News

Pets In Need staff won't face trial in puppy-deaths case

Judge rules 'no negligence' and grants a short diversion program

A dog in his outdoor cage at the Palo Alto animal shelter operated by the nonprofit Pets In Need on June 15, 2021. Three employees from the organization charged in the 2021 deaths of seven puppies while being transported to the shelter won't face trial, a judge ruled on Aug. 9, 2022. Embarcadero Media file photo by Daniela Beltran B.

Three women who faced misdemeanor charges related to the deaths of seven puppies in a hot van last summer were granted acceptance into a court diversion program and won't face trial, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Brian Buckelew ruled on Tuesday.

Pets In Need employees Patricia Santana Valencia, shelter operations manager; Margaret Evans, former behavior manager; and Ingrid Hartmann, former human resources manager, transported more than 20 dogs and seven 12-week-old puppies in a transporter vehicle from a Central Valley animal shelter to the Palo Alto shelter in 90-degree temperatures on Aug. 2, 2021. They discovered the seven puppies had died between the time they were last checked at a Los Banos rest stop in Merced County and when they arrived at the Palo Alto facility at 3281 E. Bayshore Road. The trio faced misdemeanor charges of failure to give proper care and attention to an animal and inhumane transport of an animal.

In a heartfelt and sympathetic statement, Buckelew said he would grant the judicial diversion, which amounts to six months when Valencia and Evans must not have any new law violations and must perform 50 hours of community service. For Hartmann, who was the human resources manager and was brought along for an orientation ride, the judge granted six months of no new law violations, but no community service.

Buckelew said he "chewed through" the case and thanked all involved for their professionalism. He considered the multiple letters of support for all three defendants, noting that he received 17 letters on behalf of Evans detailing the highest degree of compassion, care and honor that she brought to the job, letters that Buckelew said he found "moving."

Valencia, he noted, also received multiple letters of support from veterinarians and many professionals who worked with her over the course of 20 years. The letters described her "exemplary" work and pointed out that she saved the lives of 8,152 cats and dogs over the years and had no prior negative events of this kind, Buckelew said.

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Calling the duties of those who volunteer or seek professionally to protect the welfare of pets and animals "work of the highest calling," the deaths of the seven puppies was "a tragedy everyone wishes didn't happen."

Instead, he likened the incident to a mishap where someone falls asleep at the wheel and causes a crash. It was possibly "avoidable, but not negligent," he said.

Given the women's long histories in animal rescue, he said they wouldn't have allowed the dogs to be intentionally harmed.

"If there was even a hint" of knowing what they were doing would result in the puppies' deaths, he would not grant diversion, he said.

The diversion statute "recognizes that human beings are imperfect," he said. "Sometimes, an accident is an accident," he said.

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Buckelew also was swayed by reports that although the temperature in the van was undeniably hot, the puppies might have already been ill because some had reportedly vomited prior to transport. Video showed them happily playing in a pen in the backyard of a Chowchilla volunteer's home before they were transported by the volunteer to meet the Pets In Need employees and their van.

The case also received a large amount of negative media attention, which he hoped "doesn't send a chill through this public service."

In an Aug. 1 email to the judge, attorney Charles J. Smith said a Palo Alto Daily Post story in late July "contained inaccurate information yet again." News stories claimed the back of the van had no air conditioning while the women rode in the air-conditioned cabin in the front, which he said is false.

Pets In Need's Mercedes-Benz transporter van had a factory-installed air-conditioning system in proper working order that was a "single zone AC" system. There were two optional air-conditioning units available for the rear cargo area, but the transporter didn't have that option installed.

The transporter has no separation between the cabin and the cargo area that would cut off air flow, but he acknowledged "undoubtedly, the single-zone system was burdened with all the dogs and the three women on a brutally hot day," he wrote.

A standard not met in veterinary best practices manuals for the transport of animals was the requirement of a thermometer in the transport area of all vehicles, he said. Pets In Need has since remedied the problem, he said. The organization also followed the recommendation that the animals receive water every four hours; the trip took less than two hours and the puppies were checked in Los Banos, he noted.

"Ms. Evans and Ms. Santanavalencia, the two employees experienced in transport fully accept responsibility for this tragedy and have second-guessed and 'Monday-morning quarterbacked' the decisions they made that day. They have to live with the fact that they could have, and should have done better. The tragedy was avoidable. But the tragedy was not intentional based on conduct that these two women knew or should have known endangered the puppies' lives. It cannot be ignored, and must be emphasized, that they were rescuing these puppies so they wouldn't be euthanized at kill shelters in the Valley but, instead, find loving homes as loving pets. The last thing they ever wanted was to act negligently, unconcerned or uncaringly and allow their neglect or lack of care or concern to be the cause of the deaths of beautiful animals that they have devoted their lives to for many years," he wrote.

Valencia, who was present at the hearing, wept after the judge's decision. She declined further comment outside of the courtroom. The women will return to court on Nov. 3 regarding the diversion program.

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Pets In Need staff won't face trial in puppy-deaths case

Judge rules 'no negligence' and grants a short diversion program

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Aug 9, 2022, 5:08 pm

Three women who faced misdemeanor charges related to the deaths of seven puppies in a hot van last summer were granted acceptance into a court diversion program and won't face trial, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Brian Buckelew ruled on Tuesday.

Pets In Need employees Patricia Santana Valencia, shelter operations manager; Margaret Evans, former behavior manager; and Ingrid Hartmann, former human resources manager, transported more than 20 dogs and seven 12-week-old puppies in a transporter vehicle from a Central Valley animal shelter to the Palo Alto shelter in 90-degree temperatures on Aug. 2, 2021. They discovered the seven puppies had died between the time they were last checked at a Los Banos rest stop in Merced County and when they arrived at the Palo Alto facility at 3281 E. Bayshore Road. The trio faced misdemeanor charges of failure to give proper care and attention to an animal and inhumane transport of an animal.

In a heartfelt and sympathetic statement, Buckelew said he would grant the judicial diversion, which amounts to six months when Valencia and Evans must not have any new law violations and must perform 50 hours of community service. For Hartmann, who was the human resources manager and was brought along for an orientation ride, the judge granted six months of no new law violations, but no community service.

Buckelew said he "chewed through" the case and thanked all involved for their professionalism. He considered the multiple letters of support for all three defendants, noting that he received 17 letters on behalf of Evans detailing the highest degree of compassion, care and honor that she brought to the job, letters that Buckelew said he found "moving."

Valencia, he noted, also received multiple letters of support from veterinarians and many professionals who worked with her over the course of 20 years. The letters described her "exemplary" work and pointed out that she saved the lives of 8,152 cats and dogs over the years and had no prior negative events of this kind, Buckelew said.

Calling the duties of those who volunteer or seek professionally to protect the welfare of pets and animals "work of the highest calling," the deaths of the seven puppies was "a tragedy everyone wishes didn't happen."

Instead, he likened the incident to a mishap where someone falls asleep at the wheel and causes a crash. It was possibly "avoidable, but not negligent," he said.

Given the women's long histories in animal rescue, he said they wouldn't have allowed the dogs to be intentionally harmed.

"If there was even a hint" of knowing what they were doing would result in the puppies' deaths, he would not grant diversion, he said.

The diversion statute "recognizes that human beings are imperfect," he said. "Sometimes, an accident is an accident," he said.

Buckelew also was swayed by reports that although the temperature in the van was undeniably hot, the puppies might have already been ill because some had reportedly vomited prior to transport. Video showed them happily playing in a pen in the backyard of a Chowchilla volunteer's home before they were transported by the volunteer to meet the Pets In Need employees and their van.

The case also received a large amount of negative media attention, which he hoped "doesn't send a chill through this public service."

In an Aug. 1 email to the judge, attorney Charles J. Smith said a Palo Alto Daily Post story in late July "contained inaccurate information yet again." News stories claimed the back of the van had no air conditioning while the women rode in the air-conditioned cabin in the front, which he said is false.

Pets In Need's Mercedes-Benz transporter van had a factory-installed air-conditioning system in proper working order that was a "single zone AC" system. There were two optional air-conditioning units available for the rear cargo area, but the transporter didn't have that option installed.

The transporter has no separation between the cabin and the cargo area that would cut off air flow, but he acknowledged "undoubtedly, the single-zone system was burdened with all the dogs and the three women on a brutally hot day," he wrote.

A standard not met in veterinary best practices manuals for the transport of animals was the requirement of a thermometer in the transport area of all vehicles, he said. Pets In Need has since remedied the problem, he said. The organization also followed the recommendation that the animals receive water every four hours; the trip took less than two hours and the puppies were checked in Los Banos, he noted.

"Ms. Evans and Ms. Santanavalencia, the two employees experienced in transport fully accept responsibility for this tragedy and have second-guessed and 'Monday-morning quarterbacked' the decisions they made that day. They have to live with the fact that they could have, and should have done better. The tragedy was avoidable. But the tragedy was not intentional based on conduct that these two women knew or should have known endangered the puppies' lives. It cannot be ignored, and must be emphasized, that they were rescuing these puppies so they wouldn't be euthanized at kill shelters in the Valley but, instead, find loving homes as loving pets. The last thing they ever wanted was to act negligently, unconcerned or uncaringly and allow their neglect or lack of care or concern to be the cause of the deaths of beautiful animals that they have devoted their lives to for many years," he wrote.

Valencia, who was present at the hearing, wept after the judge's decision. She declined further comment outside of the courtroom. The women will return to court on Nov. 3 regarding the diversion program.

Comments

TorreyaMan
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Aug 10, 2022 at 11:27 am
TorreyaMan, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2022 at 11:27 am

A wise decision pertaining to good people and an unfortunate but not criminal occurrence.


Heckity
Registered user
Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2022 at 12:58 pm
Heckity, Barron Park
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2022 at 12:58 pm

What a disappointing outcome. Having attended the hearing virtually, I did not hear "a heartfelt and sympathetic statement," from the judge for the puppies, rather a prepared statement almost making victims of the poor Pets in Need (PIN) employees.

What I heard was that the heat and the circumstances were to blame, and that Pets in Need has saved 8000 animals, and that he received 17 letters of commendation, and that Patty had 20 years of caring for animals, etc., etc. And that the deaths were a result of a lack of transport "policy" at PIN - seriously? Patty had 20 years experience with animals and transport, but couldn't ascertain that you don't place 27 dogs in a van on a very hot day when you KNOW there is no air conditioning in the rear cargo area?

The Daily Post's article today stated (as fact) that the puppies were sick, and so they were being protected by cramming 70 pounds of puppy into a crate intended for a 40-pound maximum. And yet, a video of the puppies in their foster home before transport showed a gaggle of playful pups.

What the judge did NOT take into consideration:

• Former director Al Mollica's anger that Cody McCartney (PA Animal Control Supervisor) called for a police report when the event occurred. Had he not, the public wouldn't have a clue that this even happened.

• The knowledge that the three women took the smaller van because it had seating for three that the larger van (with air conditioning throughout) did not. It was a very hot day - did they really think that transporting 27 dogs in 90-degree heat with no A/C was a good idea?

I'm very disappointed and discouraged by the outcome - especially because it would have gone unreported and unknown to the public if not for the appropriate action taken by PA Animal Control. And yet, the PA council will likely continue their lackadaisical indifference to getting rid of PIN and insisting on finding appropriate animal care for the cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, LAH, and East PA. Sad day for sure.


Hazel
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2022 at 3:01 pm
Hazel, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2022 at 3:01 pm

Well Heckity, as someone who was IN the courtroom listening and watching what the judge had to say, he did give a heartfelt and sympathetic statement [portion removed.] How many cases have blown this out of proportion when animals died at a kill shelter? [Portion removed.]

The facts:

- The puppies were with a foster who kept them outside in the heat, drove them to the pickup destination and waited, again in the heat, for an hour for PIN employees (Of course the video would show playful puppies before this)
- Puppies were covered with vomit and diarrhea when PIN arrived
- 5 week old puppies (Not 8 week old) were loaded into an elevated shelf in the van
- Van only had AC in the front, but it's common sense that it circulates, otherwise why would this van have been used for countless other rescues
- Puppies (Not even 10lbs- a lie) were quarantined to prevent spread of sickness
- At a stop, dogs and a guinea pig were checked and seemed fine
- Upon arrival, puppies unfortunately perished
- The necropsy had inconclusive results

The woman with 20+ years never had an incident like this. Why wouldn't 17 letters be sufficient to prove her character when you only need three to get a job? All of the fees used in court could have gone to helping animals. [Portion removed.] This case should have been dismissed last year. People shouldn’t be dissuaded from helping animals and I’m glad that the PIN veteran has stuck through this mess, I think that also speaks to her passion for helping animals. All animals deserve the kind of help PIN offers and my PIN pups agree.


Jamie Pearson
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2022 at 6:25 pm
Jamie Pearson, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2022 at 6:25 pm

I'm glad to see this [portion removed] end and justice prevail. People make mistakes -- get over it. I'm glad we're moving on from this event, which was heartbreaking for everyone -- especially the women involved.


Heckity
Registered user
Barron Park
on Aug 11, 2022 at 10:49 am
Heckity, Barron Park
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2022 at 10:49 am

Hazel: I do not agree with your set of "facts."

The live hearing was available to the public through Microsoft Teams - that is how I attended it. I did not experience the judge's speech as heartfelt or sympathetic to the puppies, and I stand by that statement.

[Portion removed.] My judgment of the workers is based on my knowledge of the facts as presented to me [portion removed.] [T]he Animal Control Officer Lead/Supervisor in Palo Alto has been with the city for 20 years. He is a very well respected and an animal advocate of the highest order. And reporting the incident to PAPD was the correct course of action - there was no malice in it, and Al Mollica's anger about it was inappropriate [portion removed.]


Hazel
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2022 at 12:31 pm
Hazel, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2022 at 12:31 pm

[Portion removed.] If any of my facts are incorrect then please enlighten me [portion removed.]

Yes, the death of the 7 puppies was unfortunate and heartbreaking. However, kill shelters KILL all the time. Why did this particular incident have to go as far as it did? If I were the director, I would be angered too because not only has this act taken time and money away from animals in need, but PIN was severely judged by the community when it should be supported more than kill shelters. [Portion removed.]


Heckity
Registered user
Barron Park
on Aug 11, 2022 at 5:11 pm
Heckity, Barron Park
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2022 at 5:11 pm

Great, so now PA Online removes things as they like. So much for free speech - and, there was no profanity or ill will. Ridiculous. I've made my last comment here - now remove this.


Heckity
Registered user
Barron Park
on Aug 11, 2022 at 5:12 pm
Heckity, Barron Park
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2022 at 5:12 pm

Hazel, stop comparing kill shelters to this incident. They are unrelated issues.


Hazel
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2022 at 6:37 pm
Hazel, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2022 at 6:37 pm

[Portion removed.] I never said protocol wasn't followed. He very well may be respected but that doesn't mean his actions didn't have a domino effect that negatively impacted a wonderful organization. [Portion removed.]
I was pointing out the fact that this incident amassed a copious amount of public hate when in general incidents like the 7 puppy deaths happen all the time and intentionally by kill shelters. So why did this one incident in years at PIN become this prolonged and taxing on people that were just trying to help animals?

Your comment saying 'PA council will likely continue their lackadaisical indifference to getting rid of PIN' points to your lack of support for an organization that pours everything into helping animals in need. I hope the council ignores those kinds of comments and recognizes the tremendous difference that PIN is making and continues to collaborate with them to help Palo Alto residents and their animals.


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