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.