The next chapter in Healdsburg's effort to provide quality care for stray dogs and cats debuts today when two nonprofit organizations from outside the city officially grab the leash of animal control and sheltering services.
The Sonoma Humane Society and Petaluma Animal Services Foundation are taking over following the demise of the city's independently run Healdsburg Animal Shelter last summer.
The unique collaboration is both a test of the city's decision to spend more than double what it has in the past on animal services and the ability of the nonprofit groups to deliver. The shift comes amid uncertainty for the long-term future of animal care in Healdsburg, including the fate of an unfinished shelter that is the subject of a lawsuit.
The new partnership means Healdsburg residents once again can surrender or adopt animals, be reunited with lost animals and pay for licensing without having to travel outside the city. They also can call on an animal control officer for help.
For those reasons, tail-wagging optimism is anticipated at Tuesday's hand-off ceremony at what is being dubbed the Healdsburg Center, on the property of the unfinished shelter off Westside Road.
"People are very excited to have a new animal control agency come to town. It's just a wait-and-see," said Natalee Tappin, owner of the Healdsburg Dog House.
The Healdsburg City Council in November approved a $235,000 annual contract for the two nonprofits to handle animal sheltering and control. In fiscal year 2011-2012, prior to the shelter ceasing operations, the city alloted $114,000 for animal services.
Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood acknowledged Monday that the city is spending "significantly more" on animal services. He said the council agreed to the amount "because the community values the services so much."
Under the terms of the deal, the Humane Society is operating a day-use shelter and mobile adoption unit out of two trailers on the property of the unfinished shelter. The services will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Sundays.
Animals will be transported back and forth to the Humane Society's main facility on Highway 12 near Sebastopol, executive director Kiska Icard said. She said the agency is exploring whether to keep cats in Healdsburg overnight because of research showing that felines don't travel well.
Icard said the situation is "not the ideal" of having a fixed shelter in place. But she said the arrangement fulfills Healdsburg's basic need for a place where citizens can take found or unwanted animals without leaving town.
"The real benefit to the animal is tapping into all the resources the Sonoma Humane Society has to offer," Icard said.
The agency has been the primary provider of animal care for Sebastopol for eight years. Icard said the money from the Healdsburg contract likely won't cover all of the Humane Society's expenses to provide the added service, and that as a result, she'll be making appeals for donations. She said the agency also is shutting down its fee-based boarding service to provide more intake space.
Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, which is managing field services as part of the contract, will staff an animal control officer in Healdsburg from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. An officer also will be available after-hours and on weekends on an on-call basis to handle emergencies, said Jeff Charter, executive director of the Petaluma agency.