After two years of uncertainty and a brush with closure, Palo Alto's aged animal shelter could undergo a radical expansion and transformation under a new plan proposed by the Palo Alto Humane Society.
The existing facility has been a source of community anxiety since 2012, when Mountain View decided to opt out of its partnership in the facility, leaving a $470,000 funding gap. The decision prompted a proposal from City Manager James Keene to consider outsourcing animal services, which have been a local fixture since 1908. The City Council ultimately backed away from this proposal after a flurry of community opposition and a pledge from local animal lovers to help raise funds for the facility.
Now, rather than scrapping animal services, the city is considering enhancing them. The Palo Alto Humane Society, which started the first animal shelter in 1927 and managed it until 1972, has put together a proposal for a new, state-of-the-art animal services center that would cost between $10 million and $12 million. The organization would fund the center's construction and help the city manage it once it's built. The city would provide about 2 acres of land for the facility and continue to provide some animal services.
In the proposal, which will be considered by the City Council Monday, Humane Society Executive Director Carole Hyde wrote that the plan is "built on the precept that animal sheltering and animal control services must remain located in Palo Alto to best serve the community." She noted that animal services in many other communities are based on private-public partnerships.
"Dog training, dog parks, behaviorists, education programs, and modern sheltering facilities all add value to the life of a community and promote the well being of a community's animals," Hyde's proposal states. "The Palo Alto Humane Society is interested in offering these proven added value aspects to the Palo Alto Community.
"PAHS wants to create an exciting place in Palo Alto that parallels centers in other communities and shines as a civic centerpiece for the City. The residents have shown their passion for animal welfare and would welcome a new and exciting vision for the shelter."
While the City Council has yet to review the proposal, it is already off to a promising start. Four council members -- Marc Berman, Karen Holman, Larry Klein and Greg Schmid -- have penned a memo urging that the Humane Society proposal go to council committees for "prompt review." The council will consider this memo at its June 16 meeting.
The four council members cited the animal shelter's brush with closure in 2012, noting the community response.
"The community has made its desire to keep animal services in Palo Alto known by crowding Council Chambers with supporters," the memo states.
The city's existing animal shelter also serves Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. In their memo, the council members write that the new facility and added services could be "a means to attract adjacent communities who now contract as far away as San Martin, a distance creating real challenges to reunited owner and pet."
The Humane Society has offered to provide various community services and outreach associated with the new facility, though the city would continue to "fund and manage mandated animal control services." A major benefit of this, Hyde wrote, is that the organization can "run the sheltering function at a lower cost, as PAHS is not subject to the City's salary structure." The cost, she said, would be "predictable," with a contracted fee that will make budgeting much easier for the city.
"Another advantage to the City is that this partnership would play on each organization's areas of strength," Hyde's proposal states. "PAHS is better able to handle sheltering and animal care, while the City is better able to perform the animal control function, given its strength in law and code enforcement."