Defense seeks leniency in case of puppy deaths | August 5, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 5, 2022

Defense seeks leniency in case of puppy deaths

Pets in Need employees face misdemeanor charges in alleged hot-van transport of seven puppies

by Sue Dremann

Lawyers for the three Pets in Need employees facing trial in the deaths of seven puppies last year will ask a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge next week to let them to enter a diversion program instead of going through a trial and possibly be sentenced to jail time, according to court documents.

The diversion program, which is usually used for people who've committed low-level offenses and some misdemeanor crimes, would allow the three defendants — shelter operations manager Patricia Santana Valencia, former behavior manager Margaret Evans and former human resources manager Ingrid Hartmann — to perform community service or engage in other activities ordered by the court. Once they complete the terms of the diversion program, their records would be expunged.

But the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office opposes the diversion proposal "due to the devastating nature of the crime as well as their profession of (being) animal caregivers," prosecutors wrote in an opposition brief.

Valencia, Evans and Hartmann are each accused of a misdemeanor charge of failure to give proper care and attention to an animal and inhumane transport of an animal. They are scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 9. The three transported the 12-week-old puppies and 21 other animals from the Central Valley in a van in 90-degree heat in August 2021. Three necropsy reports, though inconclusive, found the puppies likely died from heat stroke or asphyxiation.

Prosecutors allege the employees neglected to give the puppies and other dogs adequate water and packed too many dogs into the van, which allegedly didn't have adequate air conditioning in the back portion where the animals were in cages.

The defendants say they followed protocol and claim they checked on the puppies during a stop in Los Banos, a city in Merced County, before heading to the Palo Alto facility. The puppies were healthy at that time, they said, according to court documents.

State law gives judges the discretion to grant pretrial diversion if the defendants meet the standards of "suitability." The law in part characterizes suitable defendants as those who are "minimally involved in crime and maximally motivated to reform."

If they are granted diversion and have satisfied all of the terms of the court order, the charges will be dismissed and the women won't need to report that they were ever arrested. The information will remain in the California Department of Justice system, however, which can be disclosed if a peace officer requests the information. The women would also need to disclose their arrest if they are looking for a job as a police officer, according to the law.

Attorneys for the three women pointed to their clean records and, for Valencia and Evans, years of unblemished work with animals. Valencia has 20 years of experience and has rescued thousands of animals without a similar incident, according to the court petition for the diversion program.

"It is true that Pets in Need had limited guidelines for the transport of animals prior to the incident. New guidelines are now completed with the assistance of a licensed veterinarian and other animal experts," the defense attorneys wrote. The employees followed the limited Pets in Need guidelines.

The dogs were given a limited amount of water to prevent the young animals from car sickness, the attorneys said. Some of the dogs had already vomited, before they were transported by Pets in Need, when they had been driven in an air conditioned vehicle by a volunteer from a Central Valley shelter to meet up with the Pets in Need staff. The dogs were likely already ill at the time of pickup, but the volunteer hadn't provided any additional information about the animals that would have led to an inspection by a veterinarian prior to Pets in Need staff taking them, attorneys said.

But prosecutors noted that video evidence showed the puppies were happy to play outside in a shaded area at the Chowchilla volunteer's home. Evans' and Valencia's long professional experience makes the puppies' deaths all the more egregious and therefore doesn't meet the standards for the diversion program, prosecutors said.

"The defendants' association with Pets in Need should have caused them to be even more vigilant with respect to the seven puppies' welfare. Instead this conduct was even worse than what the law tolerates for ordinary, knowledgeable people who understand the care of animals. It is functionally the same as leaving a dog alone in a hot car," prosecutors wrote.

Valid criteria for not offering diversion includes if there was violent conduct that presents a serious danger to society. While that criteria usually pertains to physical violence, "the inhumane transport of animals is inherently tied to bodily harm. Their conduct presents serious risk to the safety of animals," prosecutors wrote in their opposition brief.

Hartmann, who was newly hired to be the human resources manager, claimed in her petition for the judicial diversion program that she was only present in a "ride-along" capacity, which Pets in Need requires of all new hires.

Prosecutors wrote that Hartmann's characterization of her role went beyond a mere ride-along.

"She chose to participate, moving the puppies out of spaced-out crates to the harsh conditions of the van. She knew there was no drinking water," prosecutors wrote.

The defendants have not admitted any responsibility for the puppies' deaths. Instead, they have chosen to blame the Central Valley shelter volunteer and the inadequacy of Pets in Need's protocols — reasons why they don't meet the standards for judicial diversion, the prosecutors said.

While strongly opposing diversion for the defendants, the prosecutors also asked the judge to consider an alternative request. If the court is inclined to grant diversion, the prosecution asked for terms of one year with no new law violations, 160 hours of service through the Sentencing Alternatives Program and documentation showing that Pets in Need has changed its practices and procedures to the extent that if the defendants continue to work as animal caregivers the court can be assured that this type of tragedy is prevented in the future.

Since the incident, Evans has left Pets in Need and has been unable to find a job in her field, attorneys said. Hartmann has also left Pets in Need. Valencia is still employed at the animal shelter as a shelter operations manager, according to court documents and the nonprofit.

Email Staff Writer Sue Dremann at [email protected]


Posted by Fritzie Blue
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 3, 2022 at 2:18 pm

Fritzie Blue is a registered user.

"The dogs were given a limited amount of water" is the sentence that sticks out for me.

Thank you very much for your ongoing reporting on this story.

Posted by Quan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 3, 2022 at 6:29 pm

Quan is a registered user.

That much experience and doesn't know how to properly transport? Where are the new guidelines? None of them should ever transport animals again. If you're that long in the field and don't know how to transport safely, you're in the wrong field. If Pets In Need can't properly train their staff, they shouldn't be running any shelter and the City of Palo Alto should not extend the contract.

Posted by Heckity
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 3, 2022 at 7:58 pm

Heckity is a registered user.

There have been two different "accounts" of providing water to the puppies - one saying they DID give water, and another that Pets in Need (PIN) protocol is to NEVER give water because an animal may get car sick. Which is it?

These women took the smaller van, that they KNEW had no air conditioning in the back cargo area. In fact, they chose to take the smaller van because it had seating for three, which the other larger van, fully air-conditioned, did not.

Why in the world would the judge OK a diversion program, when they are animal-care professionals, and should know, written protocol or not, that cramming 7 puppies totaling 70 pounds in a crate intended for 40-pound total, would not be adequate. This was not a trip from Palo Alto to Menlo Park, but from the very hot Central Valley to Palo Alto.

And citing "limited guidelines" as a fault of Pets in Need is ridiculous. Someone explain to me if you need guidelines from your employer to know you shouldn't leave your child or pet in a hot car.

Also, the former director, Al Mollica (sp?), who "stepped down" after the incident, is now speaking on behalf of the PIN employees, and yet PIN is paying for their attornies? Absolutely unethical, immoral, and lacking any empathy for the dogs.

And the ONE puppy who was left behind (thankfully) is alive and thriving - imagine that.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2022 at 10:06 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

I think these employees were in the wrong business. You have to be an animal lover. Even without training, an animal lover will know how to properly transport puppies in need. Common sense and good judgment, and a loving heart for little puppies that need to be taken care of. It really is that simple.

Posted by Optimist Pessimist Realist
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2022 at 11:56 am

Optimist Pessimist Realist is a registered user.

Why is Santana still employed by Pets in Need?

Posted by Doofydog
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2022 at 10:27 am

Doofydog is a registered user.

This is what happens when you outsource to a retail rescue who only cares about adoptions, not for the animals themselves or what is best for them. They only care about the adoption numbers generated for their retail rescue. That is why they had so many dogs in that van. More dogs mean more numbers. Move ‘em in and move ‘em out. Chaching!

Posted by Optimist Pessimist Realist
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 8, 2022 at 10:40 am

Optimist Pessimist Realist is a registered user.

Doofydog is right. The animals deserve much better.

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2022 at 7:27 pm

Scottie Zimmerman is a registered user.

Doofydog, the shelters in Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, and Alameda Counties are doing their very best to rescue animals and find good homes for them. In 2012 thru 2014 I visited almost every shelter in northern CA at least once, searching for models of best practices in shelter management.

One way shelters are graded is with the Asilomar Accords, defined in August 2004 by animal welfare leaders from all over the U.S. They met to set guidelines that would reduce the euthanasia rate in shelters. Most of our local shelters keep records of animals in their care and publish an annual Asilomar report that specifies Live Release Rate; these reports are provided on the websites of most shelters, where you can read them. Here's PIN Palo Alto's report: Web Link (Live Release Rate 98.1%)

In my experience, people complain bitterly that shelters kill animals after only 5-7 days in custody. Pets In Need, along with HSSV, SVACA, PHS, OAS, Muttville, Nine Lives, and SFSPCA, choose to keep animals sheltered, fed, and medically treated until they achieve adoption. In addition to extended shelter time, many animals are cared for in foster homes, relieving stress and developing trust.

Adoption numbers are important to shelters because it's how they demonstrate that communities DO care about animal welfare. More dogs don't mean more numbers (whatever you meant by that comment). More alive animals adopted means numbers that approach no-kill. Furthermore, the shelters in our area reach out to smaller communities who are dismayed by the number of animals they must euthanize for lack of space. The people who manage and volunteer for our shelters are not competing for retail success. They just want to prevent unnecessary deaths among animals who rely on us for care & kindness.

Posted by Doofydog
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2022 at 2:04 pm

Doofydog is a registered user.

Scottie Zimmerman, you can call it whatever you like but loading up an unairconditioned van full of dogs and killing seven puppies just so you can increase your adoption numbers goes against everything ethical shelters stand for. And make no mistake about it, that is exactly what PIN was doing. Of course adoption numbers are important, but they are not important to the exclusion of everything else. First and foremost come the animals and their care both mentally and physically, second comes the public and it’s safety and third are your precious numbers. PIN puts the last first. The current PIN always have and always will. They are a Retail Rescue plain and simple. It’s how they generate donations. We ‘saved’ x number of animals last year. Well they didn’t save those seven puppies did they? And lucky the ride was not longer or there would have been more deaths. Do you know why Pet in Need was founded. Jean Mahoney founded PIN in the 1960s to take animals with real needs from shelters that would otherwise euthanize them. Shelters in the 1960s and for two or three more decades were always full and animals with health problems, seniors and the underaged were mostly always euthanized. PIN was founded to help these animals, not the notoriously easy to adopt, not the puppies and kittens, not the cute and cuddly, the old and the sick and hard to adopt. They typically kept 7 to 10 dogs and maybe 20 cats, for as long as necessary and took them back at any time during the pet’s life for any reason or no reason, something PIN does not do BTW. They were a great shelter who cared about their animals responsibly and ethically well into the 90s and possibly 2000s. These days PIN is an entirely different animal. I knew Jean. She would be turning in her grave at what they’ve become.

Posted by Quan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2022 at 2:14 pm

Quan is a registered user.

Diversion granted, though nothing at PIN has really changed.

Posted by Jordan Cale
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2022 at 3:51 pm

Jordan Cale is a registered user.

The treatment of dogs in protective animal care centers is similar to the treatment of abandoned children forced to live in religion-based orphanages.

Posted by Doofydog
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2022 at 5:56 pm

Doofydog is a registered user.

Oh and Scottie Zimmerman, one more thing. Had it not been for the PAPD and the honorable Animal Control Officers who refused to hide what happened, we never would have known about the seven dead puppies and how PIN transports animals according to their own protocol per their own admission. PIN employees would have gotten rid of the puppies and it would have been business as usual at Pets in Need, business being the operative word. If, by their own admission, this is their protocol what makes you think this hasn’t happened before or won’t happen again?

Posted by mam-p
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2022 at 11:06 pm

mam-p is a registered user.

Why on earth is Patricia Santana Valencia still employed as a shelter operations manager (of all things!) at Pets In Need? Does their management not understand the term "optics?!?" They'll suffer a permanent black eye until they sever their relationship with her....

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