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Healdsburg council approves animal control, shelter deal

The exterior of the partially finished Healdsburg Animal Shelter in Healdsburg, California in March 2012.

PD FILE, 2012
Published: Monday, November 18, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

Healdsburg's dogs and cats could be in good hands for the foreseeable future as the result of a contract for animal control and sheltering approved Monday night by the City Council.

The council unanimously approved an innovative joint proposal by the Sonoma Humane Society and Petaluma Animal Services Foundation to take over those functions in Healdsburg, following the demise of the city's independently-run Healdsburg Animal Shelter last summer.

“The outcome is great. Both have stellar backgrounds and track records,” said Mayor Susan Jones.

“It's clear the animals of Healdsburg will get a level of care the citizens of Healdsburg want them to get,” said Councilman Tom Chambers.

He referred to the $235,000 annual contract approved between the city and the two groups as “a little more money,” but said constituents “have made it very clear we want to invest in this.”

One important aspect of the arrangement for council members is that citizens will have the ability to surrender or adopt animals, be reunited with lost animals and pay for licensing without having to travel outside the city.

In the past five months, Sonoma County Animal Care and Control, headquartered near the Sonoma County Airport, has served Healdsburg in the absence of a local shelter.

The Sonoma Humane Society will have a trailer and a mobile adoption unit stationed during the day in Healdsburg, while Petaluma Animal Services Foundation will provide animal control — although with a Healdsburg-based officer branded as such.

Still unresolved is the fate of the nearly completed new animal shelter building which has been languishing for two years after the general contractor went bankrupt and a lawsuit ensued.

But the directors of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, which built the unfinished shelter on Bacchus Landing Way, have agreed to allow the Humane Society to use the property for their trailer and adoption unit.

That could be in place in as soon as six weeks, said Kiska Icard, executive director of the Humane Society.

In June, after more than 50 years in existence, the Healdsburg Animal Shelter shut its doors and dismissed its nine employee workforce, citing a lack of money and a fruitless appeal for community funding.

The demise of the organization followed a tumultuous period with rapid turnover of executive directors, infighting on the board of directors, and inability to finish the $3.5 million shelter, which became the object of a lawsuit alleging construction and design deficiencies.

The new shelter off Westside Road, across from the cramped 1960 facility next to the city's corporation yard, was financed almost entirely by the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife Charlotte.

It is uncertain how much money it will take to enable occupancy of the building, Bob Wilke, secretary-treasurer for the board of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, said Monday. He said it depends on the building's intended use, whether it is modified for administrative uses, or employed as an animal shelter.

“We've already stepped away from making a decision on how the building should be modified,” he said.

The lawsuit remains in settlement discussions, he said, adding that it's moved “at glacial speed,” but “we hope to settle in reasonably short time.”

Animal welfare advocates and those involved in the new contract were excited about the joint arrangement between the two organizations.

“I'm very enthusiastic about this proposal,” said Police Chief Kevin Burke, whose department sifted through competing proposals by different animal welfare organizations to take over the contract in Healdsburg.

The other organizations that submitted proposals were Green Dog Rescue Project, the County of Sonoma and SNAP Cats.

The proposals were evaluated by a working group consisting of two senior police department employees, a local veterinarian and four Healdsburg community members.

The Sonoma Humane Society which has been in existence since 1931, has been the primary provider of animal care for Sebastopol for eight years where Police Chief Jeff Weaver describes the relationship as “an unqualified success.”

Petaluma Animal Services Foundation provides animal control in Petaluma.

The panel that recommended they take over in Healdsburg said both non-profits have histories of successful community engagement and outreach.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com

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