole, a baby weasel, bunnies, hummingbirds, foxes, bobcats, ducks and squirrels. She is also carrying for a puppy and some cats.

The new property came complete with corrals, two barn stalls, two self-contained water troughs, a food storage room, fencing, a main house for Ms. Di Sieno to live in and a guest house that serves as an animal nursery hospital.

The Covered Wagon Road property had no fencing or corrals, and the Animal Rescue Team, which consists of Ms. Di Sieno and about 20 volunteers, had to invest about $10,000 in improvements to the property. The main house on the old property was smaller, and she rented out the guest house for extra income.

“This (new property) was already groomed to perfection,” she said.

Still, Ms. Di Sieno had to make a lot of improvements to the property – and more still needs to be done.

Volunteer contractors, she said, are needed to set up a pen for rescued fawns, and a utility sink needs to be installed.

Since she moved in, Ms. Di Sieno and volunteers have set up eight mammal enclosures, built platforms, fenced off a horse corral, added lighting and installed roofing.

In addition to needing more volunteers and a sponsor for the group’s animal ambulance, the animal activist said she is in serious need of donations and grants to help her continue running her operation. The struggling operation has been receiving fewer donations since the recession, she said.

The animal rescue worker said that her operating costs, which include food and medication for the animals and her mortgage, run about $5,000 to $6,000 a month. She continuously struggles to get by – even with the help of some grants and donations – and must work a second job to try to make ends meet. She has also lost income she had received from renting out the guest house on the previous property.

“It’s hard when you’re worried about your next check and you’re trying to save an animal’s life,” she said. “Our biggest expense is around the corner – baby season.”

Some short-term relief came in the form of a $25,000 grant to the organization last month by a News-Press reader who had read about the rescue team in previous stories and was touched by Ms. Di Sieno’s dedication and mission.

“Peter F. Hilf, through his family foundation, the MacDonald Family Foundation, arranged for a grant of $25,000 to the Animal Rescue Team Inc.,” she said.

Those much-needed funds, she said, will help her pay for some of her operating costs.

Worries about financial challenges have not swayed Ms. Di Sieno from her mission.

Santa Barbara County sheriffs, she said, continuously make referrals to the group to place abused, abandoned and ill animals, and the organization is an official county probation site. Offenders younger than 18 can volunteer with the Animal Rescue Team as part of their community service. A few of the minors, she said, have asked to go on rescue calls with her to pick up animals, and one offender expressed interest in continuing to volunteer there even after her service was completed.

The group received certification in disaster animal response training in January 2010 through the Humane Society so they can rescue animals that are displaced or injured as a result of disasters in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.

In addition, Ms. Di Sieno said, the group is the only Fish and Game-permitted wildlife facility that takes in orphaned fawns from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The group is one of only 104 such permitted facilities throughout the state.

“Our work is very unique,” she said.

As to why she has devoted 25 years of her life to rescuing and rehabilitating animals, Ms. Di Sieno explained, “These animals deserve a chance at life, just like we do.”

To find out more about volunteer opportunities with the Animal Rescue Team or to make donations, call the team’s hotline at 896-1859 or go to


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