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Director leaves county animal center headed in right direction

Only Dori Villalon knows whether her decision to leave as head of the Sonoma County animal shelter after just a year is driven more by a desire to take a better job -- or by a desire to leave this one. Either way, it's hard to blame her. A shortage of resources and a vocal minority of critics in the county have made this job more difficult than it should be.

Villalon, a Santa Rosa native, took over as director of Sonoma County Animal Care and Control in November 2006, not long after longtime director Barry Evans stepped down amid much controversy.

As one shelter volunteer notes in a letter to the editor today, workers at the shelter soon started to see a transformation. Villalon got to work implementing a long list of improvements recommended by a $65,000 audit that was completed before she took the helm.

The changes included upgraded veterinary care, improved focus of staff time to animal care and streamlining the city's process to make animal adoptions more flexible. In addition, Villalon began holding public meetings in hopes of addressing some of the hostilities directed toward the agency.

Nevertheless, some don't want to acknowledge the improvements that have been made at the shelter and seem determined to blame county animal control officials for the fact that so many animals are lost, forgotten or abandoned and are in need of care. They also seem to blame county officers for the unfortunate fact that sometimes animals are unadoptable or sick and need to be euthanized.

The shelter has been working with insufficient resources to keep euthanizations at a minimum. But with 7,400 animals to oversee, euthanizations will happen. Critics should direct their frustrations to the reasons these problems exist -- not toward those trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

As Robin Johnson notes in her letter today, Villalon's decision to take a job as vice president of the SPCA in San Francisco is the county's loss.

County officials need to act quickly to find Villalon's replacement and to give that individual the support he or she will need to maintain the center's progress and to succeed in a difficult environment.


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