By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Beleaguered directors of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter assured the City Council Monday that while they face difficult challenges finishing a new $3.5 million
building it will be a state-of-the-art shelter for “contemporary animal care.”
With City Council members playing a mediating role between the shelter’s board of directors and its critics, the council said there was a chance to move beyond the acrimony and distrust on both sides.
“We have an opportunity with the new shelter that’s being built. There are real problems,” said Councilman Jim Wood. “I hope everyone can rally around the shelter and revitalize the mission that brought us all together — it’s the animals.”
Bill Anderson, newly named co-chair of the shelter board, said the organization is working on resolving issues with the new building, including a cracked foundation that will cost a minimum of $300,000 to fix.
“The facility is not remotely ready to move into,” he said, and won’t be until the foundation is repaired and related legal issues are resolved.
The council got an earful from people criticizing the current board for a lack of communication and missteps, but also heard the shelter staff praised for professionalism.
At times Anderson lashed out, saying “constant barrage of criticism makes it hard to finish (the new shelter).” He singled out what he called a hostile takeover attempt by the newly formed Green Dog Rescue, which had offered to take over the shelter and its operations.
The council also heard from those who said several of the longtime directors on the board were the root of the problem.
“I’m hearing excuses and promises of 30, 60, 90 day reports,” said Mike DeCoss, who said the board was in “full circle the wagons mode.”
The shelter has been beset with leadership turnover, fundraising shortfalls and controversy over animal adoptions. Its most recent executive director, Julie Seal, resigned in March. She was involved with a high-profile lawsuit filed to prevent euthanasia of a dog after resisted requests to have it adopted.
The most visible manifestation of problems is the incomplete new shelter which was supposed to be finished last year.
Funded almost entirely with a bequest from the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife Charlotte, the shelter stalled due to a lack of funds to finish it.
Councilwoman Susan Jones, president of board of Green Dog, said prior to the meeting Monday that Green Dog was no longer offering to take over the Healdsburg Animal Shelter.
Jones said the offer was made originally because of turmoil at the shelter and concern for animals there.
“It goes back to animals living in horrible cages and deplorable conditions,” she said, adding that the 52-year-old existing shelter is “leaky and drafty.”
“With the concerns of a lack of transparency, lack of communication, financial problems, mass exodus of the majority of Board members, loss of the Executive Director and a history of short- termed Executive Directors, people’s concerns had reached a fever pitch, and rightfully so,” Jones wrote in a letter published in last week’s Healdsburg Tribune.
The foundation problems at the new facility are particularly vexing. Anderson said a dog virus like Parvo could potentially live in the cracks of concrete and “would shut down the shelter for a year.”
Some speakers said they needed to know more about how the problems came about, including design problems with the new facility and why there has been so much turnover of shelter executive directors.
Communication was shut off for so long. So many negative things happened,” said Jan Stanley.” We have a need to understand the past. We have to understand history before we can make new history.”
But by the end of the evening, there seemed to be a détente of sorts. “I’m very, very proud of everyone sitting in this room, Mayor Gary Plass told the audience of about 75 people who packed the council chamber.
He said everyone doesn’t agree, but there’s been a “90 percent improvement in communication.
“We’re concerned because you’re concerned. We’ll do the best to mediate. We really want to put you guys together.”
Councilman Steve Babb suggested that volunteers form a group called “Friends of the Animal Shelter” and focus on a vision for the future. “If both groups, all involved, said in 10 years this is what we want to see, they would harmonize,” he said.