When a nonprofit foundation takes over operations of the Petaluma Animal Shelter next month, it will be the culmination of a vision that began more than a decade ago to create a safe haven for animals and a hub and resource for pet owners.
Although the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation began working on a proposal to take over operations two years ago, many of its members have been dreaming of the chance to run their own shelter for years, free from constraints imposed by the city, which took over the shelter in 1999.
(Prior to that, the shelter was run by the Sonoma County Humane Society.)
“Because of the budget cuts and the city structure, the shelter has not really been able to fulfill its full potential,” said Susan Simons, who started the foster care and mobile adoption programs at the Petaluma Animal Shelter in the ‘90s and will serve on the foundation’s board of directors.
Over the past five years, the shelter's budget was cut by a third, with another animal control officer position theatened because of ongoing citywide cuts.
"It became clear that even if we could save that one job, we'd be back in the same situation the following year," said Valerie Fausone, who founded the shelter’s training center and has been involved in animal rescue for two decades. She too will serve on the new foundation's board.
Under the agreement, all current shelter employees, now employed by the city, will be invited to apply for positions at the shelter and will be given first priority. City facilities and equipment (such as cars, veterinary equipment and kennels) will be transferred to the foundation, which has applied for nonprofit status.
Although initially the savings from the switch will be nominal—estimated at less than $1,000—it will allow the shelter to retain all of its current employees and even hire a volunteer coordinator. The shelter houses more than 1,200 cats and dogs a year, responds to calls of aggressive, injured or dead animals, holds spay and neuter clinics and adoption events in the community.
Once the foundation receives its nonprofit status, it will be able to apply for grants and funding not available to city agencies. That will allow the shelter to expand services, hire more staff, reopen the now-shuttered training center and promote adoptable animals through social media.
Jeff Charter, the current director of Animal Services will become executive director of the foundation. Charter is credited with drastically reducing the number of animals who were put down, from 600 in 2008 to about 126 last year, and boosting the adoption rate.
“Jeff has a vision for the shelter and it’s to make it a hub for the community where people can come to, even if it’s just with a question about their own pets,” Simons said.
The agreement between the city and the foundation will last three years, after which it will be reevaluated.
The foundation is made up of many former shelter volunteers, including Sue Davy who helped develop the canine rehab and obedience center at the shelter.
But after other shelter employees learned about the group’s proposal and were resistant to it because it meant lower salaries and no government pensions, Charter asked Davy and Fausone to temporarily leave in order to difuse conflict at the shelter. Both will now be involved in the day-to-day operations of the shelter.
Other foundation members include Don Duffala, a former attorney and current shelter volunteer, Cheryl Babcock, who started Big Dog Rescue in Penngrove in 2000 and Genevieve Ghilloti, who owns a horse farm in Petaluma and has taken in many foster dogs.
Disclaimer: Karina Ioffee has volunteered at the Petaluma Animal Shelter in the past.