News

Palo Alto and Pets In Need look to extend partnership after bitter dispute

City and nonprofit open to stretch their agreement beyond this year

Patty Jackson, a volunteer with Pets in Need in Palo Alto, plays with sibling pups Soda and Candy in one of the two dog play areas at the shelter on March 7, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.

After a dramatic rupture last year following the death of seven puppies, Palo Alto and the nonprofit group Pets In Need are working to mend their relationship and ink a new deal that would prolong their partnership beyond this year.

The Redwood City-based nonprofit has been providing animal services to Palo Alto since 2019, taking over an operation that had traditionally been conducted by city employees. As part of the agreement, the city had pledged to make various upgrades to the shelter at East Bayshore Road, including addition of dog kennels and improvements to the shelter's medical facility.

Things, however, turned sour late last year, when three Pets In Need employees were charged with animal cruelty after seven puppies died in August from what is believed to have been a heat stroke while being transported in a van that lacked air conditioning. With the investigation proceeding, the nonprofit's former Executive Director Al Mollica abruptly announced in November that Pets In Need will terminate its agreement at the end of 2022, citing the city's failure to meet its commitments to improving the shelter. Mollica resigned days later and was replaced on an interim basis by Valerie McCarthy, who had been serving on the nonprofit's board of directors.

Now, the two sides are looking at ways to reconcile their differences and move forward together. On Thursday afternoon, the city released a memo laying out some issues that the two sides have identified as needing resolution for their relationship to continue beyond its current expiration date of Nov. 15.

One issue that Pets In Need has identified is its interest in switching to a new software system at the animal shelter and asked for flexibility to do that.

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It is also requesting that the city adjust the plan for dealing with feral cats. Currently, the agreement prohibits the shelter from releasing feral cats within Palo Alto and its two partner cities, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. The new plan would allow the agency to catch, neuter and release feral cats, according to the memo.

The biggest wild card, however, remains shelter improvements, which are expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million. Pets In Need is hoping to demolish the existing kennel building, which the city had previously identified as substandard, and to construct a new building with 24 dog kennels, including four isolation kennels. It would also include an area for cats and small animals, according to the memo.

The city has already made some improvements to the animal shelter. In 2020, it funded improvements to the medical suite at the animal shelter and constructed a modular building that could be used as an office or classroom space. The two projects had cost close to $1.5 million, according to staff.

The city's agreement with Pets In Need commits a total of $3.4 million to the animal shelter for the requested improvements, well short of what would be required to build the new kennels. The new memo considers some options for narrowing the gap, including dipping into the city's existing infrastructure reserve and allocating from future hotel-tax revenues. The memo also considers a scenario in which the nonprofit would take on some of the costs of building the new kennels.

"If the agreement between the City and PIN continues, Staff anticipates working in partnership with PIN to determine the scope of the capital improvements and will explore a cost sharing method between the two parties to fund the project," the memo states.

Despite these outstanding issues, the memo suggests that Pets In Need is interested in remaining in Palo Alto. The nonprofit's board met on Wednesday and, according to the new memo, gave consent for staff "to engage in good faith negotiations with the City of Palo Alto for a new or amended agreement."

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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Palo Alto and Pets In Need look to extend partnership after bitter dispute

City and nonprofit open to stretch their agreement beyond this year

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Feb 11, 2022, 9:29 am

After a dramatic rupture last year following the death of seven puppies, Palo Alto and the nonprofit group Pets In Need are working to mend their relationship and ink a new deal that would prolong their partnership beyond this year.

The Redwood City-based nonprofit has been providing animal services to Palo Alto since 2019, taking over an operation that had traditionally been conducted by city employees. As part of the agreement, the city had pledged to make various upgrades to the shelter at East Bayshore Road, including addition of dog kennels and improvements to the shelter's medical facility.

Things, however, turned sour late last year, when three Pets In Need employees were charged with animal cruelty after seven puppies died in August from what is believed to have been a heat stroke while being transported in a van that lacked air conditioning. With the investigation proceeding, the nonprofit's former Executive Director Al Mollica abruptly announced in November that Pets In Need will terminate its agreement at the end of 2022, citing the city's failure to meet its commitments to improving the shelter. Mollica resigned days later and was replaced on an interim basis by Valerie McCarthy, who had been serving on the nonprofit's board of directors.

Now, the two sides are looking at ways to reconcile their differences and move forward together. On Thursday afternoon, the city released a memo laying out some issues that the two sides have identified as needing resolution for their relationship to continue beyond its current expiration date of Nov. 15.

One issue that Pets In Need has identified is its interest in switching to a new software system at the animal shelter and asked for flexibility to do that.

It is also requesting that the city adjust the plan for dealing with feral cats. Currently, the agreement prohibits the shelter from releasing feral cats within Palo Alto and its two partner cities, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. The new plan would allow the agency to catch, neuter and release feral cats, according to the memo.

The biggest wild card, however, remains shelter improvements, which are expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million. Pets In Need is hoping to demolish the existing kennel building, which the city had previously identified as substandard, and to construct a new building with 24 dog kennels, including four isolation kennels. It would also include an area for cats and small animals, according to the memo.

The city has already made some improvements to the animal shelter. In 2020, it funded improvements to the medical suite at the animal shelter and constructed a modular building that could be used as an office or classroom space. The two projects had cost close to $1.5 million, according to staff.

The city's agreement with Pets In Need commits a total of $3.4 million to the animal shelter for the requested improvements, well short of what would be required to build the new kennels. The new memo considers some options for narrowing the gap, including dipping into the city's existing infrastructure reserve and allocating from future hotel-tax revenues. The memo also considers a scenario in which the nonprofit would take on some of the costs of building the new kennels.

"If the agreement between the City and PIN continues, Staff anticipates working in partnership with PIN to determine the scope of the capital improvements and will explore a cost sharing method between the two parties to fund the project," the memo states.

Despite these outstanding issues, the memo suggests that Pets In Need is interested in remaining in Palo Alto. The nonprofit's board met on Wednesday and, according to the new memo, gave consent for staff "to engage in good faith negotiations with the City of Palo Alto for a new or amended agreement."

Comments

cr
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2022 at 10:47 am
cr, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 10:47 am

I hope the city stops trying to squeeze every dollar out of providing needed services to animals in need. I wish they were as diligent about cutting costs in other areas. How about eliminating the $700k expenditure on artwork for the new police station? I recently saw two job openings at the City: one was for an Animal Control officer making $75k and the other was a PR person for the police making over twice that amount. How the city spends its money is an expression of its values. I think improvement is needed here.


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2022 at 11:15 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 11:15 am

My main criterion for selecting which services the city should support is that services we need but are unlikely to be supported by other organizations should be funded by the city. Animal control and care is certainly one such service.

It is ironic and unacceptable that the city is willing to spending $98 million to compete with 2 of the largest communications companies in the world on providing broadband service when the city finds itself hard pressed to spend small amounts on animals.

We need to rethink our priorities for what we actually spend money for.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2022 at 3:22 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 3:22 pm

I’m confused. Why would the city even contemplate continuing to work with an agency responsible for more than one incident in which animals died due to their poorly run operations? Aren’t two of those employees in charge of the puppies that died still employed at PIN? What is the status of the court proceedings involving these criminally charged employees?


Jeremy Erman
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 13, 2022 at 12:37 am
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 13, 2022 at 12:37 am

I believe councilmembers asked city staff during the 2020 budget meetings about cutting or reducing the money for the art installation at the proposed public safety building, and were told that the art had already been made, paid for, and was in storage even though the council hadn't voted to fund construction of the building yet.


TuppenceT
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2022 at 8:56 am
TuppenceT, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Feb 13, 2022 at 8:56 am

The city should not extend the agreement. Outsourcing this service has backfired and PIN will continue to impose poor service and high cost on our community.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 13, 2022 at 9:28 am
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 13, 2022 at 9:28 am

Even before the tragedy, Pets in Need was a nightmare to work with. There are other paths. They are angling for MILLIONS from the city for a building that they have pretended they could co-fund-raise for... sound familiar?


JB
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Feb 13, 2022 at 6:50 pm
JB, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Feb 13, 2022 at 6:50 pm

Why does the new agreement allow the release of neutered cats? I don't know what became of feral cats before, but released feral cats will prey on birds. I love cats, but I hope they don't release feral cats near the Baylands or Byxbee Park. These places are full of wonderful birds. What is the new plan, please?


Tvalenti7
Registered user
Charleston Gardens
on Feb 14, 2022 at 7:02 am
Tvalenti7, Charleston Gardens
Registered user
on Feb 14, 2022 at 7:02 am

AHH - where to begin.....bc there is a great deal of mis-information in the posts I've read so far! Outsourcing has NOT backfired. PIN has done a great deal of good since taking over management of the Palo Alto service only months before the pandemic hit. The unfortunate loss of puppies was as accident - not something anyone wanted and certainly NOT criminal. All PIN employees at our shelter got paid by PIN for doing ... almost nothing for more than a year all the while the city of Palo Alto kept under-fulfilling their promises in the agreement they signed with PIN. PIN is NOT angling for millions - a new shelter has been talked about for YEARS as a fundraising endeavor like our libraries and the Jr Museum, with volunteers like myself. And why the hell are you talking about feral cats - why don't you just throw in the kitchen sink. I wish folks really knew about the inner workings of the relation between PIN and the city BEFORE spouting off.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 14, 2022 at 8:32 am
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 14, 2022 at 8:32 am

Wait tvalenti, it seems unlikely that we will agree given our previous comments, but I'm curious that you would say "why the hell are you talking about feral cats" to the previous comment. Is the releasing of feral cats into the baylands indeed something that PIN is pushing for again? PIN tried for that before and it took a strange amount of convincing for "animal lovers" to understand that you can't let cats out into super precious bird-land. It's like a no-brainer. But in any case, my question is whether you know if PIN is back pushing for that again, or if JB is just re-releasing anxieties from the first time around.

I think we agree that the relationship between the city and PIN is dysfunctional, even if we don't agree on who is to blame. [And believe me, I have no love for our bureaucrats either, but my opinion of PIN is based on experience and quite low.] Can we maybe agree that if the relationship is dysfunctional, whatever the cause, maybe it's best that we part ways and save everyone from continued headache and drama? Or perhaps you think that Al was just the epicenter of it, and with him out it will be smoother sailing? I would love to hear more of your opinions on this, especially since it seems very different from mine.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 14, 2022 at 9:36 am
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 14, 2022 at 9:36 am

Also, the huge difference is that the Jr. Museum and the Library actually managed to fund-raise HUGE amounts of money. There's no reasonable assertion that PIN can do that. [For example, look at what PIN asserted ~2,5 years ago and where their pledged commitments to that new building stand today?]

Rather than JMZ and Library, PIN is better compared to the History Museum... essentially asking the taxpayers to foot the bill.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Feb 16, 2022 at 1:14 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 16, 2022 at 1:14 pm

Lol at saying the deaths of so many puppies was an “accident” and not criminal.


JB
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2022 at 8:32 pm
JB, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Feb 16, 2022 at 8:32 pm

Tvalenti7 and S. Underwood, my comments about feral cats being released is mentioned in the article. It says that a new plan may include the release of feral cats. I didn't just make this up to cause trouble.


ArtL
Registered user
Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2022 at 3:01 pm
ArtL, Barron Park
Registered user
on Feb 18, 2022 at 3:01 pm

Pets In Need should commit to not bringing in any more dogs from the central valley to Palo Alto. The initial disagreement between Pets In Need and the City was over a commitment by the City to enlarge or actually rebuild the building with the kennels. And then there was the tragedy of the puppies who died when they were transported in a van FROM the Central Valley TO Palo Alto. Pets In Need should not bring any more dogs to our area and then they and the City can evaluate whether - or how much - the facility with the kennels needs to be enlarged.


Heckity
Registered user
Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2022 at 12:58 pm
Heckity, Barron Park
Registered user
on Feb 20, 2022 at 12:58 pm

S. Underwood? Please stop your drama about feral cats being released in the Baylands - the Baylands, as was mentioned at the Council meeting, are strictly off limits in terms of releasing feral cats there.

While your statement will bring out the most incendiary responses from Shani Kleinhaus and Audubon, there was never a SINGLE SUGGESTION or idea to release feral cats at the Baylands.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 20, 2022 at 6:17 pm
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 20, 2022 at 6:17 pm

Heckity, a few years ago, releasing non-adotable feral cats from the Animal Center (which is essentially the Baylands) is 100% something PIN wanted to do. This was discussed in a meetings with PIN and City staff, and the City shut it down. There are references to a feral cat release plan in the PIN contract (which ultimately forbade release) which were as result of those conversations, if you want to look the contract up.

If you'll read my comments again, you'll see I'm not panicking, nor did I assert that PIN was again asking to do this. Instead, I was asking another poster to but to clarify if PIN is indeed trying to raise the issue of feral cat release again, as the previous commenter had re-brought it us. No hysteria, not from me anyway, and I'm glad you and I seem agree that this would be a really bad idea.


cr
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2022 at 9:09 am
cr, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 22, 2022 at 9:09 am

Jeremy Erman: Regarding the $700k expenditures for artwork for the new police building, you are correct that when this issue was raised by the public, City Council indicated it was too late to curtail the expense. This expenditure was pursuant to a city ordinance whereby 1% of the cost of a building must be spent on artwork. This ordinance was reviewed during the tough budget discussions last year, and Liz Kniss and Alison Cormack decided to CONTINUE this requirement, stating "I cannot imagine not having this beautiful artwork around our city". So, when the next building is constructed (e.g., Cubberly renovation), hundreds of thousands will be spent on artwork given the decision to continue this ordinance. Art is like wine: there is good to be had for less than a fortune. But these council members choose to continent the requirement to spend mightily on such a frivolity, yet when it comes to protecting 4 legged animals, Alison Cormack and others put the squeeze on spending here to the detriment of animals. Not exactly my values. No social justice for animals who are just considered property.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2022 at 12:14 am
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2022 at 12:14 am

So what’s happening with the defendants in the puppies’ death case? Are they still employed there? Are their criminal cases moving foreward? Have any of them been convicted?


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