A high-profile controversy over a dog's suitability for adoption, coupled with turmoil on the Healdsburg Animal Shelter's board of directors, has caused donors to balk, further jeopardizing completion of a $3.5 million shelter.
Dissension among shelter directors, highlighted by their numerous resignations, has caused donors to question funding the new state-of-the-art shelter, which needs $250,000<NO1><NO><NO1><NO> before it can be occupied.
"I'm not confident with the direction of the shelter now," said Carol Noack, a longtime volunteer who said she is poised to re-write her legacy trust to remove the Healdsburg Animal Shelter and make another non-profit animal welfare group the beneficiary of her estate.
"People who have given in the past to the shelter are now holding off," said Madeline Wallace, a former shelter director who previously helped with fund-raising.
"There's a feeling the state of the shelter is somewhat in chaos and the leadership of the board is dysfunctional," she said.
While members of the Healdsburg City Council have questioned the actions of shelter officials and the transparency of the non-profit agency's finances, police officials say they are satisfied with the organization when it comes to providing animal control services.
The shelter is at the mid-point of a three-year, $115,580 annual contract with the city. It takes in strays and injured animals, responds to complaints of barking or dangerous dogs and animal cruelty, and removes dead animals.
"At this point they are fulfilling their contract obligations," said Police Lt. Kevin Young, who is the liaison between the city and the shelter.
He said the shelter does a good job balancing enforcement, education and care for animals.
"The internal workings of the shelter and the board and the rest of that, are not on our radar. It's not related to our contract," Young said.
Meanwhile, Cash, the large Mastiff/pitbull mix that the shelter once considered a candidate for euthanasia, appears to be thriving at a dog rehabilitation facility in Windsor.
"He is doing really good. It's still early," said Colleen Combs, the owner of King's Kastle, who has custody of the animal and is socializing him with other dogs.
"What he has shown me in 10 days is really beautiful," she said late last week. "(In) his first actual interaction today with one of our pack dogs, he wanted to play and roll over. That's a good sign."
A lawsuit filed by prominent Healdsburg chef Douglas Keane, owner of Cyrus Restaurant, resulted in Cash being released from the shelter earlier this month.
Keane, a volunteer at the shelter, had become fond of the dog and expressed a willingness to adopt him.
Cash was described as a "Gentle Giant" on the shelter's website, an animal of solid muscle but "all squishy softness with a heart of gold and a desire to love and please."
He was advertised to the general public as an undemanding dog, good for an adult home, or a home with grown children.
But that changed after Shelter Executive Director Julie Seal saw signs of aggression and got contrasting assessments from dog experts, including that the 4-year-old animal was not suitable for adoption.
She noted there had been problems with five other dogs that had been adopted out of the shelter after being cleared by the same dog expert that gave Cash a good grade. Instead, they turned on their owners, or bit other dogs.