Guest Opinion | February 14, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 14, 2014

Guest Opinion

The best for our best friends

by Joanna Tang

In 2012, the Palo Alto animal shelter faced potential closure by the city but was saved from the chopping block after a public outpouring of concern. Today, as the shelter remains open, the next step for the city and community is to improve and innovate.

The survival of the shelter is partly due to the rallying efforts of its nonprofit support group, the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. Some residents did not know about the Palo Alto Animal Services (PAAS) shelter on East Bayshore, near the Baylands. The Friends helped organize the "Save Our Shelter" campaign and defended the shelter's importance during City Council meetings.

However, much more can be done to preserve and refine this valuable resource for future generations.

The Friends are now working with the shelter around a common goal: to develop a state-of-the-art shelter for our furry friends. Operated by the animal-control division of the Palo Alto Police Department, the shelter is already ahead of the game in many respects, with its most appealing resources being its low-cost spay, neuter and vaccination services. In developing a state-of-the-art shelter even further, we can have "the best" here in Palo Alto for man's best friends. To direct us to the quickest way to success, we must look to today's pioneers in best practices in animal services.

One of the leaders in this area is Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah-based nonprofit. Its slogan sums up their mission and practices: "No More Homeless Pets, Save Them All."

The Best Friends shelter is a completely cage-free environment, and the animal rescue organization is supported by numerous volunteers who socialize with cats, walk dogs, feed rabbits and train parrots. Best Friends is also a no-kill shelter, one that refuses to euthanize adoptable animals. Their mission is to rescue stray and abandoned animals, return them to health with comprehensive medical care and old-fashioned TLC, and place each one in a loving home.

On top of the numerous volunteers that keep Best Friends operating, the group employs behavioral specialists and professional trainers who work with dogs and other animals with unfavorable temperaments. Another part of Best Friend's success is due to its nationwide events like Strut Your Mutt parades and Pet Super Adoption festivals. These events, in turn, raise awareness in the community, prompting legal action against dog discriminatory and other anti-animal laws.

Closer to home, cage-free shelters are found at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas. Its roomy facility allows for luxurious cat, dog and rodent rooms instead of the conventional metal cages. It is also an "open-door" shelter, meaning it takes in any and all animals of any age, any health status and any temperament.

The Humane Society of the United States identifies several "life-saving programs all shelters and communities should have." Among them are affordable and accessible spay-and-neuter services and pet identification and reunification programs, which the Palo Alto shelter already supplies. The society also considers a comprehensive volunteer program, an effective foster program, a network of rescue partners, innovative adoption programs and the engagement of the community to be vital programs in solving pet homelessness. Here in Palo Alto, we should support the shelter in developing and maintaining these programs, and it should be our community goal and civic duty to help them flourish.

It is the Friends' goal to help the shelter become "the best." One of Friends' current initiatives is developing a foster-care program to increase the shelter's intake capacity. Friends is also working on enhancing volunteer participation in the shelter. On the shelter's website ( are photos and descriptions of animals up for adoption. And Friends is increasing awareness of the shelter's services by setting up a weekly booth at the downtown farmers market and holding events like pack walks for dog owners. In October, Friends held its first annual "Dog-O-Ween" fundraiser event. Other potential projects include funding the renovation of the cat room to make it a more cage-less environment, replacement of the coarse gravel in the dog run with soft artificial grass, building a roof over the outdoor dog kennels to prevent rainwater leakage, and a veterinary program that would benefit senior animals.

But the Friends are merely individuals coming together in the community, a channel for innovative ideas and human abilities. It takes a village to raise a child, even a furry one. The involvement of the community is essential for progress, and supporting an animal shelter is a community goal with a unique intergenerational interest: The young and the old, the novice and the expert, all have the desire to and are able to help. Whether it be volunteering as a cat socializer, getting the word out on Facebook about a fundraiser, or even adopting a rabbit, helping out our local animal shelter is a family affair.

Especially valuable is the vitality of the youth in the community. Being raised in Palo Alto means being brought up in an environment that fosters innovation, action and the can-do spirit. For us, Friends is like a start-up adding new energy to the ecosystem. Students use social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread news about volunteer opportunities, lost pets and adoptable animals. School clubs enable students to come together around their love of animals, and volunteer their talents as photographers, dog trainers and cat socializers, as well as event leaders and community organizers. Highlighting the importance and skills of the younger generation is the Friends' own Palo Alto High School youth liaison, Kristen deStefano, who spearheaded the Friends' successful Dog-O-Ween fundraiser.

Our local animal shelter would not be here today but for the community that surrounds and supports it. And in turn, without the dedication and service of the professionals at the shelter, Palo Alto would not be able to function as the loving animal-friendly community that it is. When the community showed its appreciation for PAAS by speaking out, spurring action and saving the shelter from closure, now, it should be our goal to polish the jewel that we have saved.

Joanna Tang is a senior at Gunn High School and youth board liaison from Gunn to the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter.


Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 16, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.


It is very easy to feel discouraged about the vast number of issues involving wildlife and pets, and worry about the welfare of animals in so many areas. So, it was a great treat to read your piece on the impressive improvements taking place at the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. Thank you for your involvement and the remarkable work of everyone at PAAS, as well as the involvement of youth in the community and the key use of social media. You sound like a wonderful young woman and I applaud you and wish you all the best in fighting the good fight for the animals.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

It is too bad that PAAS has a spotty reputation amongst other animal welfare organizations in the know. Some of their euthanizations of dogs have been questionable, for example. They don't have the volume of animals, nor the demand on its office staff that PHS or HSSV in Milpitas have. Does Palo Alto *really* need a state of the art shelter for its low volume?

I understand that this opinion was written by a young person, but please note that the HSUS has a lousy track record in many regards. They've leaned heavily toward animal rights, not animal welfare, rescue or real advocacy. Its behavior during Hurricane Katrina was pretty bad. And Best Friends? Best Friends is in a whole different category than PAAS. It's not that they can't be an inspiration, but they're unlikely to be the best model.

Since PHS has taken over the wildlife rescue efforts of Palo Alto and will be opening a wildlife area in the South Bay, and HSSV's new shelter made a big splash, maybe Palo Alto should consider teaming up with either, or both of those organizations to be an outpost along the bay. Oh, wait, that'd be hard because PAAS is still stupidly under the umbrella of law enforcement. Historically, most animal shelters run by law enforcement get the short end of the stick, as PAAS does. By & large, the people of PA have spoken - an animal shelter run by the cops is the cheapest way to run it. If PAAS really, really, really wants to change, than who runs it absolutely needs to change.

There have been too many people in Palo Alto historically that either don't care or are against spending big money on an improved shelter - which is another reason that it's run by the cops. I'm glad that so far they have been drowned out by those who care and put their time, money and efforts where it matters, but the changes need to be deep, a whole paradigm shift, if indeed they want to model state of the art animal welfare organizations. After all, those organizations shifted first in their thinking before any architect drew up plans. I recall HSSV at its old location and when their thinking shifted into its current philosophy, and ditto PHS. It's this shift in thinking that is crucial, and saves lives, which is how the evolution to cage-free environments occurs.

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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 17, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

VERY thoughtful perspective on this, Hmmm, thank you. You've certainly inspired me to delve more deeply into the situation.

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Posted by Palo Alto Homeless Dogs
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2014 at 12:35 pm

We just became aware of this blog post. There is a group of us pet owners in Palo Alto that are submitting app proposals to the Palo Alto Hackathon. All of our proposals are centered on improving the welfare and adoption of homeless pets at the Palo Alto Animal Services shelter. We would love to make contact with like-minded residents. You do not need to be a programmer or technologist. Proposals are due in two days! Friday Feb 28 at 5pm.

More info about the hackathon at and Twitter @hackpaloalto

More about us at
Twitter: @PAHomelessDogs
Phone: 650 215-8406