By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Directors of the troubled Healdsburg Animal Shelter are appealing to the public for donations to keep the 53-year-old facility operating.
In a commentary published in the Healdsburg Tribune, the board said it needs to increase revenues by more than $200,000 over what it received last year.
Board members said the shelter has exhausted nearly all its operating reserves and the organization needs community support more than ever.
“Right now the need could not be more pressing,” stated the commentary signed by five board members. “We need your support to keep the doors to the shelter open.”
The plea comes less than six months after the last head of the board of directors, Bill Anderson, presented an upbeat picture to the City Council, saying he was pleased to report the shelter “is a stabilized and much stronger organization than before.”
His presentation capped a turbulent year, marked by controversies over the shelter’s kill policy, turnover on the board of directors, and a lawsuit over the empty, nearly finished $3.5 million new shelter plagued with construction and design defects.
On Thursday, Healdsburg Mayor Susan Jones said the shelter’s apparent financial distress is “unsettling. It sounds like it might have to close.”
Jones, president of the separate Green Dog Rescue Project, said she was “more saddened than surprised” by the urgent appeal for support, since the ongoing controversies led to public complaints about the shelter operation, as well as a clamor for more transparency from the board of directors.
On Thursday, both Judi Adams, director of animal services at the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, and office manager Caroline Marker deferred questions to the Board of Directors, who did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
In their commentary, directors blamed the poor economy for affecting donations, as well as causing a spike in the number of unwanted animals coming to the shelter.
But the public turmoil at the shelter hurt the financial donations the shelter relies upon for its approximate $650,000 annual operating budget. The shelter has drawn criticism in public meetings, with past supporters announcing their intention to no longer back the agency.
Part of the shelter’s budget comes from a $115,000 contract with the city to handle injured, stray and unwanted animals, as well as adoptions.
Last year it handled 650 animals and touted a 94 percent rate of animals that left in a safe and healthy condition.
While some of the shelter’s income is derived from fees, it is heavily reliant on charitable contributions.
One of the biggest gifts, a $2.9 million bequest from the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife Charlotte, was used to build a new 7,500-square shelter on Westside Road, across from the existing cramped shelter built in 1960.
But the new building has sat unoccupied for more than a year, mired in a lawsuit over construction defects, including a cracked foundation and other issues that directors said make it “effectively uninhabitable.”
With questions and criticism swirling around the board’s actions and the unfinished shelter, directors last year underwent a “forensic audit” of the organization. The results, they announced, showed no malfeasance, no misappropriation of funds linked to the stalled building and no co-mingling of funds between shelter operations and the new building campaign.
But citing the forensic audit that was underway, board members decided not to hold their usual annual major fundraising event last year, until they could report the results of the audit.
In December, after the results were completed, Anderson indicated the organization was back on track.
“We have had some extraordinarily large gifts recently. People are ready to start supporting again,” he said at the time.
Anderson, who resigned in January citing the need to devote more time to his job, said Thursday that there were donations in the “tens of thousands.”
But the lack of a major fundraiser prior to that meant the shelter “was behind the eight ball.”
“If you don’t have one big fundraiser a year … it’s a major amount of money. You will play catch up,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.