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CALISTOGA — The city of Calistoga will enter into a contract for animal control services and shelter care with a Sonoma County animal foundation instead of the Napa County Animal Shelter.

Competing for the contract were the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation (PASF), backed by the local Wine Country Animal Lovers (WCAL), and the Napa County Animal Shelter supported by the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.

The council approved the contract on Tuesday, 3-2. Mayor Chris Canning and Vice Mayor Michael Dunsford were the two “no” votes, with Councilmembers Gary Kraus, Jim Barnes and Irais Ortega-Lopez in favor of PASF.

Either organization will provide good animal services, said Calistogan veterinarian Steve Franquelin, but the Napa County Animal Shelter just isn’t at the point of reaching the “no-kill” level of animal rescue most important to him and other board members of Wine Country Animal Lovers, he said.

A no-kill shelter does not kill healthy or treatable animals even when the shelter is full, reserving euthanasia for terminally ill animals or those considered vicious or dangerous to the public.

The no-kill rate “is at the heart of the issue,” said Pam Ingalls, president of WCAL. PASF has a lower kill rate than does the county, according to data provided at the meeting.

City Manager Richard Spitler said he dislikes the term “no-kill,” calling it inflammatory, preferring to focus on the “live-release” rate of shelters. They are debatable terms that can be skewed for positioning a point, he said.

Alissa McNair, a board member of WCAL, asked Kristen Loomer, Napa County Animal Shelter manager, for the county shelter’s live-release rate. Loomer said it is 94 percent for dogs, 66 percent for cats, and 89 percent for rabbits.

Turn the numbers around and the shelter euthanizes 6 percent of the dogs it takes in, 34 percent of the cats, and 11 percent of rabbits.

Either way the numbers are presented, they are improvements over what Loomer and others with the shelter inherited a few years ago. Loomer said their live-release rate was in the high 70s to low 80s before she arrived.

Napa County will have a difficult time getting to a desirable no-kill rate simply because they are shackled by bureaucracy, Franquelin said. The Petaluma group is an example of how removing government control can allow an organization to flourish, he said.

Jeff Charter, the executive director of PASF, was formerly Petaluma’s shelter director. When budget restrictions arose in Petaluma a few years ago, Charter and others created the nonprofit foundation that the city ultimately hired to provide services. It has flourished by driving up adoption numbers and reducing the number of animals killed.

It’s what Franquelin and the rest of WCAL want for Calistoga, officials said.

Dunsford expressed a desire to sign the Napa County contract so the city could have a closer watch, and possibly more involvement in any changes that may take place within Napa County Animal Shelter.

WCAL, based out of Franquelin’s Calistoga Pet Clinic, has been the city’s go-to source for caring for stray, injured and lost animals, and the group spoke out in force when the city first entered into negotiations with the county in early March. At WCAL’s urging, the council agreed then to postpone its decision.

WCAL launched a social media and directed campaign to encourage Calistoga’s animal lovers to call, write and email their city council members to tell them how they felt.

“I’ve never had so much email … so much response” on any topic “and that includes the resorts,” Councilmember Gary Krauss said.

PASF will be responsible for responding to calls for lost, sick or injured animals – domestic and wildlife – at a fixed cost of $15,400 per year. Its shelter services would cost $34,000 per year, bringing the total three-year contract to $148,200.

The county plan would have cost $135,056 over three years.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

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