Critics lambast Healdsburg animal shelter directors
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 8:07 a.m.
In a meeting room packed with more than 75 people, the four directors of Healdsburg's animal shelter heard pointed criticism Wednesday night that the board was “dysfunctional,” as well as complaints for refusing to answer questions.
“You're shutting down what was supposed to be a forum,” said Mike DeCoss, whose wife Beth is a longtime shelter volunteer. “It's unconscionable.”
Board President Kathleen McCaffrey explained that directors would answer everyone's written questions as quickly as possible and the information would be on the shelter's Web site.
She said the non-profit organization's goal is “to earn and keep the trust of the community.”
But City Councilwoman Susan Jones said she was “stunned” by the way the meeting ended, with board members retreating to a closed session without providing more specifics about finances and the status of a $3.5 million new shelter that does not have enough funding to open.
“I've given alot of money and so have friends. No one's getting thank-you notes,” she said, adding the donors weren't informed on whether the money went to ongoing operations or to the new shelter.
There also were numerous defenders of the shelter, including those who applauded the shelter's “no kill” certification, the only one in Sonoma County.
Carrie Marvin of Windsor, a volunteer who works with shelters all over the state, said Healdsburg's four percent euthanasia rate compares to 40 to 60 percent kill rates at other shelters.
“I'm thrilled we live in a community where there's a low rate and have people who care about animals,” she said. “Healdsburg shelter is the best damn shelter I work with.”
In late November, a lawsuit over a large dog named “Cash” and his suitability for adoption thrust the shelter into controversy.
Healdsburg chef and Cyrus restaurant owner Douglas Keane sued the shelter, claiming Director Julie Seal was making it overly difficult for him to adopt the 110-pound mastiff/pitbull mix.
Seal said she was worried about signs of aggression that the dog was showing at the shelter.
Keane unsuccessfully sought a court order to block the dog from being euthanized, but the lawsuit was resolved with the shelter releasing Cash to King's Kastle, a dog rehabilitation facility in Windsor that was a co-plaintiff along with Keane.
Colleen Combs, owner of Kings Kastle, said Wednesday that the dog “is doing really good” in his new, less-stressful environment, other than “one hiccup, with one dog.”
But she said “he's not being aggressive toward people” and will be a candidate for adoption.
The meeting highlighted ongoing disagreements on the shelter's board of directors that resulted in seven directors resigning from the 10-member board over the past year.
Some resignations were caused by disagreements over Seal's ability to help select new board members as well as opposition to increasing her salary at a time the organization is struggling to get sufficient funding to open the new facility
Seal presented the audience with figures showing that the operational budget went from a $225,000 deficit in 2010 to an $80,000 surplus last year after she took over.
The healthier budget, she said, resulted from a more than three-fold increase in fundraising income last year, as well as reducing professional fees, medical expenses and increasing volunteer hours.
The goal, she said, is to make the community proud of its shelter. She described Healdsburg as “an animal-loving community in the heart of Wine Country.”
But Toni Lisoni, an attorney and Councilwoman Jones' spouse, told directors that people have “lost a sense of fundamental trust” in the board.
“Maybe we're doing great for the four-leggers,” she said. “Us two-leggers have to get it together.”
Jones said the ongoing controversy will continue to hurt the shelter's fundraising abilities.
“They're not being open about their business,” she said. “It's a non-profit. If you accept public funds, you must keep your finances open to the public.”
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