After more than four years of sitting empty and tantalizingly close to completion, Healdsburg finally has an animal shelter that is up and running.
The newly christened Healdsburg Center for Animals, a modern, airy shelter off Westside Road, is welcoming the public with an open house Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. that will feature food and music, as well the dogs and cats that are micro-chipped, spayed, neutered and ready for adoption.
“It’s really great. It’s been a long time coming for the Healdsburg community,” said Cindy Roach, executive director for the Sonoma Humane Society, which assumed ownership of the unfinished building in 2014 from the troubled Healdsburg Animal Shelter organization.
The Humane Society took over the city contract to care for stray and homeless animals, then put up approximately $500,000 of its reserves to complete the mothballed 7,500-square foot building.
“They’ve done an extraordinary job. The city is extremely thrilled,” Healdsburg Mayor Tom Chambers said Thursday. “They turned what was a pretty bad situation into a wonderful outcome.”
He said the Humane Society took on more than it bargained for when it inherited the unfinished building, which had design and construction issues.
Rooms have been remodeled to make them more pet-friendly, especially for dogs that originally were going to be in a big area with 18 kennel runs that can be noisy and stress-inducing for the animals. Gone is the kennel model.
“We didn’t feel it was the most humane option,” Healdsburg Center development officer Nicollette Weinzveg said on a tour of the new shelter. “We wanted an environment more like home than a dog run.”
Dogs are housed in glass-walled rooms and the former kennel area, now with a rubberized floor, serves for dog behavior and training assessment, kitten and bunny rabbit play, classes and community meetings.
“It’s a gorgeous facility. I’m really impressed,” said Martha Hetzner, a retired teaching assistant who recently moved to Healdsburg and decided to pop into the new shelter and check it out this week.
“I’d love to volunteer here,” she said, adding that she looks forward to interacting with cats that are waiting to be adopted.
“I miss the one-on-one with kittens,” she said. “They need a lot of socialization before they’re adopted out.”
The now defunct, nonprofit Healdsburg Animal Shelter began the building project with the intent to replace its cramped, antiquated facility across the road at the city’s corporation yard with a new shelter funded by a $2.9 million donation from the estate of the late vintner Rodney Strong and his wife Charlotte.
Strong’s armchair occupies a prominent spot inside the lobby of the new shelter along with a portrait of the giant mastiff dogs the couple loved to raise and show.
But before there could be a ribbon-cutting for the center, there was what some describe as a “perfect storm” of events that seemed to doom the project, which would eventually cost more than $4 million.
In 2011, as the building neared completion, the general contractor, Syd Kelly Construction, went bankrupt and work stopped. Subcontractors filed liens to try and recover what they were owed and the Healdsburg Animal Shelter filed a lawsuit against the contractor.