Healdsburg Animal Shelter: 'Deaths of Animals...Are Always Disappointing To Us'

Shelter, police, activist comment on controversy over euthanasia.


Healdsburg animal lovers, animal welfare administrators and city officials this week tried to fill in various gaps in understanding in the on Dec. 21 at the Healdsburg Animal Shelter.

"Deaths of animals, while infrequent, are always disappointing for us," shelter officials said in a report issued Monday. "Some injured or seriously ill animals are dead on arrival at HAS.

"Others die from injury or disease while under the care of our professional staff," the report said. "The saddest deaths result from euthanasia."

Although 22 animals were euthanized at HAS last year, Posey's death in particular sparked a firestorm. That was after a blogger accused the shelter of breaking state law by killing the dog when a local rescue group had said it would take the animal.

Although the law, known as Hayden's Law -- part of the California Food and Agriculture Code -- does call for halt to euthanasia if a group has placed a "rescue hold" on an animal, there is also a special consideration if a dog has been documented as being "dangerous" or "vicious."

Shelter officials said at the time that Posey, who was surrendered by his owners for attacking another dog, was in fact documented as "dangerous" and had been evaluated as such by shelter animal welfare experts. Posey had jumped a fence and attacked another dog at the shelter, and officials said he was becoming severely kennel stressed.

But animal welfare activist Vickie Brown, who has agreed with the blogger that HAS was "breaking the law," said Monday that HAS denied her a public records disclosure request under the Freedom of Information Act. Brown said she had asked for copies of Posey's records.

Brown, who is founder of a citizens' group, No Kill Sonoma County, presented to Patch a copy of a letter from the shelter saying that since HAS is not a public entity, the shelter is not subject to state public records disclosure laws or FOIA requests.

"All transparency is gone," Brown said Monday. "I asked HAS to remove all association with No Kill Sonoma County and No Kill Advocacy Center.

"We believe that, along with not breaking Hayden's Law, that transparency in a shelter is a very big part of the No Kill Movement," Brown added. "Healdsburg Animal Shelter is having problems with transparency, along with taking care of all its shelter animals."

Meanwhile, Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke said he reviewed the case over the last few weeks to see if the shelter, which has an animal control contract with the city, had violated Healdsburg municipal code.

Burke said he did the review after City Manager Marjie Pettus received a request from Mayor Susan Jones to check on whether any laws were broken, as the blogger had alleged. Healdsburg Lt. Matt Jenkins was also involved in the review.

"The lens that we used was through our contract," Pettus said last week. "Does this or does this not fit our contract arrangement?"

Both Jenkins and Burke said they determined that HAS adhered to the contract under the city code and that no municipal code regulations were violated. They did not address the blogger's allegations that Hayden's Law had been broken.

"The police department, as monitor of the contract between the City and HAS, did review some of the facts related to this incident, but not for the purposes of investigating whether Hayden’s Law was violated and I make no opinion as to whether it was," Burke said last week.

"The city contracts with HAS to provide animal control services, and HAS does have a veterinarian/Hayden’s Law expert on staff," he added.

"Our review did determine that there was no violation of the City of Healdsburg Municipal Code; in addition, we confirmed that HAS’ interpretation of the Hayden Act is consistent with the city’s, in other words, the statute applies to owner surrendered animals, as well as stray animals and both the city and HAS share that interpretation," Burke added. 

"As to HAS’ judgment that this case in question related to a vicious animal, we are not going to substitute our judgment for the panel of experts that made the decision to euthanize in this case," Burke said.

Burke said violation of Hayden’s Law is an infraction, punishable by a maximum fine of $100.

The shelter report, in the meantime, went into greater detail about the protocols  followed before any animal is euthanized.

"Last year, 22 animals were euthanized at HAS, some for medical reasons, others for behavioral problems," the report said. "Before euthanizing an animal, HAS follows a strict protocol that includes evaluations after medical or behavioral remedies have been applied and after considering transfer options to approved partner organizations. 

"At least one veterinarian or specialized trainer/behaviorist must concur in writing with our in-house Euthanasia Committee before the decision to euthanize is made," the shelter report added.  "It is never easy, but in the interest of compassion (as with a suffering animal) or community safety (for both animals and people), it is an unavoidable part of our job at HAS."

The report also cites "confusion in the community" about the "appropriate role of a shelter like HAS," the report said.

"Unlike other private shelters or rescues/sanctuaries that have no defined duty to the public interest, HAS provides professional animal control services for the City of Healdsburg, protecting both animals and people," it added. "We do not control the number or condition of the animals we take in; for the most part they simply show up at our door.

"We must maintain high levels of sanitation and safety at all times and offer remedial medical and behavioral treatment for animals whilein our care," the report added. "In addition, we actively seek ways to integrate animals back into the community in the best condition and as quickly as possible."

The report also notes that HAS recognizes that volunteers form emotional attachments to the dogs and cats that they work with -- and the shelter values and appreciates the work of its volunteers.

"HAS works hard to promote communication with and gain valuable input from its volunteers, but critical decisions regarding animal care -- including the toughest of all, to euthanize an animal -- are always made by professional staff and advisors," the report says.

"An emotional attachment to dogs and cats is a natural human impulse; it is why our professional staff has chosen this field as their life’s work," he report says.

"When our volunteers exhibit such attachments, we welcome their commitment and their input," the report says. "But as in other fields such as law enforcement, the most critical choices must remain with the designated professionals."

Healdsburg Animal Shelter statistics for 2012 were as follows, according to Monday's report::

 A total of 672 animals (primarily dogs and cats) entered the shelter in 2012. 

These included owner surrenders of pets, stray animals retrieved by animal control officers, lost animals, transfers from other shelters, and even small farm animals or wildlifethat may be injured or stray. 

Of this total intake of animals, HAS was able to release 630 live animals, including adoptions (395), returns to owners (154), transfers to other approved shelter or rescue/sanctuary facilities (80), and one release back into wild habitat. 

This represents a 94 percent live-animal release rate, maintaining the HAS record of recent years and affirming the commitment of HAS to serve our community by releasing safe and healthy animals to responsible owners whenever possible. 

A 94 percent live-release rate far exceeds state and national averages for community animal control shelters, the report said.

For more information, see www.healdsburgshelter.org.

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Vickie Brown January 17, 2013 at 04:44 PM
This "Activist" title that I have been labeled with in Healdsburg is beginning to annoy me. It is far from the truth. My argument with the Healdsburg Shelter will be the same, there was no citations with Posey for biting, therefore she can't be labeled vicious and if you actually look at the pictures closely, it looks like she was the loser in the battle with the other dog in her household. This Shelter refuses to acknowledge that it broke Laws when they killed her. Apparently the citizens are okay with that, will you be okay when the local Daycare breaks a Law or is it just Animal Shelters? Why? Where do you draw the line on what is acceptable when it comes to breaking the Law? As for the 94% Save Rate, Let's look at that number, what is different then the last two years. The "transfer out" group number has had a significant increase and adoptions have gone down. The transfer number for two years in a row were 11 and 13. This year it's 80. Where did those animals go? If they went to a kill shelter, sorry HAS you don't get to call them "live release". You just sent them down the road to be killed somewhere else. If anyone has the power to get records out of HAS, find out where these 80 animals went and if they are still alive. My request have all been refused. All 3 of them in the last year. Keri, maybe you can get these reports, you are a newspaper, you are about the only thing left that HAS might still be transparent for.
Keri Brenner January 17, 2013 at 05:24 PM
Hi Vickie: Thanks for your comments. Patch can certainly ask HAS for those records, but they are not bound by the California public records disclosure laws to release them, since -- as you found out -- they are not a public entity. If they choose to respond to your post, perhaps they can elaborate on their 94 percent save rate and where the released animals went. If not, we can all keep your comments in mind for further scrutiny. Thanks.
Elle January 18, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Deaths of animals may be "disappointing" to HAS leadership -- I actually find it tragic. What is disappointing (and bewildering) is why HAS continues to remain defensive and at odds with the community it purports to serve. Even if they are following "appropriate" procedures -- why is there no recognition of the need to cultivate relationships (as a previous poster points out) and regain public trust? And, of course, to provide the essential transparency they've promised (over and over) to provide?
NANCY MARMOL January 19, 2013 at 04:58 AM
What bothers me about Posey's death is the speed with which it was carried out. On the day she was euthanized, HAS's best volunteer dogwalker went to the shelter manager and begged for just one week to get her placement finalized. He was denied and a few hours later Posey was dead. That volunteer is now giving his time to another organization and HAS is the loser. Was HAS in such a hurry because they feared a lawsuit would be filed, as was done so successfully with Cash?
NANCY MARMOL January 19, 2013 at 05:07 AM
Please keep in mind that many different things can be meant by "attacking another dog," everything from a bad attack that leaves the other animal seriously injured, down to an episode of aggressive barking.


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