By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Healdsburg City Council on Monday approved a temporary contract with Sonoma County to take over responsibility for animal control, prompted by
the imminent closure of the independently-run Healdsburg Animal Shelter.
The six-month agreement with Sonoma County Animal Care and Control was hurriedly put together in the face of the sudden announcement last week of the closing of the 53-year-old, non- profit shelter, which experienced a drop in contributions after a myriad of controversies that included the inability to complete a partially built $3.5 million facility.
The council heard from about a dozen speakers Monday night including shelter volunteers who said they were saddened, angered and worried for the fate of the animals in Healdsburg as a result of the loss of the local shelter.
“It’s gone. We are fools to let it go,” said longtime volunteer Robin See. “I feel shame for Healdsburg.”
She said the animal shelter “was a very special place. We should all feel responsible.”
Others worried that unwanted dogs and cats will be abandoned by people who won’t drive to the county shelter in Santa Rosa to drop them off.
“Animals will be left by the side of the road,” said Jennifer Cadd, a volunteer at the shelter who has fostered more than two dozen kittens and adopted a dog from the shelter.
But city officials praised the county for its willingness to step into the gap until the city can craft requests for proposals from other animal welfare groups to possibly take over animal services in Healdsburg.
And council members held out hope that a local shelter of some kind will be re-established even though the current building, which is owned by the city, is considered obsolete and in poor condition.
Councilman Jim Wood said the community should be able to maintain its own shelter, but acknowledged he doesn’t know how that will happen. “I hope from the ashes of this meltdown a new group arises to take it on,” he said.
“It’s just a matter of time before people in Healdsburg come together and find a solution for a new animal shelter,” said Councilman Shaun McCaffery.
“It’s going to be difficult moving forward but we will,” said Mayor Susan Jones, who adopted a dog from the shelter. “This short term contract will get us to the next step.”
Under the $58,000, six-month contract approved 3-0 Monday, the county will be responsible for animal control, handling strays, vicious, injured and unwanted animals.
The Healdsburg Police Department will take over the annual licensing of animals.
“We want to ensure a seamless transition. We want to give animals coming into Animal Care and Control the highest care possible,” North County Supervisor Mike McGuire told the council.
He said the county also welcomed participation from various groups that have offered to help, including the Sonoma Humane Society, which will take in animals on Sundays and Mondays when the county shelter is closed.
Rita Scardaci, who oversees animal control services for the county, noted the county recently struck an agreement with the Humane Society to help ease overcrowding and handle adoptions to avoid healthy animals being euthanized.
The Healdsburg shelter technically remains open through Saturday, but all the animals that were there have been taken to other shelters or rescue organizations.
“We are here. We no longer have animals,” office manager Caroline Marker said Monday.
About 40 dogs and cats were parceled out last week to the Humane Society, Rohnert Park and Petaluma shelters, and Green Dog Rescue Project, according to Marker.
She said the staff at Healdsburg Animal Shelter was packing and cleaning, “getting ready to turn the building over to the city.”
She said other non-profit animal welfare groups were invited to help themselves to supplies, crate kennels, cat cages, blankets and remaining animal food.
Marker said the shelter was also open in case any strays or owner-surrendered animals were brought in. She said they would be transferred to the Humane Society.
The closing of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter comes following a series of setbacks that resulted in a loss of community confidence and a drop-off in large donations that it depends on for survival.
The organization with nine full time employees, had an approximate $500,000 annual budget, with less than a quarter of that derived from its contract with the city for animal control services.
A new 7,500-square-foot building sits nearly complete on Westside Road across from the existing facility, mired in an extensive lawsuit over design and construction defects and complicated by the bankruptcy of the general contractor.
There was also rapid turnover on the board staff, with four executive directors serving over five years.
What will happen to the squat cinder block structure that has served as a shelter since 1960 is also uncertain.
City Manager Marjie Pettus said the building is in extremely poor condition, but it is too soon to say what will happen to it. She said its fate could be determined following an evaluation of the adjacent city corporation yard and facility issues that need to be addressed.