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.”

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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