It's only been only a couple weeks, but the hand-over of animal control services in Healdsburg to Sonoma County appears to be off to a good start.

Sonoma County Animal Care and Control assumed the function last month after the independently-run, non-profit Healdsburg Animal Shelter abruptly closed its long-time facility next to the city's corporation yard on Westside Road.

"The transition is going pretty smoothly," Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke told the City Council Monday night.

Citing a lack of money and an appeal for funding from the community that fell on deaf ears, the directors of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter said they had no choice but to shutter the operation and lay off a workforce of nine employees.

The decision came after a tumultuous period for the organization with rapid turnover of executive directors, infighting on the board of directors, and inability to finish a new $3.5 million shelter, which is the object of a pending lawsuit alleging construction and design deficiencies.

The nearly-complete new shelter, across the road from the obsolete, 1960 facility, was financed almost entirely by the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife. <NO1>But it'<NO><NO1>s been sitting in the same incomplete condition for close to two years, its fate in limbo.<NO>

On Monday, Art Feagles, the board chairman of the moribund Healdsburg Animal Shelter, said in a brief interview there is still hope that the building can be completed eventually, and put to use.

"Our objective is the shelter, which is more than 80 percent complete, can be modified to make suitable for animal purposes, as soon as we get over the litigation," he said.

<NO1>Despite a <NO><NO1>past pronouncement from the previous head of the board that the building may need to be torn down, <NO>Feagles said Monday that "there's never been a suggestion, despite what was reported, that either the design flaws, or construction flaws, are fatal."

He said that it may take "a couple hundred thousand bucks to make it right," adding that the money could come from private donors, foundations or other sources.

Feagles said he will be meeting with city officials to discuss the future use of the property "and what the most suitable arrangements will be going forward." He said it could hinge on what organizations come forward to vie for the animal services contract with the city.

The city is drafting requests for proposals inviting animal welfare organizations to submit bids to handle animal control on a long-term basis.

The county Board of Supervisors and Healdsburg City Council last month approved a $58,000, six-month contract to provide animal control in the city, with a possible six-month extension.

The city continues to handle dog licensing, retrieval of dead animals, trapped wild animals and healthy feral cats. But all other services, including surrendered and stray animals, are handled by the county through its shelter near the Sonoma County Airport.<NO1>

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or