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A high-profile animal welfare advocate is demanding immediate changes at Sonoma County’s animal shelter after she said she recorded triple-digit temperatures inside the dog kennels.

Odessa Gunn’s findings, which the county disputes, threaten to spark a major kerfuffle and already appear to have chilled relations between the region’s two main animal-welfare agencies.

Gunn, wife of former cycling star Levi Leipheimer, said she was stunned by how hot it was inside the Century Court shelter northwest of Santa Rosa after she went there in July with a friend who was adopting a dog.

“I was literally sweating through my clothes,” Gunn said this week.

After she and an assistant recorded temperatures as high as 102 degrees inside the facility, Gunn began lobbying county officials for emergency measures, including installing evaporative coolers or misters to bring the temperature down. But Gunn said she was rebuffed, prompting her to take her concerns public. She’s threatening to mount a social media campaign to put pressure on the county with the help of her famous cycling husband.

“I’m being vocal because I’m shocked and I believe the dogs are suffering at our county shelter,” Gunn said Friday.

But Brigid Wasson, director of Sonoma County Animal Services, disputed that animals are in any danger at the shelter.

“Absolutely the dogs are safe and not in danger, although I don’t dispute they could be more comfortable,” she said.

Wasson also disputed the accuracy of Gunn’s temperature readings.

“I walk out in the kennels two or three times a day. I would know if it was 102 (degrees),” she said.

There are about 100 gated kennels inside the shelter’s two barn-like structures. Outside air flows into the structures while roofs provide shade, with temperatures fluctuating depending on the weather. On Friday morning, the kennels were comfortably cool — and loud, thanks to the barking.

Rita Scardaci, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, which oversees animal services, said she ordered an assessment of the shelter in light of Gunn’s concerns.

But no immediate actions have been taken, other than the county ordering thermostats to monitor kennel temperatures in the future.

“I do not have information that temperatures were exceedingly high in the kennels and know that staff carefully monitor the animals to make sure they have adequate water, access to shade and cover, and veterinarian consultation,” Scardaci said.

Wasson said a vet advised her that dogs inside the shelter don’t need special attention unless kennel temperatures climb above 90 degrees.

But Kiska Icard, executive director of the Sonoma Humane Society, said the generally accepted maximum threshold is 80 degrees. She said dogs shed heat by panting and through their feet.

“If they are continuously on a hot surface, that doesn’t give their body a proper environment to cool down,” Icard said.

Gunn and her husband are major contributors to the Humane Society’s Forget Me Not Farm, which assists troubled kids. Gunn also is a member of the farm’s board of directors.

Icard said Gunn “did the right thing” by raising concerns about the county animal shelter. But Icard said the county has “taken no action” on what she considers to be a crisis situation.

“If this were my shelter, and I was aware of this, it would be all hands on deck,” said Icard.

She said the response would include taking animals out of the shelter until the problems could be addressed.

The Humane Society near Sebastopol and the county shelter normally take pains to show a unified front addressing the county’s stray animal problem.

In 2013, the two agencies entered into an adoption agreement aimed at reducing the number of animals that are needlessly killed. Under the terms, the county offers to the Humane Society any healthy animal or one with a treatable illness or injury that the county has not had success in treating or finding a home for. The animal is then the responsibility of the Humane Society.

The two agencies collectively take in about 8,200 animals annually.

In light of Gunn’s allegations, the relationship appears to have soured.

Wasson, in an email sent Friday, wrote that “if Sonoma Humane Society feels that some of our available dogs would do better in the environment at their shelter, we would be happy to transfer them over via the adoption agreement. Year to date they have taken five dogs, and we’d love to see that number increase.”

Icard responded with an email of her own, writing that she was a “little confused” how transfers relate to the issue of temperature inside the kennels.

“Perhaps, even more importantly,” Icard wrote, “she (Wasson) does not even attempt to address a meaningful solution to this problem.”

Icard reported that the Humane Society accepted and housed 136 stray dogs and 104 cats from Jan. 1 through Thursday that otherwise would have been taken to the county shelter. At a cost of $200 for each animal, Icard said, that’s a savings of about $48,000 to the county, money she wrote could be used to address any temperature problems in the kennels.

The high temperature in Santa Rosa for both July 30 and Aug. 8 when Gunn and her assistant took their temperature readings was 89 degrees, according to Press Democrat records. The pair used a Radio Shack temperature gauge Gunn borrowed from a friend.

She said she tested the device before going inside the shelter and that it accurately recorded the air temperature that was displayed inside her vehicle, which at the time was 80 degrees.

Inside the shelter, the readings ranged from 95 to 101 degrees. Gunn forwarded photos of the gauge as it registered the temperatures.

But Wasson raised doubts about the kennels being some 20 degrees warmer than outside temperatures.

“If you go outside in the sun and then come into the shade, it’s not going to be hotter in the shade,” Wasson said.

Wasson said she has not taken any temperature readings inside the kennel in light of Gunn’s concerns.

“If this were Arizona and it was 115 degrees, I’d be doing what I could to make a change. The kennels have been the same for decades. We’ve never had any issues that I know of with heat,” Wasson said.

Other than ordering thermostats, Wasson also authorized purchasing a freezer to ice down “Kong” treats for the dogs.

“It’s like eating a Popsicle, something that will cool you off,” Wasson said.

Scardaci said the county also is exploring ordering cooling pads for the dogs.

Gunn said the measures aren’t enough.

“It’s summer, and you’re sitting in 100 degrees for 12 hours. How is an ice cube going to help you?” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@press democrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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