The decision to shutter the Healdsburg Animal Shelter is just the latest chapter in this county's sad and turbulent history of animal care and control.
We have no disagreement with the decision. Given that the Healdsburg shelter faced a $200,000 hole in its annual budget, the directors had no choice but to shut down after 53 years of operation.
But let the record show that this did not come about because of a lapse in the desire of residents of Healdsburg or the county itself to care for homeless animals. Despite the failure of a last-minute pitch for donations, this region has continually shown a strong commitment to care for abandoned pets, as demonstrated both by the level of charitable contributions made to the cause as well as the elevated debates that surface every time animal control issues comes up.
But in this case, as the directors noted, the challenges became too great. They included a downturn in the economy, legal battles over a $3.5 million new shelter — which now sits unfinished across from the current site — and turmoil on the board and in public circles over the shelter's policy of euthanasia.
But most of the problems were of the man-made variety. This would include the new, 7,500-square-foot shelter on Westside Road, which remains empty, mired in a lawsuit over construction and design defects. The legal battle erupted after the contractor declared bankruptcy.
Other contributing factors also were avoidable. As shelter officials recently reported, last year the center handled 650 injured, stray, vicious and/or unwanted animals. Of those, 94 percent were adopted out, returned to their owners, handed over for rehabilitation, are awaiting adoption or are otherwise in a healthy state.
What's often the source of controversy is the fate of the remaining animals, which sometimes need to be euthanized.
Some want the shelter — as well as all other control centers — to stick to a no-kill policy with no exceptions. But that's a challenge even in the best of economic times, let alone one of diminished resources.
Of course, none of this is new. Turmoil seems to follow just about every animal control center for similar reasons. The end result is often high-volume arguments and high turnover among staff at animal control centers and among facility board members.
The announcement of the closure of the Healdsburg shelter comes just days after the abrupt departure of Amy Cooper, the director of the county's Animal Care and Control Department. Cooper, who was dismissed and then rehired in an internal conflict two years ago, had drawn her share of controversy over the years.
All of this raises the question as to whether the central issue isn't about how well Sonoma County treats its abandoned animals but how well it treats those who are trying to do something about it.
In a perfect world, no animals would be put to sleep. But this isn't a perfect world. And it's hard to argue that feuding about it to the point of ending up with no shelter at all is the better outcome for the region — or especially for its abandoned animals.
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