Vowing not to let the City of Palo Alto shutter its animal services center, residents and animal advocates are mounting an effort to keep the shelter open, with all of the markings of a political campaign.
The city manager's office is recommending closure of the shelter at 3281 E. Bayshore Road, which includes a spay-and-neuter clinic, and outsourcing animal services. The City of Mountain View, which has contracted with Palo Alto Animal Services since 1993, announced in November that it is switching to Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority. That move will leave Palo Alto with $450,000 less for its program.
But opponents say Palo Alto's services are crucial to care of local animals -- not only family pets but wildlife and strays -- and to the well-being of residents. Palo Alto's is the only shelter between Santa Clara and San Mateo, they said.
Since the city's announcement on March 26, residents and animal-rescue advocates have started at least two petitions. Coming soon: yard signs and buttons and a grass-roots effort to work through neighborhood associations, said Carole Hyde, executive director of the Palo Alto Humane Society, a nonprofit organization that is not related to the city's animal services.
"As you can imagine this is a very passionate issue," she said Wednesday.
Calling themselves Save Our Shelter (SOS) and, alternatively, Save Our Animal Shelter, the activists have thus far gathered more than 250 signatures on two online petitions. They also have a Facebook page.
Hyde said the Palo Alto Humane Society is also writing a position paper to explore alternatives to the closure.
When Mountain View's contract ends this November, Palo Alto would have to absorb the lost revenue or pass some of the shared costs to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, which contract with Palo Alto. The latter option could force the cities to leave the partnership, Palo Alto officials fear.
Animal Services operates on an annual budget of $1.8 million. It brings in about $1.1 million in annual revenues. Mountain View's departure would raise Palo Alto's share of the facility's cost from $700,000 to about $1.1 million annually. Outsourcing animal services would bring down the city's net costs to about $500,000, according to staff estimates.
The city is also considering using the animal-shelter land for an auto dealership. The U.S. Highway 101 frontage is coveted by auto dealers, which could add to the city's coffers.
But Hyde and others said there are ways to recoup the lost revenue and keep the city's animal program, whose reputation has made Palo Alto a destination for those seeking high-quality services.
The Palo Alto Humane Society currently spends $35,000 at the animal-services center, but it could spend $100,000 annually through its spay-and-neuter underwriting program. If the city were to expand the hours and accept feral animals for treatment, the Humane Society and other rescue groups could bring it more business, she said.
"That's a lot of lost revenue. It seems a shame for the city to lose that income," she said. Regarding the possible outsourcing, Hyde said there are perils for taking already-stressed animals long distances for treatment and surgery, and the distance will also burden residents.
"The proximity of a shelter is very important. It's a blow to residents of Palo Alto and other cities," she said.
Barron Park resident Doug Moran, who runs the neighborhood email list, said he makes notifying neighbors about lost or stray animals a priority, and he understands what the loss would mean in human terms.
"I see how stressful it is to lose a cat or dog. I see other people spend lots of time when animals get lost," he said.
Friends of his spent two weeks looking for a lost pet, going from shelter to shelter every day. He said he couldn't imagine how difficult that would be if people could only go to Santa Clara. The city should consider what is a reasonable level of service for its residents, he said.
"The outsourcing seems entirely focused on money," he said, adding that there should be other ways to save money.
"I just see so many pointless consultant studies that don't seem to have any result. Are we making proper choices? There are a lot of inefficiencies," he said.
"Over the years, I have occasionally seen consultants that brought real value, but too often the consultants did little more than produce reports that were high on flash and low on content," he said, citing studies that cost between $50,000 and $200,000.
A shelter's distance from Palo Alto could jeopardize animals' lives, he said. People who aren't able to travel a long distance daily to find a lost pet at a shelter might find their family pet has been euthanized because it wasn't claimed in a few days, he said.
The quality of life in Palo Alto could change if local services go away. People who take in strays might think twice about driving an animal to Santa Clara.
"People would have to take time off from work to do it" or opt not do it at all, he said.
Resident Nancy Hamilton said there are many services the city will suddenly find itself without if animal services were to close. One evening she saw Animal Control Officer William Warrior come to the South Peninsula Veterinary Emergency Clinic with an injured bobcat on the end of a pole.
Questions remain about how wildlife services, including nuisances, will be handled, she said.