New plan for animal shelter concerns city workers

With some reservations, Palo Alto council approves advancing negotiations with nonprofit Pets in Need

As Palo Alto seeks to infuse its aged but popular animal shelter with new life, city workers who staff the East Bayshore Road facility are increasingly wondering what role -- if any -- they'll get to play.

That's the concern that some expressed Tuesday night, when the City Council considered a proposal to have a nonprofit group, Pets in Need, take over the operation of what is currently a city-run facility. Under a plan now being negotiated, Pets in Need would also lead the effort to significantly upgrade and enlarge a building that a 2015 report from the city auditor described as "outdated and inadequate to meet modern animal-care standards."

While some problems with the existing shelter are physical (cramped kennels, porous flooring and small animals sheltered in staff's lunch room, according to the audit), others are fiscal. Since the City of Mountain View pulled out of its longstanding contract with the facility in 2012, thus ending its annual financial contribution, the animal-services operation has been costing Palo Alto more than $900,000 annually.

The mounting losses have given rise to radical proposals for the shelter's future. In 2012, city staff and the council briefly flirted with the idea of closing the facility and outsourcing animal services, a proposal that fizzled in the face of community opposition. More recently, the council shifted its focus to forming a partnership with a nonprofit, which would run and improve the local shelter.

Pets in Need, a Redwood City-based agency that prides itself on being northern California's first "no-kill" shelter, was the obvious choice in large part because it was the only choice. In October, the Cityof Palo Alto issued a request for proposals for a possible partner and Pets in Need was the only group that submitted an offer (several other groups sent in letters with varying degrees of interest). Hoping to get more options, the city issued another request in January, which netted the same results.

Under the terms that both sides have tentatively agreed to, Pets in Need would take over almost all animal services, including spaying and neutering, vaccinations, adoptions and foster care. The city would remain responsible for animal control, which is operated by the Palo Alto Police Department.

But some city workers question whether Pets in Need will be able to match the current shelter's high quality of service. Joann Dixon, a registered veterinary technician at the shelter, noted that the Palo Alto shelter has an "open-door" policy in which all animals, regardless of age, health or temperament, are taken in and cared for. She alleged that Pets in Need has the luxury of choosing to accept only "the most adoptable animals" (an allegation that didn't entirely square with Pets in Need Executive Director Al Mollica's assertion that some of the animals in the Pets in Need shelter have been there for seven years, largely because of the no-kill policy).

Joseph Durant, vice chair of Service Employees International Union, Local 521, called the proposed transition "unwise and unlikely to be executed in an effective manner."

"While honorable and well-intentioned, the proposal for the nonprofit falls short of the necessary operative capabilities currently in place at the animal shelter," he said.

Durant said the workers have been informed that while the city will continue to budget for four animal-control officers (a service the city is required to provide by state law), other employees in the shelter have been encouraged to look for jobs elsewhere in the organization.

Meanwhile, animal-control officer William Warrior, a 37-year veteran of Palo Alto Animal Services (and, before that, a volunteer for five years), suggested that the shift may have additional, less tangible, costs, both for the employees and for the community. He asked the council to think about Palo Alto's long history of running animal services before it makes its vote.

"Where is the venerable spirit of Palo Alto in this? And where is the intrinsic value?" Warrior asked.

Resident Faith Brigel, a long-time customer at Palo Alto Animal Services, made a similar point and urged the council to "find the money" to keep the facility city-run.

"Palo Alto Animal Services does a wonderful job," Brigel said. "Any time I needed them, they've been available. Please keep the animal services run by people in Palo Alto."

In addition to animal services, the city's term sheet with Pets in Need calls for the nonprofit to commission an architect to work on improvements to the shelter, which it will be able to use at no lease cost. The terms also call for Pets in Need and the city to consult on more long-term improvements within a year of the partnership's commencement.

"It is the intent of the parties that, either through remodeling of the current building or construction of a new building, the shelter will meet industry and community standards," the term sheet states.

In making a case for his group's qualifications, Mollica noted Tuesday that the group had recently completed a $6 million shelter in Redwood City, a former warehouse site that today houses 160 animals.

Frank Espina, the nonprofit's treasurer and board member, said Pets in Need is "looking forward to trying to help and work with the City of Palo Alto in a partnership."

"And we feel that not only do we have the experience to do it -- from the standpoint of building a shelter, taking care of animals, seeing that they get adopted -- but also the financial wherewithal to hang in there and do the job," Espina said.

The council has yet to sign off on the deal, and on Tuesday, Councilmen Marc Berman and Cory Wolbach each said they have some reservations about the operational switch, based on public comments. Berman stressed the importance of making sure that the level of services would not diminish after the transfer.

"It's important that we don't fix one problem (reducing expenses) and create another problem -- dramatically reduce services that our community has come to know and love," Berman said.

Others were more enthusiastic, however. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff made the motion to direct staff to continue its negotiations with Pets in Need.

Councilwoman Karen Holman seconded it, and added a provision calling for staff to also include the shelter's adjoining lot, which is currently being leased to Anderson Honda, as a site for shelter expansion.

"I want to see the opportunities maximized for this facility to be more successful and provide additional services for that extra space," Holman said.

While Holman's provision failed to win her colleagues' support, a less prescriptive amendment from Mayor Pat Burt moved ahead. He directed staff to evaluate the site as part of the discussion of long-term improvements to the animal shelter. By a unanimous vote, the council directed staff to continue its negotiations with Pets in Need and return before the end of the year with a proposed contract.

"I definitely see it as a path to keep services in Palo Alto," Councilman Tom DuBois said near the conclusion of the discussion.


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45 people like this
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2016 at 10:35 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

Don't let this opportunity slip away. We could lose our shelter entirely, and that is an outcome that no one desires. The city has already decided it cannot (or will not) fully support the shelter, so they have wisely looked for a partner.

48 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 7, 2016 at 10:57 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

Pets In Need is a wonderful organization and partnering with them is a terrific thing for our City. As a non-profit, they will be able to solicit donations for upgrading the facility.

44 people like this
Posted by JJ
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2016 at 11:02 am

According to Maddie's Fund searchable database (Web Link), at the right bottom corner there is a table called Shelter Insights where you will find: in 2014 Palo Alto Animal Services took in 544 dogs and cats, and how many had been "put to sleep"? 128.

It is about time to let go the existing shelter and its workers.

3 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2016 at 11:14 am

I came to Palo Alto in 1948 and as a kid often visited the old shelter on El Camino. Over the years I always thought Palo Alto an outstanding community with a civic interest in local control and services. I don't quite understand who would own the building and any addition, but generally I'd rather see the City Council keep this city as locally run operation responsible to its' residents.

51 people like this
Posted by Animal lover
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2016 at 11:51 am

While the animal control officers who work the streets are excellent, many of the current shelter workers are not. They could do so much more to get animals adopted in our community. They do little to nothing to get the word out about animals that have been in the shelter. They don't allow people to foster animals, which is one of the most effective ways to get dogs and cats adopted. They are not welcoming to people who want to volunteer and the dogs are left most of the day in these miserable cages. They say they have too many volunteers, but I have visited the shelter many, many times and the dogs are stuck in these cages almost all day and only taken out for brief walks. In a town like Palo Alto, they could have volunteers there most of the day socializing the dogs. If you look at the website for available animals right now, there is almost no information about the dogs, their temperament or what they are like. Compare that to any other animal shelter, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara -- all of them write up very cute appealing profiles of their animals. How much work would it take for the folks at the Palo Alto shelter to put some effort into marketing these dogs? As a result, people who go online to see what kind of dogs or cats they might adopt will not even bother to go to the Palo Alto shelter. So the animals end up staying there far longer than they need to be. The indifference the shelter staff has to getting these animals adopted has been an ongoing source of frustration for so many of us in Palo Alto for years. I know Pets in Need will do so much better by the animals. The staff there have had long enough to improve the shelter and they have failed. Time to move on.

10 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Leave it to SEIU to bad mouth a good organization. High union costs are probably part of the problem.

19 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Sep 7, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Either the city ponies up (as they should) and funds the animal shelter, or we take on Pets In Need. I think the resistance is more one of city jobs than animal care. So be it. Too bad CPA doesn't value its animals more.

53 people like this
Posted by They Lie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2016 at 12:19 pm

They Lie is a registered user.

I can't tell you how many times the public is told that the PA Animal Shelter is a true shelter, a no-kill shelter, but it is simply untrue.

My son, his friend, and two of my students in their high school years volunteered at the "shelter". They were shocked to learn that this no-kill shelter was euthanizing about one out of three animals there! One of my students tearfully told me that on one occasion there were euthanized Labradors and German Shepherds on the floor, and no one even removed them before bringing in another dog to be killed!

No wonder they have a hard time keeping volunteers! All four of these kids, aforementioned, had quit within a month!

Pets In Need will make SURE that the shelter is indeed a no-kill facility!

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Pets In Need has never earned my respect due to their underhanded means of operation. But I'm not surprised that they responded to the RFP, while other agencies weren't interested in responding.

37 people like this
Posted by solon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2016 at 1:10 pm


city staff members have been very rude to questions

city staff would not agree to notify if a found and surrendered
hadnot been adopted out,so you could come and provide a home your self

when staff DID promise a dog at least would not be put down for SEVEN days,
when i returned from Christmas on fifth day, dog i would have adopted -- and so told the staff on surrender -- was killed on FIFTH day


also, "test for agression" --this a large white dog i found just before Christmas travel on the road -- and slept in my room with me without incident -- the city staff toldf me the test was, they brought in a "volunteer" who then suddenly entered the dogs cage, where it was confined without human companionship for five days and nights, surrounded by dogs of course, and then if the dog "growled" or "barked" at the volunteer, the dog was "agressive" and killed.


the palo alto government staff can not manage an animal shelter.


plenty of other jobs for the staff members who are otherwise competent.

shelter has expired.

37 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 7, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Finally the animal shelter will be forced to stop killing animals. [Portion removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by Curt RomNSWE
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2016 at 3:36 pm

This discussion, from both sides, is very interesting to me. I am a co-founder of a non-profit that contracts with Nevada County to operate the County Animal Shelter. We have been under contract for 6 years and have succeeded in reducing the euthanasia rate to less than 1% (actually 0.5% in 2015). We had to lobby long and hard to get the County to agree to let us run their shelter, but now they wouldn't take back operation under any circumstance outside of us opting out of our contract. The community is unbelievably supportive of our operation. The County provides about half of the operating expense of the shelter while the other half comes from individual donations and a sizable contribution from our thrift store. Grants are also solicited. It is notable that the largest single expense we have is for medical care of the animals which is necessary to treat many of the animals that come to the shelter with all sorts of injuries, illnesses and medical problems. The county never provided any significant medical care since most of the animals were euthanized within a week or so. Also, our volunteers are indispensable walking dogs twice a day, every day, and working with the cats to socialize them. It takes a whole community to accomplish this. Good Luck with your operation. We will be looking in on you.

6 people like this
Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Hi Curt - Thanks for your comment. I believe the city staff would welcome your input on how you structured the contract. The lead city executive on the project is Cash Alaee. Would you mind reaching out to him? Thank you.

32 people like this
Posted by Maher
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 7, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Pets in Need is an exemplary organization. The lame point that PIN is the only option seems to imply that's a bad thing?! "Pets in Need, a Redwood City-based agency that prides itself on being northern California's first "no-kill" shelter, was the obvious choice in large part because it was the only choice."

Why is it that this story is written as a disappointment rather than as a blessing. Here we are, lucky enough to have an honorable outfit ready to step up and provide the service we need. And that's not a good thing?

Competition is not really necessary to arrive at an excellent result. That's a false argument... often the competitors are truly the lesser of evils.

Not this time.

13 people like this
Posted by Balto
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 7, 2016 at 9:21 pm

Pet in Need does what has become popular... HIGH adoption fee, PLUS deposit for dog training lessons. Never a bad thing to get your dog some training, but it doesn't always stick, especially if the owner doesn't actively keep it up.

In the end you're talking $225 to adopt a dog. Which makes backyard breeders and east bay shelters with lower costs a LOT more appealing.

2 people like this
Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2016 at 10:41 pm

Here are a couple tweets with photos from the city council meeting.

Web Link

Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Last tweet taken after the vote

Web Link

10 people like this
Posted by fire the City Employees
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2016 at 11:03 pm

Stop with the full retirement benefits, stop with the full health benefits with no copy, do like the rest of us, work for the private companies, 401K for benefits is just fine. Every time I hear a union boss talk I feel the big government inflated with public jobs.

23 people like this
Posted by Henry George
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2016 at 8:10 am

It's disgusting that this "no-kill" shelter admits to hoarding animals in its facility for SEVEN YEARS. That's no life for any animal, and I consider it absolute abuse. Is that what the city wants--animals hoarded for years on end and taxpayers funding their abuse? "No-kill" is a scam and a sham, and such policies result in animals being turned away from full shelters or hoarded for life in cages and cruel conditions. Some "no-kill" policies include dumping unadopted cats on the streets, where they die horrible deaths and create a nuisance and heartache for taxpayers. The city shouldn't waste funds on an experiment that's sure to fail. Euthanasia is sad, but it isn't cruel and is a mercy for many animals whose only other options are going insane in a cage, being tossed around from foster home to foster home and never knowing stability, or being dumped on the streets to die painfully and afraid there instead. Be smart, be humane.

22 people like this
Posted by Big Concern
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm

One of my concerns--a major one-- is the hygiene and cleanliness of the Spay/Neuter Clinic.

Our pup came home from being neutered with the acquisition of ear mites! He didn't have them when he went in, definitely had them the day after the procedure.

Took three months of expensive treatments to get ride of ear lice. I spent far more money correcting that problem than I saved on the so-called " low cost " neutering!

19 people like this
Posted by Another Concern
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2016 at 1:35 pm

I have concerns about the quality of the veterinarians used at the current shelter for emergency care and the Spay-Neuter Clinic.

Our Lab was picked up by Animal Services after the Palo Alto Utilities meter reader failed to close our back gate properly. My dog was hit on El Camino, his leg broken in two places.

He had on a collar, yet no one called us, and WORSE, because the broken bones had broken through the flesh, he developed a bone infection. This was due to the fact that no one cleaned his wounds or treated the broken leg when he arrived at the shelter.

When we finally located my dog, he was filthy. My own vet tried to save the leg, but the infection in the bone caused repeated abscesses, and eventually necessitated amputation.

Hopefully, this poor quality of veterinary care will be a thing of the past if PIN takes over!

12 people like this
Posted by It Gets Worse
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2016 at 6:12 pm

I took my puppy to have her spayed at the shelter, because our usual vet said that there was no way he could sterilize an animal for the price the low cost Spay and Neuter Clinic charged.

My dog was seven months old, and had been well- housebroken since ten weeks, but after being spayed, she started dripping urine. I called the shelter, but they denied fault, saying that this often happens after general anesthesia.

Two months later, the leakage--not intentional urination--had worsened, so I took her to our regular vet, thinking she had gotten a bladder infection.

The urine tests came back negative, and after an exam and MRI ($$$) with a specialist, it was made obvious that the veterinarian at the shelter had been too rough in removing my dog's uterus-- and damaged not only her bladder but also the urethra, making her incontinent at less than one year of age!

The fix for this is a hormone called DES, which restores tone to the bladder and urethra. Eventually, as she ages, my dog may need reparative surgery. Until then, I am spending $90/month for her medication!

The shelter has refused to take responsibility, despite letters from the other vets as well as an attorney. They will not agree to return my spay fees or cover the costs of the tests and MRIs necessary to diagnose what happened. They continue to deny fault to this day, 7 years later!

7 people like this
Posted by Short Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2016 at 9:08 am

Doesn't anyone remember the recent story of Bubba, the little dog whose owner could no longer keep her?

Her owner's husband had deserted her, and she could not find a place to live that would allow dogs. Bubba's owner had no choice, and surrendered her to the shelter, asking them to call if they could not find her a home--please don't kill her. She left her phone numbers and said she would come and get her if she could not be re-homed.

Basically, the shelter euthanized Bubba before her owner could even get there to retrieve her.

Like this comment
Posted by marlon
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2016 at 10:31 am

The city budget will down in 2017. That's what I heard. Some part time employees might get layout. Now, I don't think the city should keep the shelter open But also if you look around there is a lots of place to save money. One example is parks, city has parks personal, park rangers and contracts out with california Land scape management to patrol,clean and close the baylands preserve.The Rangers could do it at all. It's waste of money having all these resources doing the same work. To me the city managers, council personal don't know or don't care much.

Like this comment
Posted by steve
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 15, 2016 at 10:46 am

Well, marlon I agreed with you. I walk my dog at baylands and I'v seen those CLM rangers cleaning around and usually I don't see the city rangers around. I think the city manager doesn't want to keep the shelter open and don't look around to see where money could be saved. Too bad the PA has such a bad manager.

2 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Robinson
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2016 at 11:59 am

State of the Art Animal Shelter management has undergone a sea change in the past decades. No longer can a few well intentioned, hard working people be expected to run an efficient, humane facility. We have moved long past that. For the City to bring our present shelter up to national standards would require an intense effort and an unspeakable amount of money. How brilliant is it that Pets In Need, a non profit that has run an exemplary facility for 51 years has been willing to share this burden!

For the past four years our City Manager's Office has spent many hundreds of hours working with all the interested parties and stakeholders to arrive at a solution to the growing problem of our sadly inadequate animal shelter facility. They have examined every feasible option to keeping the shelter under City management and it is simply not an option. We are grateful for the dedication of Jim Keene and his staff in doggedly pursuing the best possible course for our Animal Shelter.

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