By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Directors of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter announced Monday that after more than 50 years of operation, the facility will be closing its doors by the end of the
Board members said they had no choice but to cease animal care control and care after an urgent public appeal for funds failed to raise any significant donations.
“When the board noted the lack of positive response to its appeal for funds … and evaluated prospective future courses of action, it reluctantly concluded that closing down these functions is an unavoidable necessity,” the board said in a parting statement.
Directors said they have been working with the city and other animal care facilities to assure a smooth transition “with the highest priority assigned to providing safe and humane transfer of all animals out of the shelter’s custody.”
Board Chairman Art Feagles said there are probably 40 dogs and cats at the shelter now.
“The animals aren’t going to get caught in the squeeze. They will all be well cared for,” he said in an interview Monday evening.
It’s likely that Sonoma County Animal Care and Control — at least initially — will take over the shelter’s responsibility for handling strays, injured, vicious and unwanted animals in the city, as well as adoptions and licensing.
North County Supervisor Mike McGuire said earlier Monday at a board meeting that the county should be prepared to take over those functions. The City of Healdsburg had paid the shelter $115,000 annually for animal control services.
Last week, Feagles said the shelter had enough money to stay open until September.
But the decision was made to close sooner, he said, because “we have to stop the bleeding and use the cash for a wind-down period.”
The nine, full-time employees will be laid off, he said, adding that they were in agreement with the decision.
“They said it was best to close. They didn’t want to run a half-assed, half-served (facility)” he said.
The shelter, with an approximate $500,000 budget this year, had a net operating loss of $220,000 over the past two years, as a result of a drop-off in community donations.
The organization was caught up in controversy for most of last year, stemming from the failure to complete a partially built, $3.5 million new shelter on Westside Road that ended up mired in a lawsuit over construction and design defects.
The board of directors said Monday that the shelter will retain its corporate identity and continue to pursue those legal proceedings.
Feagles referred to the unused new building as “this ghost where all the money went.”
Whether the building ever ends up as a shelter is uncertain. Feagles said some have suggested it would make a good restaurant, or some other use for the hospitality industry.
The city owns the current cramped animal shelter built in 1960 and located across the road.
Most of the money for the new shelter — $2.9 million — came from the bequest of the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife Charlotte.
Work on the almost finished, 7,500-square-foot building came to a halt in late 2011 with the bankruptcy of the general contractor.
But there were also doubts raised about the shelter’s avowed “no kill policy” after a couple incidents involving dogs that were brought to the shelter.
In late 2011, well known Healdsburg chef Doug Keane filed a lawsuit to prevent the potential euthanasia of a dog named “Cash” who was later adopted.
Shortly afterwards, Executive Director Julie Seal, who had tangled with Keane, resigned. She joined three other recent directors who had held the job for relatively short periods, including one who was on the job for only four months before being let go.
The shelter also had high turnover and infighting on the board of directors. When the board decided to close its meetings to the public, there was clamor for more transparency.
Directors acknowledged last year that donations — the lifeblood of the nonprofit organization — took a hit with publicity of the shelter’s woes.
And a major annual fundraising event was suspended until the organization could assure donors that the money was going toward ongoing operations and not the incomplete shelter.
Then in late 2012, there was another public controversy involving an aggressive dog named “Posey.” He was put to death, despite animal rescue advocates who said they were willing to rehabilitate the dog and it was not dangerous to humans.
Shelter directors were forced to defend their policies, detailing the relatively low 4 percent euthanasia rate at the shelter.
Directors said the shelter took in more than 650 animals last year, but was only able to cover about a third of the cost of medicine, surgery, food and other costs for each one.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org