Though he lives in Riverside County, Bruce Brady cares about Petaluma’s animals.
Brady, a former buyer for the city of Petaluma, stopped in at the Petaluma Animal Services shelter this week during a road trip to see his son in Arcata. He asked for a list of items the shelter needs donated, which he said he’d return with soon.
“I follow them on Facebook,” he said. “I love the before and after pictures and knowing which animals have been adopted.”
A year ago, in an effort to save jobs and keep a quality shelter in town, Petaluma contracted out its animal control and care to the nonprofit Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, a group made up mostly of former city shelter employees and volunteers.
While there were initial bumps during the transition — mostly disagreements about staffing decisions — the change has been positive, said City Councilman Chris Albertson, who sits on the city’s animal services advisory committee.
“The bottom line is, is it working for the animals? Are they being cared for? They are. Are they being euthanized more than before? The response is, they are not,” he said. “And the foundation is meeting their fiscal responsibilities.”
In 2012, the then-police chief proposed cutting $176,000 from the animal services budget, mostly by abolishing the jobs of both city animal control officers, which would have eliminated many services the shelter provided.
But Petaluma’s animal lovers united and formed a nonprofit entity that provides all the former city services and a few new ones – including a greatly increased use of Facebook to engage the public.
Last year, the city agreed to a three-year contract with the agency, paying it a net $388,000 annually to operate the shelter and respond to animal calls from the community.
The foundation kept five of six of the former city employees, at lower pay and with less lucrative benefits, essentially making the deal a financial wash.
Jeff Charter, formerly the city’s shelter director, stayed on as the executive director.
The former longtime director, Nancee Tavares, opposed the change. She had concerns over who was running dog training and whether dangerous animals were being adopted out in a quest to be “no-kill.”
“I’m not in favor of feral or outdoor cats — they just decimate the bird population,” she said. “Now they have the barn cat program and they’re not euthanizing anything. They’re going more toward a no-kill, when, you know what, some dogs need to go to heaven. There are too many good dogs out there.”
Charter chalked up some of the initial discontent to a culture change whenever new management takes over. He said any concerns seem to have faded.
The city’s funds to the foundation cover its payroll, about a third of the expenses, while the rest of the operating expenses — mostly veterinary services, animal supplies and insurance — come from donations, fees and grants.
The shelter reported $123,000 in donations during the first six months’ of operations, plus about $24,000 from two fundraisers.
The foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year, the Rooster Booster, is Friday at the Rooster Run Event Center in Petaluma.
Brady, the former employee who stopped in looking to help, said he’d always supported the shelter, but the social media interaction drew him in. He has a soft spot for dogs, and offered to pick up some items from the shelter’s wish list of supplies.
While he was there, Valerie Fausone, a former volunteer who is now the paid director of training at the shelter, introduced him to Casey, a 10-year-old mixed-breed dog Brady had seen on Facebook and wondered about.
Casey was surrendered by an owner who neglected her care, leaving her with a skin infection, blackened and shriveled ears and weight loss. Casey has been adopted and returned for some minor medical care this week.
Charter said the foundation’s success is based on trust and transparency. It is obligated to provide the city with progress reports, including annual financial statements, and a detailing of how many animals were handled.
The shelter’s “save rate” is almost 98 percent, Fausone said. Staff is working toward “no-kill” status.
During the last year the city ran the shelter, 132 animals were euthanized. In the foundation’s first six months, 12 were.
The city adopted out 515 animals in its last year, while the foundation found homes for 387 in its first six months.
An important gauge for success, Fausone said, is the length of time animals live at the shelter. Last year, dogs stayed an average of 13 days, down from 52 the city’s last year; cats stayed 29 days, down from 69 days.
Shelter workers have increased the number of adoption events and created a barn cat adoption program and a Silver Paws for Love senior assistance adoption plan. They have expanded the fostering program and strengthened collaborations with Forgotten Felines and the Sonoma County Humane Society, Charter said.
“The public wants to know the animals at their animal shelter are safe,” he said. “If people can help with that, they will.”
Currently, the foundation has about 60 animals available for adoption, mostly cats, several dogs and a few rabbits.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or email@example.com.