Since a nonprofit foundation recently took over Petaluma's animal service, previously run by the city, it has expanded Petaluma's animal shelter, doubled the donations at its annual fundraiser and begun community-based services including a free adoption day and boarding the traveling Petaluma National Little Leaguer's family dogs at no charge.

"Everything has been amazing so far," said Petaluma Animal Services Foundation board member Valarie Fausone. "We've really felt the love and support from the community during this entire process."

As the cash-strapped city of Petaluma wrestled with budget woes this year, it faced either cutting an animal control officer position and continuing on with reduced services, or turning the department over to the nonprofit. In early July the city council voted unanimously to transfer animal services to the nonprofit beginning Aug. 1, in the hope that animal services could expand once they were no longer a part of the city's tight general fund.

Under nonprofit control for about three weeks now, the animal shelter appears to be flourishing. The foundation was able to hire back five out of six city employees and has been actively looking to replace one animal control officer. Shelter executive director Jeff Charter, who formerly served as the city's Animal Control Department director, said that he has received numerous applications for the position.

Fausone, who spends almost every day at the shelter training dogs and assisting with adoptions, said that the foundation has already opened a dog training center and a new visiting area, instituted an adoption follow-up program and created a free cat spay and neuter program.

"We've been able to do things that involve us with the community," Fausone said. "We've supported the Petaluma National Little Leaguers by babysitting two of their dogs while their families travel and we've hosted a free adoption day since the Little Leaguers have kept winning. As a nonprofit, we have the freedom to make decisions like that for our community."

Though she doesn't have final numbers yet, Fausone said that she thinks the shelter's annual fundraiser brought in twice as much in donations as last year.

Community support appears to be growing for the organization that manages approximately 150 animals inside the shelter and at various foster homes throughout the city. Ghilotti Construction has donated its services to help patch broken flooring inside the dog kennels. Donations of both money and essential items such as blankets, furniture and exercise equipment for the animals have skyrocketed and volunteer numbers have increased dramatically.

"We've had 25 new volunteers step forward" said Fausone. "That is a huge increase for us."

During a recent trip to the shelter, energy ran high among staff and visitors anxious to find new family pets. Calie Sklove, with her three children in tow, came to the shelter looking for a second rabbit to add to their home as a birthday present for their 9-year-old son Cade. Sklove filled out applications as her anxious children danced about, admiring kittens and cooing over pictures of the rabbit they hoped to adopt.

"I'm really excited," said Cade happily. "Now that I'm almost 10 years old, I'm ready for my own rabbit."

Shelter personnel bustled about the facility introducing would-be adopters to the animals, preparing animals for foster care and taking out dogs for energy-packed tennis ball training. Fausone said that the growing support from the community has brought her to tears on several occasions.