UPDATE: 'No PR Firm Hired,' Healdsburg Animal Shelter President Says

Former shelter treasurer says an unanticipated spike in "soft" costs such as city and county fees, insurance, environmental issues and a reworking of the setback from Dry Creek took everyone by surprise.

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

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported on this story Sunday. To read the article, click here.

--Healdsburg Patch columnist contributed to this story.

Marilyn December 19, 2011 at 03:23 PM
The citizens of Healdsburg need some clarity here about exactly what happened with the soaring costs of new animal shelter. In the Healdsburg Tribune this week Ray Holley attributed the budget problems to the fact that the LEEDS certification led to use of an out of town contractor, rather than local contractors who would have given us a much better deal. According to Holley, this contractor previously filed for bankruptcy twice. The story of Cash has been on everyone's mind, but the real story here is about the "green" certification and how that played out. It sounds to me like Healdsburg got rolled for a "cool" pipedream.
Tom December 19, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Finally the truth comes out. This isn't about some dog name Cash, but it is about individuals with more money than brains acting like children. Add to this the fact they were completely hosed by the agencies they are trying to support and no wonder they have fiscal problems. If this wealthy and "prominent" so called pillars of the community really want to make a difference then they should put their money where there mouth is and get the new shelter completed.
Frodo December 19, 2011 at 05:18 PM
"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." So, for 2011, we have three times as many animals being adopted out from the shelter I'd like to see the statistics on this. Where did all these dogs come from this year? I understand that Julie brings lots of animals in from other shelters. How many of those were euthanized? If we compare 2010 euthanasia rates for animals from Healdsburg only against euthanasia rates for Healdsburg only animals in 2011 what would we see? How many of the animals that Julie brought in from the outside were euthanized?
austin December 19, 2011 at 05:56 PM
The HealdsburgPatch viewership is going to go through the roof with another rehash of the same sheltered dog story. This one might bring the site down with too many hits. Keri posts a story about the City and its financial woes, no one cares. Keri posts a story about dog euthanasia and there are 50 comments, 4 follow-up stories, and it makes it to the PD. Hilarious
Keri Brenner (Editor) December 19, 2011 at 07:05 PM
@Osgood Fileding: Thanks for your comment. While you have a number of interesting and relevant things to say about finances and green building and management of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, your comments about Hitler and the Aryan nation are offensive and defamatory and therefore violate our Terms of Use (see below under "Patch Info) so I regrettably will have to delete the entire comment. If you want to repost, please keep your comments civil and within the guidelines of our Terms of Use.
Tom December 19, 2011 at 07:14 PM
I agree that is going way tooo far.
Osgood Fileding December 19, 2011 at 08:26 PM
Sometimes one must resort to outrageous language in order to get people to pay attention.
In the Know December 20, 2011 at 12:31 AM
@Tom, I totally disagree with your comment - sorry. I have donated thousands of dollars to a local "shelter" and saw my money go down the drain. It never was put toward the care of the animals, it was put toward an ED's salary instead of letting him go and instead of replacing him after 3 years of feeling sorry for HIM, not the animals, he was finally asked to resign. I will NEVER give my hard earned money over to the staff at these so called "no kill" shelters ever again. I especially will not financially support an organization that is so completely disorganized. I DO have money and brains and that's exactly why this "Piller of the Community" won't be hosed or snowed or conned again into donating money - volunteer time, give bedding, food, foster care etc., that way you at least have a hope the animals will benefit - not the staff employees. Burned once, shame on them but won't be burned twice so no shame on me.
In the Know December 20, 2011 at 12:54 AM
"With a new staff, the public could get re-energized," she said. "Right now, it's all at risk." AMEN to that comment and thumbs up to Carol Noack & MacMurray Ranch for making it public they will stand their ground until the management problem has been resolved - a complete reorganization should be considered, JMO...
Joyce Reynolds December 20, 2011 at 02:21 AM
It's too bad your previous comments were deleted, I would like to take a moment to explore your bombastic, sniping remarks. You said they recruited animals from all over the state-only the most desirable...well, here are some of the 'much in demand' animals that have found their way to a smaller, less stressful shelter: Lobo – a blind 12 year white German Shepherd Freckles – a 3 year old purebred Pitbull Molly – a one-eyed Terrier Mix Ike – a nine year old Lab/Shepherd Mix. Um, these dogs were running out of time and had zero interest- Julie/HAS saved them and found them homes. I can only surmise that your petulance and anger is because of the miniscule amount of money that went towards their care. She has accepted dogs that had a very small chance of being adopted and the result was a resounding success. I applaud her compassion, ability to market these dogs in the best light and dedication. All of this talk about withholding money from the new shelter only hurts the animals, You should all be ashamed. I doubt her salary is that out of proportion to other shelter directors, some of whom receive well over $100K. For the love of God, would you all stop your bickering and think of the animals who need your financial help to get out of that run down, 50 year old shelter? I exhort you all to take a long hard look at how this selfish, ongoing grief has managed to accomplish nothing. Put your pride and inflammatory vitriol aside and donate to get this shelter built.
Joyce Reynolds December 20, 2011 at 02:29 AM
BTW, my husband is a contractor and I know first hand the endless overrun costs, permits, environmental impact studies, endless delays, etc.
Lisa Hadley December 20, 2011 at 03:44 AM
To Joyce, You may be right, Julie/HAS has saved a lot of animals that may have been put down. All animals are precious. The Healdsburg question though is, is it right that Healdsburg $$s go for animals from other shelters while Healdsburg dogs get put down in their stead? Should those other places support the Healdsburg Shelter with their $$s? Or at least let the Healdsburg people know exactly what they are supporting? And do you believe that the current Board should be spending donor's $$s on a PR firm to give the public a "spin" that is more palatable? (BTW the PR firm, though denied by the President Kathleen McCaffrey in the article, was told by one of the 4 left on the Board. Julie's own "Holiday Letter" to us all was a "happy Tails" of 3 dogs rescued outside of Healdsburg. Could she not find one that was a Healdsburg rescue? WHY???? This Board has been on too long. In the interest of the animals they should resign and let Healdsburg animal lovers replace them. Not people selected by Julie from out of town. No one selected by Julie since that is a conflict of interest to have the employee pick their boss. I wonder how many businesses would allow that? I agree, for the love of God let's stop bickering, do the right thing, and start by protecting the animals from the very streets that this shelter is named after!!!! And move the animals across the street, quit trying to redesign the shelter to the new ED's wishes which are not funded, & get this shelter done!!
Joyce Reynolds December 20, 2011 at 05:05 AM
We are not wealthy and can't afford to donate much, but we will continue our support even though it won't make up for all the withheld monies. I emailed Julie with questions, concerns and wanted to share what she wrote: "I would like you to know - and you probably already do - that no Healdsburg animals were put down to take in animals from Sonoma County or even beyond. The reason we were able to take in other animals is because we did such a great job marketing Healdsburg animals. As far as the shelter being designed for my wishes, the shelter, unfortunately, wasn't designed by a shelter architect. I noticed some grave omissions and design concerns and brought in experts to address them. Finally, no one from out of the community has been asked to be on the Board (although three of the four recent resignations were from board members who didn't live in Healdsburg. One, Jeremy Little, lives in Windsor. Another, Michele Thayer, lives in Santa Rosa, and the third, Jacques St. Dizier, has a Healdsburg business but lives in Forestville). And every good ED in a healthy non-profit plays a role in identifying and cultivating board members". It is time to get in step with the future instead of wallowing in the stagnant past. This shelter should have been built years ago! If the wealthy want to hold the animals hostage, we, the smaller (and whom you may consider irrelevant) contributors will make it happen, even though the animals deserve better. How long must they wait?
In the Know December 20, 2011 at 06:54 AM
....@joyce- I feel your pain. I hope you don't end up feeling negative thoughts and have "what if" & "I could have" feelings looking back - I felt the same as you but once burned, twice shy. Bless you for wanting to get the shelter finished - I agree, the animals need a better place for shelter, but maybe foster homes would be better until the organization is fixed internally. I'd save your $$ for later and give when you're sure where your funding is going. I wouldn't want you to be disappointed in the long run if you give too soon. If you can't foster, you can always donate food or time as a volunteer...
Osgood Fileding December 20, 2011 at 08:50 AM
Dear Reynolds Wrap: I appreciate the passion you are displaying, however misplaced. Please don't let that slippery Seal sidetrack you from the facts. Sprinkle yourself with sea salt, arm yourself with the facts and then decide for yourself. And while I realize I come off as an obnoxious, arrogant, loquacious, and yes, petulant loud mouth.......ahem......I seem to have lost my train of thought. I will get back to when I find it.
Osgood Fileding December 20, 2011 at 08:54 AM
Oh yes, I just found it. There is a method to my madness. I am screaming from the rooftops because these animals can't speak for themselves. That's what Franny and Zoey have been posting about right here---that's what the good woman, a neighbor to HAP for many years, from Spiderman Nursery has been trying to tell us, I just use a very annoying megaphone to amplify the message for the themattically hearing impaired. There is something amiss here, please hear its whimper.
Lisa Hadley December 20, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Some errors...several Healdsburg dogs were euthanized such as Lady - not being able to be adopted in Julie's spin time (there were others), Jeremy does live in Healdsburg, agreed board members who have businesses and a stake in Healdsburg like Jacques is good, every good ED in a healthy non-profit does not go around asking other board members to remove ones she doesn't like, doesn't tell potential board members to not come on the board at this time, that is pays attention to her role as manager of the shelter and watches out for the animals in her care and doesn't miss when one of her employees is abusing them, and let's the Board of Directors who should be of good character and have moral and ethical values choose who should be on the Board as they are her boss, not the other way around. And the ED does not go around trying to find an architect, on the 3rd one, to agree with her to stall out the finishing of the new shelter because she it would be easier for her to keep her sympathy factor at the old one. A good ED in a healthy non-profit does not tell the City they may not see the financial books at this time, does not accept special IRA dispensation in a manner that the IRS might illegal, etc, etc, etc...
Nik December 20, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Lisa and Carrie makes some very solid points. And Joyce is certainly correct in her assertion that construction often meets with unexpected delays and costs. Why, then, would this be the time that a newly hired ED would ask for a substantial raise when she herself, has thus far not engaged in any fundraising herself or allowed the funding that was raised before she was hired to go toward the completion of the shelter? Follow the money Joyce, if you want to discover the truth. It's also a sad commentary on the mental state of the board that an esteemed business man, an expert numbers cruncher, the treasurer, was forced to resign because he dared to ask if this was a good time to give the ED a raise. It seems in so doing, the board has shot themselves in the foot while leaving the former treasurer, whose wife an avid animal lover and supporter,was also forced to resigned for similar reasons, thinking that no good deed goes unpunished after all.
Joyce Reynolds December 20, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Thank you all for your comments. We are all passionate about what is best for the animals in HAS care. This ongoing miasma must end; it gets replayed over and over, year after year. It seems like whomever is in the position of director will be vilified. The facts must come out, and if Ms. Seal is improperly using funds and contributing to the animals' suffering I will be the first to wield a sword. Until that time I will continue to believe she has a vision for a better future. As I stated before, my husband is a contractor and the delays/ escalating costs of getting a project like this completed are common. Also. we have 3 rescue dogs and are unable to foster. It would be ideal if so many animals had fosters instead of concrete jails. but the sad truth is they don't exist. As long as people keep abandoning their pets there will always be a need for shelters and those shelters will always be overcrowded. Some will literally go insane being caged for long periods of time. People need education and I like how Julie is making this a priority. I pray this chaos gets resolved soon!
Mark Goff December 20, 2011 at 05:53 PM
This where I fail to understand, people are upset, there seems to be a lot of mud slinging, and name calling. Rumors are flying, board members are leaving, buildings sit stalled and unoccupied, and yet Julie Seal is unavailable for comment. This situation needs a face and a voice behind it, to stand up and take blame where blame belongs, take kudos where kudos belong, apologize and ask the community for forgiveness and support, and promise to make it right in the eyes of the people of Healdsburg, the donors, and most importantly the animals. Julie don't wait, don't be unavailable for comment, step up to the plate now and do the right thing. The longer this goes on the more irreparable the damage will be.
Nik December 20, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Joyce, why then, was this kind of unproductive acrimonious atmosphere not present before Ms. Seal's arrival? I urge you to study the numbers, and the facts and not just to Ms. Seal, who is now engaged in serious damage control. Take an objective look at this situation. What some call airing dirty laundry I call shinning the spotlight on some grave matters. I am not sure why you are so determined to listen to Ms. Seal's only, and not to her neighbor from Dragonfly Nurseries or others who have witnessed fist hand some underhanded going on's. One more thing--Why does Ms. Seals allow one of her technicians to hose down the dogs on chilly mornings as a form of behavioral management as seen and reported by more than two people? This is a fact. Do your research Ms. Reynolds and stop relying on the word of Ms. Seals. And now let the spinning begin.
In the Know December 21, 2011 at 01:01 AM
Today's Article: http://healdsburg.patch.com/d/articles/healdsburg-animal-shelter-rebuts "Spinning"....
Osgood Fileding December 21, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Carrie, spinning was so much more fun to watch when it involved a freaker by the speaker at a Grateful Dead concert. This type of spinning is only making me more dizzy than I already am.
Jojo December 22, 2011 at 04:06 AM
I vote for Osgood,.....NEW ED!!!
Keri Brenner (Editor) December 23, 2011 at 05:41 AM
@Osgood Fielding: Comment deleted as it violated Terms of Use for being defamatory.
Dan Ross December 23, 2011 at 08:32 PM
While we welcome and encourage civil community debates in our online comments, various comments on this thread have been deleted for violating the Patch Terms of Service/Acceptable Use Policy. Many of the comments have resorted to name-calling, personal attacks and include unsubstantiated allegations. If you have any questions after reviewing our comment guidelines, please do not hesitate to contact me at dan@patch.com Dan Ross Regional Editor, Northern California patch.com


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