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2015 BEST Nonprofit/Charitable Organization: Sonoma Humane Society

Author: Alexandra Russell
May, 2015 Issue

“People [in the North Bay] are very in-tune with nature and accept the importance of animals in our lives—it’s an expected part of our lifestyle.” —Kiska Icard

At Sonoma Humane Society (SHS), “love” is a four-legged word. And thanks to a dedicated staff and hundreds of community volunteers, many of Sonoma County’s feral, stray, displaced, orphaned and abandoned animals are feeling loved every day.
Inside its 35,000-square-foot main facility in west Santa Rosa, animals are treated with kindness and respect while being evaluated for adoptability and, ultimately (hopefully), placed in a new forever home. To this end, SHS houses a full-service public veterinary hospital; clean and inviting apartments for adoptable cats, dogs, rabbits and other small animals; classrooms for community education; executive offices; a barn full of country critters; multiple outdoor training and play spaces; and an organic garden. A 7,500-square-foot facility is in development in Healdsburg, with basic adoption and stray services onsite during its development.
“We’re trying to create unique spaces to provide animals with different environments and the Healdsburg community with a beautiful animal resource center,” says Kiska Icard, executive director, who’s led the organization for the last five years. “We’re also focused on efficiencies; we don’t want to replicate all the services we have in Santa Rosa, but rather complement with additional offerings.” In addition to adoption services, assistance for strays and other basic resources, possibilities include support for maternity, whelping and weaning; using technology to enhance behavior training and socialization; and expanding outdoor opportunities (the facility sits on four acres).
SHS provides free trap-neuter-return (TNR) services for feral/barn cats, its donor-supported Angel’s Fund helps with shelter animal medical expenses, and the Raider’s Fund helps with veterinary costs to prevent euthanasia and assist owners with medical expenses for treatable animals.
One example of this outreach is Princess Fiona, a newborn American Bulldog pup with a cleft lip and palate who came to SHS in March and required round-the-clock care and multiple surgeries in the future. Donations poured in from the community, and SHS was flooded with adoption requests from families whose children are also affected by the condition.
SHS is also known for its innovative adoption and fostering programs, including Fospice (a foster program for animals near the end of their lives) and an adopt-by-owner website feature that lets animals stay in their familiar home until a new family is found; this is significantly less stressful for the animal and, often, for the owners giving up the pet as well (since they can meet and assess the adopters). The Loving for Life program can give pet owners peace of mind by letting them register their pet to come directly to SHS if they ever become unable to care for it.
Of course, all of this costs money, and fund-raising is a constant challenge. SHS isn’t affiliated with any national animal welfare organization. It maintains a public/private partnership with the county animal services department but receives no funding from it. “Ninety-five percent of our funding and support comes from the Sonoma County community,” says Icard, explaining it costs $3.5 million per year to keep the shelter open. “We absolutely couldn’t do this without that connection.”
Luckily, the community steps up when asked: “Sonoma County has a quirkiness to it,” she says. “People [in the North Bay] are very in-tune with nature and accept the importance of animals in our lives—it’s an expected part of our lifestyle.”
Maybe that’s why SHS has again been chosen BEST Nonprofit (it previously won in 2012). “We’re honored to provide these services,” says Icard, sharing a final message: “No matter where you are in your life, you can always help animals.”
Local artist Alexis E. Fajardo recently redesigned Sonoma Humane Society animal transport vans to better reflect the community-friendly organization.


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