Healdsburg Animal Shelter eyes opening after settlement

  • Gabe Rathmann, manager of the temporary Human Society shelter in Healdsburg, occupies a trailer with Peggy, an adoptable dog who goes back to the main Humane Society facility near Sebastopol every night.

Prospects are looking up for the unfinished Healdsburg Animal Shelter, which has sat forlorn and unoccupied for more than two years, mired in a lawsuit over construction defects.

The shelter's board of directors announced late Thursday that the lawsuit was settled just before trial, which will allow the shuttered building off Westside Road to be completed and become functional.

Terms of the settlement are confidential, but shelter directors were pleased with the result.

"It means we'll have the resources to move ahead with what we've already started with the (Sonoma County) Humane Society and get that building for the first time for an animal shelter — what the donors wanted," said Robert Wilkie, the board's secretary-treasurer.

He said it is still uncertain when it will be able open, but "we got enough money that we can move ahead with fixing it up."

The news was welcomed by city officials as well as at the Humane Society, which had to step in and take over shelter services in Healdsburg, operating out of two less than ideal trailers.

"For us in Healdsburg, it is critical to our long-term goals for animal control and shelter to have this building able to be up and running as originally planned," Mayor Jim Wood said Friday.

"My biggest concern was that it had to go into private hands, and never be realized as a shelter. What a travesty (that would have been) for animals and donors who wanted this to be their legacy," said Kisca Icard, executive director of the Humane Society.

The $3.5 million, airy, 7,500-square-foot shelter was built largely with a behest from the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife, Charlotte. It was seen as modern, more welcoming successor to the nearby cramped shelter built in 1960.

But shortly before the facility could be completed in late 2011, general contractor Syd Kelly went bankrupt. Unpaid sub-contractors filed liens for payment against the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, which in turn alleged construction and design defects in the building.

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