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Police: Euthanasia of Healdsburg dog did not violate law


Healdsburg police found no city ordinance was violated by the Healdsburg Animal Shelter in the controversial euthanization of a dog last month.

Despite complaints from an animal rescue organization that "Posey," a 2-year-old border collie-catahoula mix was salvageable, Police Chief Kevin Burke said the shelter was within its discretion to put it to death.

"They are the experts in animal control. We contract with them to make the judgments the code contemplates," he said.

The decision to euthanize the dog, made by a panel of five experts, including a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, "appears to be a thoughtful and carefully reached decision, although unpopular," Burke said.

Shelter officials said Posey, who was surrendered by her owner three months before she was killed, continued to show dangerous and aggressive behavior toward other dogs.

Animal Services Manager Judi Adams said there was no indication the dog would ever be suitable for adoption and continued with "lunging, snarling and growling," despite efforts to rehabilitate her.

But an animal rescue advocate who tried to stop the euthanasia the day before, and offered to take Posey, disagreed.

Mary Quinn, founder of All Aboard Animal Search and Rescue, said the dog was not vicious toward people.

"She was not a human aggressive, biting-at-a-person dog. That would be a different story," Quinn said.

Quinn said she was contacted by a dog trainer, a volunteer who was working with Posey, who believed the dog had shown some sign of improvement and should be spared.

"She was listening to direction," Quinn said of the animal. "She'd already made progress in the shelter environment."

"I have salvaged and adopted out dogs with far worse problems than Posey," Quinn continued. "They thrive, they're happy and they are in good homes."

Out of several hundred dogs she has placed over the years, Quinn said she has had only three returned.

An article by an animal welfare advocate who blogs as "dogthusiast" questioned the shelter's avowed "no kill" policy as a result of Posey's death. That article prompted Mayor Susan Jones to contact the city manager and get the Police Department to look into the matter.

Jones said she wanted to make sure no city ordinance was violated, particularly the one that stipulates no treatable animal shall be euthanized.

The city contracts with the independently run shelter for animal control services.

The police chief emphasized his department did not conduct a formal investigation, such as interviewing witnesses or gathering independent facts, to try to assess whether Posey was saveable.

His department did not interview Quinn, for example.

Instead, he said, the department reviewed applicable laws, communicated with shelter officials about their interpretation of the statutes and how they fitted Posey's situation.

"A multidisciplinary panel made a decision in this case," he said of the euthanasia. "Their decision was along the lines the dog was dangerous and vicious.

"We contract with them to make determinations. We're not in a position to substitute our judgment," he said.

Burke noted the city ordinance says no adoptable animal "should" be euthanized if it can be adopted into a suitable home, which provides latitude for determining an animal's fate.

The incident was not the first time that questions over the shelter's policy on euthanasia has drawn publicity.

In late 2011, Healdsburg chef Doug Keane filed a lawsuit to prevent the potential euthanasia at the shelter of a dog named "Cash," who was later adopted.

This week, the Healdsburg Animal Shelter issued a press release detailing the number of animals that are brought to the shelter (672 in 2012) and the 94 percent "live release rate," which includes adoptions, returns to owners and transfers to other shelters or rescue/sanctuary organizations.

Shelter officials said 22 animals were euthanized last year due to disease, injury or behavioral problems.

"It is never easy, but in the interest of compassion (as with a suffering animal) or community safety (for both animals and people) it is an unavoidable part of our job," the statement said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.