UPDATE: This article was updated on Friday, Dec. 2, 2011, to add comments from the Julie Seal, executive director at the Healdsburg Animal Shelter
A conflict over a dog named Cash at was stabilized -- but not resolved -- in a Sonoma County courtroom Thursday.
In an agreement approved by both lawyers for the shelter and for Douglas Keane, chef-owner of Healdsburg's the shelter stipulated that Cash, a 3-year-old, 110-pound Mastiff/pitbull mix, would not be euthanized at any time while the issue of his potential adoption by Keane was in the process of being resolved.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau approved the stipulated agreement in chambers and denied the motion for a temporary restraining order since there was no need to act on it, said Rex Grady, attorney for Keane, who is a volunteer at the shelter and certified dog trainer.
It was not immediately clear what the next step might be for resolving the issue, which has triggered high emotions on both sides and among the many animal lovers in Healdsburg.
"I love Cash a lot and I was sad to see him go," said Brandon Buckley of Healdsburg, a neighbor of Cash's former family who surrendered him to the shelter in August because the wife was due to have a baby. "I don't want anything to happen to him."
Buckley, who said he was around Cash for more than two years, said he had never seen any incidences of aggression with Cash and that Cash had played peacefully with Buckley's own dog, a shih-tzu, and with the neighbors' other dog, a chihuahua.
Shelter Executive Director Julie Seal on Friday repeated her earlier statement
"We didn't even have an adoption application on file," she said. "We've never had an application."
She said the first indication she had on Cash's potential adoption was on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving weekend. She said Keane e-mailed her with an inquiry about adopting Cash.
She said she told him it would be fine to start the normal adoption process -- including filling out an application and scheduling a meeting at the shelter with Keane, Cash and the rest of Keane's family and his other dog to see how they all interacted.
She said that Keane reacted by being insulted, saying that she was "making him jump through hoops."
The next thing that happened, Seal said, was on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, when she received an email from Grady, Keane's attorney.
"That was the first indication there were going to be legal issues involved," Seal said. "We didn't even have a chance to respond to an adoption application."
She said she contacted shelter attorney Jeff Lyons to address any legal questions. She and Lyons began drawing up a liability waiver and insurance agrement to allow the adoption to go through.
But on Tuesday, before the paperwork was completed, Seal said, Keane filed the motion for a temporary restraining order and a lawsuit seeking permission to rehabilitate and adopt Cash.
On Thursday, Keane said he felt an urgency to act because he had received a text from someone at the shelter who said that a meeting was in progress to discuss euthanizing Cash. He declined to state who had sent the text.
Seal on Friday strongly refuted that such a meeting had ever taken place.
"We've never had a meeting to discuss euthanizing Cash," she said. "And our staff members are not permitted to bring cell phones into meetings."
Seal said earlier this week that she was being cautious because Cash had been judged dog-agressive by two independent dog trainers at the shelter and that there had been at least one incident of him attacking Healdsburg Animal Control Officer Ryan Pelletiri.
Keane said Thursday that Cash may have associated Pelletiri with the trauma of being leashed with a special animal control noose and brought into the shelter forcibly. Keane said Cash appeared to be skittish even seeing the "noose" hanging on the wall, and that the dog was fine after he removed it.
"Does he have other-dog issues? Absolutely," Keane said. "Does he need help? Absolutely.
"I just want to make sure we give him a chance to get the help he needs and get rehabiliated," Keane said. "We owe him that, morally and ethically, to give him that chance."
He said he was planning to take the dog to King's Kastle -- an animal care facility in Cloverdale and Windsor -- for training and behavioral therapy, and that he would pick up the tab.
Keane said he felt the precautionary steps requested by Seal -- such as bringing his wife and other dog to the shelter to interact with Cash -- were "ridiculous" and unnecessary since Cash has already spent time at Keane's house and during that time, exhibited no signs of aggression.
Colleen Combs, owner of King's Kastle and an animal behavioral specialiist, said she woud be open to evaluating Cash, but that she would need to have him at her facility for several days to eliminate built-up stress from the shelter.
She said she could do the evaluation whether Keane had been granted adoption permission or not.
"Let's at least have the opportunity to remove the dog from the shelter environment, which is stressful to a lot of dogs," she said. "A lot of dogs don't do well in a shelter."
Combs said she was trained behaviorist, which was different than a dog trainer. She said that the behavioral skills would allow her to make a more in-depth decision on whether Cash could be rehabilitated.
"Most dogs instinctually want to socialize, but they may not know how," she said. "Those skills can be learned."
She said, however, that she was "not afraid to make the tough decision (of euthansia)" if she determined that a dog could not be rehabilitated or was too severely sick or damaged to ever be able function safely in the community.
Seal on Friday said she agreed with Combs and would have been quite open to releasing Cash to her care for several days so that Combs could evaluate the dog away from the shelter.
"I actually agree with her," Seal said. "If Doug had come in and filled out an application and said he was not sure about Cash and wanted to take him to an expert for evaluation first -- and even pay for it -- I would have had no objections."
Seal said she never had the chance to make that decision before Keane took legal action.
"I just want to repeat that we've never even had an adoption application," Seal said.
Buckley said his experience of Cash was that the dog's large physique made Cash seem more aggressive than he really was.
"I've never seen any biting," Buckley said. "He's big, so when he wants attention and puts his paws up on you, it can be intimidating."