A large dog named "Cash" and his suitability for adoption are the subject of a lawsuit pitting a prominent Healdsburg restaurateur against the Healdsburg Animal Shelter.

Chef Douglas Keane of Cyrus Restaurant, whose efforts to adopt the 110-pound Mastiff/pitbull mix were rebuffed by the shelter, is seeking a court order to prevent the dog from being euthanized.

Cash initially was described as a "Gentle Giant" on the shelter's website — solid muscle on the outside, but on the inside, "all squishy softness with a heart of gold and a desire to please."

But concerned by signs of aggression, shelter officials recently withdrew Cash from adoption despite Keane's desire to take responsibility for the dog.

Keane, who has worked as a shelter volunteer and just became licensed as a dog trainer, wanted to adopt Cash and take him to an animal care facility to help socialize him.

"He's a great dog that needs some work," Keane said Wednesday.

Shelter Executive Director Julie Seal said Cash has not bitten a human, but is not a safe dog.

The neutered pet was brought to the shelter last summer by owners who did not feel comfortable having him around their baby, according to Seal.

"He also is extremely dog aggressive," she said in a memo to shelter directors.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday raises questions about the shelter's kill policy, stating that it has on previous occasions euthanized animals that could have been rehabilitated.

But Seal vigorously defended her organization's policies.

"The message I want to get out is the Healdsburg Animal Shelter does everything possible to save as many lives as possible," she said. "The adoption rate has more than tripled in the 10 months that I've been here."

She said the shelter is considered a "No Kill" facility, defined as one in which at least 90 percent of animals leave alive. "Ours is well over 90 percent," she said.

She said that animal welfare experts recognize that some dogs have to be destroyed that are too ill, or too aggressive to rehabilitate.

Seal denies that she planned to euthanize Cash, as alleged by Keane in his lawsuit, although she said that could happen in the future if the animal is too aggressive.

"The shelter has a long history of working with aggressive dogs - you could even argue too long — and giving them every chance," she said.

Keane acknowledged that when Cash first arrived, "everyone in the shelter was afraid of him. I was afraid of him too. He's big and scary-looking. He was growling."

But, he said, Cash transformed. "From day one, this dog was a sweetheart with me — so friendly and so sweet. He just wanted attention."

Keane said he worked on obedience training and even took Cash home to meet his wife and two other dogs.

His intent was to take Cash to King's Kastle, a Windsor training center where they are socialized with a dog pack. After that, Keane might have taken the dog in, or found someone else to adopt it.

But worries about liability issues and a recent assessment by two dog trainers that Cash is a "fear aggressive dog," led Seal to balk. She said it was not right to have Cash adopted "even if that member of the community is a high profile person engaged in an emotional appeal."