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UPDATE: Animal Shelter Vet Speaks Out

Ben Baldwin, veterinarian at the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, issues statement on his experience with Cash the dog.

UPDATE: This story was updated on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011, to add comments from Healdsburg Animal Shelter veterinarian Ben Baldwin.

Julie Seal, executive director of the "has been exemplary in her performance in every respect, fully deserving of the compensation for which she and the organization have been so severely criticized,” according to a new statement Monday from the shelter's board of directors.

Board President Kathleen McCaffrey and three other board members said they made their remarks to enhance "transparency and clarity" in the wake of published reports and public comments about Seal, her handling of an and her responsibility in the face of a

McCaffrey and board members Sandra Versteegh, Kim Lloyd and Sandy Walheim on Monday strongly defended Seal's performance and her salary.

“The assertions of a 'raise' are completely false,” McCaffrey and the board members said in an email Monday to Healdsburg Patch. "This is not a discretionary raise, this is a contractual obligation to meet salary requirements as detailed in the employment contract.”

Board members said Seal's nine-month probationary period, for which she was paid at the contracted rate of $75,000 annually, ended with a positive performance review on Oct. 26. As per the terms of Seal's contract, she was then approved for the full annual salary of $90,000, the board's statement said.

According to the board, Seal's "salary after the increase is less than the average $119,995 salary for non-profit organization executive directors in northern California as per the 2011 Nonprofit Compensation Report,” the email said.

Since Thanksgiving weekend, at least three area media outlets -- including Healdsburg Patch -- have run multiple stories and onine comments Cash, a 3-year-old, 110-pound male Mastiff/pitbull mix, was

In the aftermath of the Cash crisis, area veterinarian Ben Baldwin came forward this week to defend Seal and the Healdsburg Animal Shelter and its staff.

“[The shelter] is great --I’m proud to be associated with them,” Baldwin said in an interview with Healdsburg Patch. “She [Seal] is doing an amazing job with the adoptions they are placing.”

Baldwin said he found Cash's behavior worrisome when treated the dog during one of Baldwin's weekly visits to the shelter.

“He was aggressive," Baldwin said. "It took three of us to do the examination.

“I would not want my grandchildren anywhere near him,” Baldwin added. “He’s not bad all the time, but you don’t know when he’s going to go off.”

Baldwin said he would advise caution in placing the dog after Cash's stay at King’s Kastle.

“You have to be very, very careful where he goes --if he goes anywhere," Baldwin said. “We have double standards: When a dog is big enough to pose a real threat, they have to be better than an ankle-biter, as the potential of damage is so much higher.”

During the course of the recent controversy, at least five dog trainers, behaviorists or other specialists have reported -- or have been quoted on -- their opinions on Cash. Those assessments have ranged from highly trainable and good prognosis for rehabilitation to possible consideration for euthanasia due to unstable behavior.

Keane, who has been visiting Cash almost every day at King's Kastle, said the dog is doing well. On Tuesday, he forwarded a photo of the dog seated in a group with two other dogs at the Windsor animal care facility.

Although the immediate Cash situation -- and fears about euthanasia and treatment of animals at the "no-kill" Healdsburg facility -- has lessened in urgency, which is short of the money needed finish and occupy a new $3.5 million building across Westside Drive from the current cramped 51-year-old facility.

Dutton, who was project manager on the new shelter building and the board treasurer, resigned from the board two weeks ago. He said the resignation took place after he was removed by the board from his duties as treasurer and project manager.

Three board members, including Dutton, have resigned and

"I feel the many rumors floating around were only hurting the shelter and the animals we serve and we decided to set the record straight,” Seal said in a separate interview Monday at the shelter

"It's my hope that our community of animal lovers rallies around the shelter to help us continue our mission of giving cats and dogs the greatest gift of all—a second chance at life,” Seal said.

Seal confirmed Monday she has turned around the shelter's operations budget from an original projected deficit “in excess of six-figures” at the end of this year to an "in-the-black bottom line of $50,000." 

Seal said she has achieved the budget turnaround by effectively marketing animals, by extensive community outreach and by streamlining procedures and protocols -- such as the weekly veterinarian visits. Seal appeared for most of this year in the weekly video segment on Healdsburg Patch called where she profiled dogs and cats that are up for adoption.

In addition, a partnership Seal has with Sonoma County Animal Care and Control has significantly lessened the costs of spaying and neutering shelter animals, she said. Other partnerships she formed include those for in-kind donations, such as the production of the fall appeal annual holiday letters, donated by

“I think of Julie as in that next generation of leaders, who has both the very deep personal passion in animals and their welfare -- as well as the business knowledge most lack,” said Peninsula Humane Society President Ken White, who knew Seal as a colleague in the animal welfare field when he worked at the Humane Society in Phoenix, Ariz.

Seal in 1995 founded a Phoenix group called RESCUE, an animal welfare and rescue organization. She grew the organization for 10 years, then passed the reins on to her successor, whom she trained on the job.

“When I read that Julie doesn’t have the experience or doesn’t care, I know those statements are simply not true,” White said.

White added Seal "was amazingly adept at positioning her organization and her mission,” he said.

“Communities get the humane societies they deserve,” said White. “Working with Julie has given the area an incredible opportunity -- and I hope they give her that chance.”

Board members confirmed that Seal is in charge of fundraising for operations of the shelter, but is not responsible for the capital campaign to build the new shelter.

“The board is responsible for fundraising for the new shelter,” the email states. “Julie is a highly seasoned nonprofit fundraiser and will be integral to all our fundraising efforts.”

Seal and board members on Monday also said they are working hard to assess what needs to be done to move the new shelter forward.

That includes a review of the new shelter plans by prominent shelter architect George Miers, and upcoming construction audits and financial reviews.

“The [new] shelter was not designed by a shelter architect, which has led to my identification of problems regarding the plans for the shelter," Seal said.

“One of those items identified, for example, is that there are only three dog holding and two isolation dog kennels," she added. “Proper isolation of sick and stray animals directly impacts the health and safety of all animals at a shelter.”

Board members in an email said the review by Miers and by Mike Ross, former Executive Director of Martinez Animal Services, identified several issues involving animal transfer and housing.

“There have been some problems identified with aspects of the shelter construction that would make proceeding without review possibly harmful to the health of the animals,” board members said in an email. “Rushing to finish the building at the expense of the animals is not in their best interest.

“We need to determine where we stand,” the email added. “We have just started the process of reviewing the project…that will tell us where we are and…map out what needs to be done.”

Carol (Kiki) Noack December 21, 2011 at 07:52 PM
I hate seeing people painted as either evil or golden; Julie has many strengths that have helped the shelter, and she and the entire board are animal lovers. But clearly the new PR person did a fine job painting rosy images. So please - Keep asking questions. 1) How many architects were asked before finding one who determined the new shelter to be inadequate? I hear it was several. 2) Although the architect isn't a shelter specialist, didn't HAS hire a specialist to review the final plan before going ahead (I've been told they did)? 3) Aren't there multiple air-flow systems in place to prevent sick or untested animals from infecting the rest of the population, so that concern is a nonissue? 4) Weren't the biggest sources of funding, for which the ED is getting credit, the previously mentioned Pawsabilities fundraiser run by two former board members, and a large donation that came via a board member, originally conceived as funding for the new shelter?
Brian Campbell December 21, 2011 at 08:10 PM
@ Osgood Fileding. Get in touch with me. I can be contacted through my website www.miraclemutts.org. I have some questions for you.
In the Know December 21, 2011 at 08:45 PM
I am so glad this colorful article has not stopped the concerns that exist at HAS. To me, the comments made in this article were a "snow job" and I'm impressed that those truly concerned for the welfare of the animals at HAS didn't buy into it. There are so many comments that have been made here in this forum that I hope will be addressed. Keep commenting - and try to make it to the open to the public board meeting on 1-11-12 to pose your questions to the board face to face. It should be a very interesting & insightful meeting I sure won't miss.
Keri Brenner (Editor) December 21, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Osgood Fileding: Thanks for your comment, which was deleted due to your reference to a known falsehood. The shelter president has already gone on public record that the board has not hired a PR firm, but your comment states the opposite. Therefore it violates our Terms of Use. Thanks for keeping this forum civil and as an effective community dialogue.
Keri Brenner (Editor) December 21, 2011 at 09:55 PM
@Kiki Noack: Thanks for your questions. I know everyone wants the new shelter to move forward so that the animals can have better living conditions and so staff and volunteers will have better working conditions. Thanks.
Carol (Kiki) Noack December 21, 2011 at 10:26 PM
The article said they had not hired a PR firm (notice the past tense), but that they were looking into obtaining one. The latest release is very well written, and could have been written by 1) Julie, who is an excellent writer; 2) a PR firm hired in the mean time; or 3) a PR firm or other pro working pro bono (free versus "hired"). Or none of the above, but I'm guessing one of those three.
King's Kastle December 22, 2011 at 12:34 AM
I'm frustrated at that the remark from Dr. Baldwin indicating that "we have a double standard", wherein we find it acceptable that a small dog, or "ankle biter" can show signs of aggression, yet we quickly condem a large dog showing the similar behaviors. Although the remark is too often true, the fact is, NEITHER large or small dogs should be allowed to exhibit aggressive behaviors such as these. I have seen far more people with scars from dog bites from little dogs than I have from large dogs. The problem with HAS is not a unique one. It is time we as a society address the fact that regardless of how 'pretty' and new you make a shelter, the fact is the traditional model of a shelter doesn't work for the majority of animals in their care. Dogs imparticular need to be socialized, not locked up into individual little rooms/kennels/cabins/condo's etc. Changing the name of a cell doesn't change the psychological impact it has on a dog. If the HAS wants to truly make a statement, and improve the environment for the benefit of the animals, then redesign the entire approach and model of our traditional shelters from the perspective of the animals, not the ease of the humans. Until that is done, shelters in general will serve a purpose to the community, but not serve the animals in their care. I wish HAS all the best during this troubled time.
Keri Brenner (Editor) December 23, 2011 at 05:27 AM
@In the know: Your comment was deleted as it violates our Terms of Use (see link below) for being defamatory.
Keri Brenner (Editor) December 23, 2011 at 05:30 AM
@Brian Campbell: Your comment was deleted as it violates our Terms of Use for being defamatory.
In the Know December 23, 2011 at 07:29 AM
Is the TRUTH defamatory?
Osgood Fileding December 23, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Well, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson, "You (she) can't handle the truth!"
Osgood Fileding December 23, 2011 at 06:12 PM
Ms. Kerri: I realize that The Patch is not a serious news forum, but your constant Henny pecking and ruler slapping is making The Patch seem even sillier. First, I had deleted my "inflammatory post" days myself before you wrote your comment above saying you deleted it and why. In fact, it was only there for an hour or so. Then you go on to quote the very aspects of it which caused offense, thereby making people aware of the words of contention who otherwise would not have seen it. Second, I did not make an untrue statement, I merely expressed what others here are expressing, that the HAP does seem to be engaging in some type of PR, how ever subliminal. That is my impression, and last time I checked, I have the right to express that impression under the first amendment. Third, Deep Throat's (In the Know) comment which was deleted does not fit the description of inflammatory. She or he relayed what they know of Seal's past work history and the comments were delivered as factual without hurling insults or accusations. I have never encountered such constant monitoring on an online news forum, including the SF Chronicle, The Press Democrat, The New Times and MADD magazine. I am very upset--couple this with the Christmas madness and I must be forced to breathe in and out from a paper bag. I haven't been this riled up since I spotted a woman wearing pajama jeans at the opera.
Lara Apodaca December 23, 2011 at 08:23 PM
I can not see anything constructive about this dialogue. The passion displayed has taken a wrong turn. Passionate as a Adjective has these synonyms: quick-tempered, irascible, hotheaded, fiery, testy, huffy or huffish, peevish, cranky, peppery, choleric, touchy, bilious, snappish, volatile, cross, temperamental, irritable, quarrelsome, pugnacious, argumentative, contentious, belligerent, atrabili Example: Valerie gets into a passionate mood whenever she thinks she is being treated unjustly.
Dan Ross December 23, 2011 at 08:29 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
Thomas Cole January 09, 2012 at 12:42 AM
King's Kastle, yours was by far the most important comment. What we call "shelter" is little more than prison for Man's Best Friend. Even the newer designs still rely on isolation and control. I call them costly "boutique" shelters. In another article there were many unforeseen "soft" costs in the planning stage. It is sloppy work to not anticipate predictable hook-up costs to city utilities, environmental requirements for property setbacks, and the extra insurance costs? Who sold you that land? Let them indemnify the org or pay the add-on cost. Jule Seal is absolutely correct in halting such a poorly designed facility. I encourage the board to contact me - I offer my assistance for free to advise your designers and architects in a whole new concept without caging. It's so much cheaper to build and to maintain than an old-school prison. I can put one together per your wishes using Chief Architecture software and send it along to your architect of choice. That way the facility is designed for the animals, per Ms. Seal's wishes. Most importantly for the healdsburg community at large, Ms. Seal speaks "rescue." This is an unknown language to directors. Because she speaks rescuer she can bring together the community (rescuers/fosters) with her facility as no other ED can do in Sonoma County. When you rescuers talk, she will understand because she's been there. With your cooperation Healdsburg could become the model for the future of animal sheltering in this country.
Keri Brenner (Editor) January 09, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Healdsburg Animal Shelter board of directors is meeting this Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 5:30 p.m., likely at the Healdsburg Senior Center. Healdsburg Patch intends to be there and we will share information from the meeting with the community.
Carol (Kiki) Noack January 09, 2012 at 04:04 AM
I've heard of several people being burned by this policy. It certainly seems counterintuitive when the goal is to make the best possible match between a pet and its family. Under past directors, if a pet turned out to be a bad match, the animal could be returned and exchanged for another at no additional cost. It's just god common sense, isn't it?
Lisa Hadley January 09, 2012 at 05:15 AM
It is too bad that Dr. Ben Baldwin was apparently played by Julie regarding his letter to the editor of January 5th and animal abuses alleged in recent articles, as Julie is fully aware of the employee that committed the abuse that Dr. Baldwin actually mentions. I cannot believe that Dr. Baldwin would condone the hosing of dogs nor the muzzling of the dogs to stop them from barking; creating fearful animals. Several employees and volunteers witnessed the abuse. It is a sad state of affairs when one is more concerned with their personal reputation over the animals that have been placed in their care. And it is also too bad that they are willing to place into question the reputation of a respected Healdsburg individual. It is the job of those employees to protect the animals in their care even if they are afraid of losing their jobs! Make sure you all know what you think you know, and ASK QUESTIONS!!! You also have to questions when something seems too good to be true. Why is that???? We have numerous examples in recent memory across the U.S.
Gwen Rosewater March 20, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I don't know the fine details of what happened to bring about Julie's resignation, but I get the strong feeling that many people involved have lost site of the forest for the trees. The primary goal of an animal shelter is to get animals adopted, and when Julie came on, adoption rates soared. I worked with her on a little project, and I was much impressed by her energy and sense of purpose. Is Cash adoptable? I don't know. It matters, but not as much as that incredible adoption rate. Likewise with the new shelter. I only hope that we can somehow attract a second miracle worker, and that the board and the town at large will remember what the bottom line is.
Carol (Kiki) Noack March 20, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Gwen, I too hope that the number of adopted dogs continues at the pace that Julie set - she did an amazing job in that single area. But the primary goal of the shelter should be to save adoptable animals' lives, and sadly the number of dogs euthanized has quadrupled over the numbers up to 2009 (2010 had another inappropriate shelter manager who came and went quickly). Cash, and 4 other dogs who were given up on at Hbg shelter, are thriving at King's Kastle. Those of us who worked with the dogs euthanized last year know that not all of those dogs needed to die. Some just needed more time, more affection, more training. They needed someone to give them a chance. And that's what we want the Hbg shelter to do.
Thomas Cole March 20, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Kiki and Gwen, you (and most others) are expecting too much from today's shelter model. These animal prisons are so limited in scope that they simply cannot provide what it takes to save the more challenging dogs and cats. It's not just the facility, but also the skill set involved. Two concepts wil radically change the shelter dynamics: 1) Get rid of caging and house animals together fulltime in large groups, 2) Send the dogs (and cats) with issues into rehab. The first is called good marketing. Do you like to go look at dogs sitting in the back of a prison cell or screaming at you from behind a cage door? The second comes from the heart of someone who, unlike all other shelter directors, KNOWS no dog is beyond redemption. HAS has the opportunity right now to switch to this format - before the prison cells are bought and installed. Colleen Combs and a few other rescuers in Sonoma County have the expertise to introduce rehab to the shelter. A side benefit is the rescue community will finally start actively work with the shelter (and become more than just a safety net). Shelter directors in this country do not know how to make this happen - that's why our shelters stagnate in this antiquated model. Find someone who gets this, who can implement this model, and can keep it on track. Then the Healdsburg Animal Shelter can become a flagship for the next era in sheltering. Or it can just follow the lead of an architect and put up more prison cells...
Gwen Rosewater March 20, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Kiki, to me having a high adoption rate translates to saving adoptable animals lives, especially given that it has allowed Healdsburg to pull animals from other local shelters. Was the number of dogs saved thanks to the shelters ability to free up space greater than the number of dogs lost due to euthanasia? And was the euthanasia rate up due to the greater number of dogs that moved through the system? I don't have those numbers, so can't say, but would love to see a chart with all of the statistics. Ideally, our little shelter would do it all. Fabulous adoption rate, and great rehab services for problem animals. But working out how to make the perfect shelter will almost certainly require us to rein in our passions as a community if we want to work together to make that happen.
Lizzardking March 20, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Dr. Cole, I believe you are singing to the choir as far as Kiki is concerned as I do believe she agrees with your assessment. I thought The Patch tabled this discussion? I have a really important question--does anyone know where Julie Seals got that hat she is wearing in the photo seen above? I like it.
Thomas Cole March 20, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Dear "Lizzarking," you have the advantage as I am not local so I don't know the commenters personally. I responded to concerns that offered no solution. Specifically, what I responded to, in part, was this comment by Kiki Noack: "Those of us who worked with the dogs euthanized last year know that not all of those dogs needed to die. Some just needed more time, more affection, more training. They needed someone to give them a chance. And that's what we want the Hbg shelter to do." Tabled the discussion? It seems obvious the discussion continues. Those comments were left today, not months ago. Btw, I identified myself - who is the "Lizzardking?" Transparency is always important, isn't it?
Lizzardking March 20, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Yea man, it's just that this dude named Christian on another more recent Patch article said to stop yammering about the shelter because it was giving him a migraine.Don't get all the hate man. These animals are righteous and deserve our love and support. I believe like the Native Americans do, that animals are spiritual messengers from the other side and they are here to tell us something. It's time to feel the love for the animals and even love for the board and love for this chick named Julie who stressed the Lizzardking's mantra of I can do anything. We must forgive them for what they have done but maybe never forget because you know what they say about history...? Those who forget it, history, are doomed to....um, well, they are just doomed, that's all. Thanks for talking to me Mr. Cole, you seem righteous and cool man. Keep fighting the good fight man. And transparency is cool for some, but I get rashes from plastic wrap.
Lizzardking March 20, 2012 at 07:45 PM
I looked up that quote about history. It goes like this, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." I flunked my high school history class man.....had to repeat it.
Carol (Kiki) Noack March 20, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Thomas, I agree with you completely, and have recommended to the new new co-chair of HAS that he check out King's Kastle and talk to Colleen before determining the redesign of the new shelter's interior. And fortunately HAS is talking to trainers to bring back knowledgeable assessments and rehab planning. None of this is rocket science. What I have abhored is seeing the dogs of Healdsburg euthanized because they needed exta help. I am still waiting for the shelter to provide statistics on the rate of euthanasia among Healdsburg dogs.
Thomas Cole March 20, 2012 at 08:44 PM
HAS needs someone at the helm to do two things: 1) Get the dogs (and cats) with issues out of HAS and into rehab. This is not training. It's beyond the scope of my comment to explain it. It's just "dialing back" issues so trainers can then work with the adopter and the new companion - together, as a team. 2) Stop jamming dogs into cages and do some good marketing - actually, in business it's called merchandising. Dogs and cats are social animals and naturally enjoy one another's company. They flourish in social settings. It's called C-O-M-M-U-N-A-L L-I-V-I-N-G. People hate going to shelters. Why? Because they're prisons! The solution is to get rid of the prison cages. Make it a friendly place to visit. Why isn't the community knocking on Colleen Combs' door and begging her to come do at HAS what she's already done at her two facilities? She knows rehab, she knows communal living. Give her two years with a no-fire contract and allow her some room to show what can be done? She can save all lives, not just the cute cuddly ones. She's a smart cookie, she'll know how to run all three places. Besides, HAS is itty bitty as shelters go. Not much of a challenge to her skills. With Patch's permission, you can read all about this new way at www.ShelterRevolution.org. ♥
Thomas Cole March 20, 2012 at 08:48 PM
LK, got a good one to go with that quote. It's by a smart guy named Albert Einstein: "Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results." Sound like any shelters you know? Hey shelter boards! Keep hiring those directors. Maybe things will change some day...
Lizzardking March 21, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Hey, Albert was one smart dude, I like your quote better than mine man. I may not be the brightest bulb on the planet, but with progresso minds like yours, Noak's and King's Kastle, there is no excuse for HAS to repeat the past while expecting different results. I love animals, love them so much that when I bust a seam in my vintage leather pants after getting carried away dancing at a SF club, I decided to buy a pair of Pleather pants from Walmart, not leather. I did not want an animal to have to be sacrificed to the great dance gods of gyrations and hip thrusts. Peace out man.

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