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County shelter expands efforts to reunite lost pets with owners

  • Sonoma County Animal Control officer Shirley Zindler checks a pair of dogs found near Occidental for implanted chips. No chip was found, but an old dog tag helped locate the owner in Camp Meeker.

Heidi Schmidt could tell by their panting that the dogs were tired and thirsty.

The small brown dog and large husky mix were an odd pair. Stranger still was how they ended up last week at Schmidt’s house on remote Coleman Valley Road in Occidental.

Schmidt gave the dogs water, but hesitated to call Sonoma County Animal Services out of fear the dogs would be killed, she said.

Sonoma County Animal Shelter


“I wasn’t going to call if that was the case,” she said.

Brigid Wasson has heard such concern plenty of times in her career, which is why the director of Sonoma County Animal Services is seeking more effective and humane ways of connecting people with their lost pets.

The effort isn’t just about the county shelter in Santa Rosa overcoming its reputation as the final stop for lost or deserted pets, but also shelter staff members overcoming their own dim view of people whose pets end up at the facility.

“It’s moving away from that old-school thinking that owners are irresponsible,” Wasson said. “Every grieving pet owner who is looking for a lost pet deserves the same level of high customer service.”

Wasson wants the county to embrace new technologies and to make better use of the tools it already has to increase the odds of people reuniting with their lost pets. She also brought in Washington state pet detective Kat Albrecht last week to lead a seminar for more than 50 animal welfare and law enforcement professionals.

“Why would we want to find a new home for an animal that already has a good home?” Wasson said.

Sonoma County Animal Services, which spans unincorporated areas of the county and the cities of Santa Rosa and Windsor, took in 1,422 stray dogs and 1,106 stray cats in fiscal year 2013-14. The county successfully reunited about 55 percent of the dogs with their owners; for cats, it was about 20 percent.

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