NOTE: This story was updated at 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19, to reflect new comments from Kathleen McCaffrey, board president of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, denying that a PR firm has been hired to handle news on the shelter.
UPDATE: This story was updated again on Wednesday, Dec. 21, to refer only to the link to the Press Democrat article and remove any reference to
Animal lovers in Healdsburg said Sunday they are shifting their passions from the recent anguish over the to growing dismay over a new $3.5 million that sits stalled at the opening gate amidst a muck of politics, rumors and "soft" cost overruns.
"We're so close to being able to finish and physically occupy it," said former shelter building project manager and treasurer
"My concern now is that there is no plan to raise the rest of the money, no fundraising events scheduled and no plan to reach the major donors who could help the shelter to occupy the building," Dutton said.
Concerns about the new building have arisen in recent weeks amidst fallout from a conflict just after
Seal and Keane, chef-owner of the luxury Healdsburg restaurant , got into a legal battle over Keane's wish to adopt and rehabilitate Cash, a 3-year-old, 110-pound male Mastiff/pitbull mix.
At one point, Keane filed for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Cash from being euthanized -- although Seal said that was never in the cards despite a mixed-bag of evaluations from several animal specialists.
Nonetheless, the whole issue of how to run a "no-kill" shelter -- meaning that at least 90 percent of the animals are still alive when they leave -- ignited widespread community concern.
Cloverdale animal facility that works with dog socialization.
Keane said Sunday that he has visited Cash "every day except one for the last 10 days," and is pleased with the results.
"My role has been really to give him a stable friendship," Keane said. "Colleen said his prognosis is really good -- she's so happy with him."
Meanwhile, Dutton and another source close to the shelter said Sunday that they have reliable information that the shelter board is planning to hire a public relations firm to pick up the pieces and restore donor and public trust in the facility.
However, board President Kathleen McCaffrey said Monday that the information was inaccurate.
"No, we have not hired a PR firm," McCaffrey said in an email. "We have looked into obtaining a PR firm because we have a great deal of positive things to talk about and a lot of what has been in the press lately has been untrue or misrepresented."
McCaffrey added that the board members were "getting ideas on how best to convey our message, but have not hired a pr firm," she said.
Asked about the issue of public perception, Seal said she would not be available for extensive interviews Sunday, but would speak to Healdsburg Patch later this week about continuing concerns and questions.
She noted, however, that the shelter's adoption rate has tripled in the time she has been on the job -- from 72 dogs in 2010 to 210 this year. Healdsburg Animal Shelter's euthanasia rates, at 4 percent, are the lowest in the county, she said.
"And that includes the animal control contract (meaning dogs and cats struck by cars or otherwise hurt or ill)," she said Sunday. "For an animal shelter, that is a phenomenal rate."
Meanwhile, Healdsburg Mayor Tom Chambers said he was supportive of Seal and the job she and her staff are doing.
“I think the [shelter] staff is doing an excellent job,” Chambers said Sunday. “The statistics prove that: adoption rates are up, euthanasia rates are down.
“I think Seal is doing what we expect an animal shelter director to do,” Chambers said. “She’s looking out for the welfare of the community.”
Chambers said he was speaking as a private citizen, since the shelter was a not a city agency and was not under the auspices of City Council.
The city is in the middle of a three-year, approximately $9,600/month contract with the shelter to provide animal control services. That includes expenses for an animal control truck, salary for Animal Control Officer Ryan Pelleriti, and related insurances and fees.
Chambers' wife, Penny Chambers, was recently hired as a part-time shelter bookkeeper, he said.
Despite Chambers' vote of confidence, some high-profile members of the public are unhappy with the recent conflict and with shelter management.
Three board members, including Dutton, have resigned this year -- and Dutton said a fourth resignation is likely soon.
Some donors are pulling their support.
Carol Noack, a 10-year shelter volunteer dog walker, cat foster parent and donor, said Sunday she was "redoing" a list of charities bequests in her trust to remove the shelter.
"I hope to add the shelter back on the list," Noack said. "But I'm not going to do that until I'm comfortable with the direction the shelter management is going -- and I'm not comfortable now."
Asked if she thought the public relations firm could help, Noack said she was skeptical.
"I think it's sad that the thing they're addressing is the perception of the shelter, when they should be focusing on correcting the problems," she said.
Noack said she believed board members and shelter staff were caring, well-intentioned and "loved animals," but have become "misdirected," she said.
"I think the problem is that the board members were aligned with the original mission, and the mission has changed," she said.
"I wish someone else could come in and clear this up," Noack added.
"With a new staff, the public could get re-energized," she said. "Right now, it's all at risk."
As to the new building, Dutton said the agency needs about $250,000 to buy the dog and cat kennels, install acoustic ceilings and fine-tune utilities, faucets and other fittings.
"The statement that we are $1 million in the hole is absolutely inaccurate," Dutton said, referring to recent published reports. "We're not anywhere close to that."
He also refuted published statements that the LEEDS green-construction certification for the building was the source of the building's money problems.
"The LEEDS process was only a small part of the problem," Dutton said. "It was not the main problem by any means."
Dutton said the "soft" costs of the shelter -- permit fees, insurances, design work and consultant contracts -- were the culprit.
For example, the shelter had to pay a $70,000 premium for "environmental insurance" because the 3.7 acres along Westside Road where the new building sits was once a quarry and so carries the risk of possible past contamination.
Other unanticipated "soft costs," according to Dutton, include:
--Donating ownership of the shelter back to the City of Healdsburg, after spending $750,000 to buy the land. This was in exchange for being allowed to be the only parcel out of city's the urban growth boundary (in unincorporated Sonoma County) to receive city utilities. Legal fees alone for this arrangement were in the range of $20,000, Dutton said.
--Connecting city utlities from Westside Road to the shelter building, a football field or two away. Paying fees to both Sonoma County and the city for the privilege.
--Paying $35,000 to $40,000 to rework the building setback design from Dry Creek. Dutton said the state Fish and Game officials determined that an additional 25-foot setback was needed, so the building had to be relocated, with new engineering and design fees and reworking utilities underground designs.
--Paying permit fees for three separate parcels that comprise the shelter complex.
Dutton said the shelter did not spend any money to process the LEEDS certification, and that a $150,000 "green living roof" that was part of the original plan was cancelled, saving more than $75,000.
Of the $3.5 million cost of the shelter, about $1.85 million was for "hard" construction costs, Dutton said. About $1.6 million to $1.65 million went for the land and "soft" costs.
"The original asking price was $1.25 million," Dutton said. "We negotiated it down to $750,000."
Money to buy the land came from a bequest to Healdsburg Animal Shelter from the estate of the late vineyard owner and his wife Charlotte.
Noack said the public should consider attending the next shelter board meeting on Jan. 11. Board meetings are usually held at the
--Healdsburg Patch columnist contributed to this story.