The Healdsburg Animal Shelter (HAS) Board of Directors has chosen to dissolve, closing an often-turbulent chapter in the effort to maintain animal care and control services in Healdsburg. The board will transfer assets, including the unfinished shelter on Bacchus Landing Way and surplus cash, to the Sonoma Humane Society, who has partnered with the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation to provide animal services to Healdsburg since April.
The decision to dissolve evolved as the board reassessed its position following the recent conclusion of a lawsuit against the architect, builder and sub-contractors of the $2.9 million uncompleted shelter, which was found by an independent inspection to have major cracking and insufficient thickness to its concrete foundation.
“Our only goal was to get this thing into use as an animal shelter,” said Robert Wilkie, who served as secretary-treasurer for the HAS board, which worked with Sonoma Humane Society, a non-profit organization, to determine the best method to bring the facility back in line with the vision that donors gave their money to see realized.
“We sat down with their board and we looked at the options, and there were several,” Wilkie said, with the option to dissolve and transfer assets to Sonoma Humane Society proving “by far the cleanest and most efficient.”
HAS intends to transfer ownership of the building and assign all rights under its land lease to Sonoma Humane Society. All other assets, including surplus cash, will be transferred to the non-profit.
The settlement covered legal fees and has allowed the board to turn over a substantial sum to Sonoma Humane Society to remediate building defects, according to Wilkie.”No donor’s money was spent on legal fees or administrative costs,” he said.
Construction on the unfinished shelter occurred in 2011, but came to a stand-still when general contractor Syd Kelly Construction filed for bankruptcy. In the fall of 2012, the board of the Healdsburg Animal Shelter filed a lawsuit that sought full restitution for “substantial design and construction defects that make the shelter effectively uninhabitable.”
HAS never moved animals into the new facility, and closed in the summer of 2013. In April, the Sonoma Humane Society and the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation jointly opened a temporary outpost for animal care and control next to the unfinished building.
Prior to carrying out the dissolution and asset transfer, HAS must obtain approval from California’s Office of the Attorney General. Due to similarities in corporate structure and purpose, approval is anticipated upon the submission of all documents, according to a statement issued by the HAS board.
“As soon as the transfer and dissolution is approved we intend to, as soon as possible, begin work to finish up the shelter so that we can discontinue using the trailers and move our operations into the building,” said Sonoma Humane Society Executive Director Kiska Icard.
According to Icard, expert analysis has shown that the building is salvageable. The facility may not be outfitted with “all the bells and whistles” upon opening, but “the important thing is to get the building open and the permanent services restored as soon as possible,” she said.
Regarding the anticipated completion of the shelter facility, Icard said “we want to under-promise and over-deliver.” Currently, the goal is to open the shelter within a year.
In the intervening time, the Sonoma Humane Society intends to solicit input from the Healdsburg community about the future of animal services through a needs assessment. “The question that’s in front of us right now,” she said, “is what is all the ‘bells and whistles?’” Ideas for the facility include a large outdoor area for dogs that provides space for collaborative or solo play.
A name has not been chosen for the facility, according to Icard, though it will pay tribute to principal donors Robert and Charlotte Strong.
Location will also tie into the name of the shelter, according to Wilkie. “One thing (SHS) has assured our board is that this will be a Healdsburg-centered facility,” he said. “This will serve a broader area, but it is a Healdsburg-centered entity and the name is going to reflect that.”
Petaluma Animal Services Foundation will continue to provide animal control to complement Sonoma Humane Society’s sheltering services, Icard said. Healdsburg residents may stay up-to-date on volunteer needs at the new facility through visiting Sonoma Humane Society’s website.
“It’s kind of like ‘The king is dead, long live the king,’” Wilkie said of the dissolution. “It’s just the transition of one organization to another, but it’s a happy one.”