Pets In Need's tenure in Palo Alto has been extended for another six months.
New Year, a dog up for adoption at Pets in Need in Palo Alto, howls to fellow dogs in the dog kennel area of the shelter on March 7, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.
Pets In Need has notified Palo Alto that it will delay the anticipated termination of its contract with the city for animal services by six months, in a symbol of reconciliation following last year's dramatic rupture.
Last year, the organization, which has been providing animal services to the city under a contract since 2019, was slammed after seven puppies died in its custody while being transferred from the Central Valley in August 2021. The Redwood City-based nonprofit has also been in a disagreement with Palo Alto for more than a year over the city's failure to meet a major contract obligation of building new kennels.
While the question of new kennels remains unsolved, the two sides agreed last month to start talks on a new agreement that would maintain Pets In Need in Palo Alto through its scheduled end date of November 15. At the Feb. 14 meeting, Mayor Pat Burt also requested that the nonprofit postpone its withdrawal by six months to allow for more time for negotiations.
According to a statement signed by Valerie McCarthy, who took over as interim executive director of Pets In Need following the abrupt resignation of previous Executive Director Al Mollica in November, the board of directors of Pets In Need voted to approve the six-month extension on March 9. The deadline for the extension has been pushed back to May 15, 2023.
According to McCarthy's letter, "this updated termination letter comes after PIN personnel and city staff met and agreed to use the additional time to explore whether the city and PIN will stay under contract beyond May 15, 2023.However, nothing in this updated termination letter commits either PIN or the city to any specific procedure or outcome about whether PIN and the city will continue to be under contract after May 15, 2023.
The extension of the agreement is anticipated to be approved by the City Council on Monday.
According to McCarthy, the board's decision was unanimous, and everyone feels that keeping Pets In Need in Palo Alto is compatible with the organization's purpose of finding loving homes for all animals. Her recent encounters with city employees, including City Manager Ed Shikada, Community Services Director Kristen O'Kane, and the city's animal control officers, have also given her hope, she added. She stated that everyone has been responsive and willing to collaborate.
Valerie McCarthy, an animal welfare expert and a member of the Pets in Need board of directors, is the nonprofit's interim executive director. Pets in Need of Courtesy
McCarthy informed this news source, We have commercial conditions to work through, which is a difficulty with any town and organization, but the elements are in place to make it happen.
Pets In Need has recently alerted the city that it wants more freedom with the database it uses to track animals at the shelter, as well as a reconsideration of the city's policy on feral cats, which now prohibits Pets In Need from releasing caught cats on public territory. The group has advocated for a "catch, neuter, and release approach, and the council indicated on Feb. 14 that it is open to making this adjustment if the ordinance contains restrictions on releasing feral cats in environmentally vulnerable areas.
However, repairing the East Bayshore Road shelter remains the first priority. The city has invested around $1.8 million since Pets In Need took over to establish a medical suite and install modular office space that can be used as a classroom. The city, on the other hand, has not rebuilt the shelter's 50-year-old kennels, which McCarthy claims lack sound management or "disease control" methods to separate animals in need of tests and immunizations from those ready for adoption.
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At the Feb. 14 meeting, McCarthy emphasized the need of the city considering establishing a new kennel facility rather than making incremental improvements to the present one.
McCarthy told the council, "Putting a Band-Aid on it would be a short-term remedy, but it's not a long-term solution for the shelter."
Construction of a kennel facility and a rebuilt animal area for cats and small animals is "a key priority to be able to move forward with the agreement," according to a new report from the Community Services Department. Meanwhile, the city wants "assurances that the shelter and medical clinic will be accessible and available to the public at agreed-upon times, and that animal care and welfare will be of the greatest quality."
'Putting a Band-Aid on it is a quick cure, but it isn't a long-term solution for the shelter.'
-Valerie McCarthy, temporary executive director of Pets In Need, on the Palo Alto Animal Shelter's needs.
The finance for the new kennels is the most contentious issue in the negotiations. The facilities modifications are expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million more, according to the staff. Last month, the council showed little interest in sanctioning the additional costs, with council member Alison Cormack stating that she would like to limit capital investment to monies currently identified, which is insufficient to build the new kennels. The council eventually directed staff to collaborate with Pets In Need to develop a fundraising effort to raise the cash required.
Pets In Need, on the other hand, has little motivation to invest millions of dollars in a facility it does not own unless it has a long-term agreement for animal care. According to McCarthy, the nonprofit's commitment to a fundraising program will be contingent on the city and Pets In Need's ability to commit to a long-term cooperation. However, the group understands that the kennels are inadequate and requests that the necessary improvements be made.
We have no stock in the investment, McCarthy explained, but we are devoted to this purpose of delivering best-in-class animal care and placing animals in loving homes. Nothing, in our opinion, is more vital than the human-animal link.
In the aftermath of the August 2021 event, the organization has been analyzing and altering its safety standards, as well as rewriting its agreements with its partners. The seven puppies died along with 21 other dogs while being carried from the Central Valley on a sweltering day with temperatures in the 90s. According to necrology findings, the puppies died from heat stroke and/or asphyxiation.
That was a horrible occurrence. It had been a difficult day for the group McCarthy stated his opinion.
McCarthy said the group had taken safety precautions such as improving the air-conditioning systems in its transport van, which she noted had air conditioning at the time of the event, and supplementing the existing weather gauge with extra heat-display measures.
While McCarthy has met with municipal employees multiple times since taking over in November, a new report from the Community Services Department implies that once the updated contract is in place, negotiations between city staff and Pets In Need will pick up speed.
Staff and PIN will immediately begin negotiating new agreement terms if the Council approves the updated notice, the report adds.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding funding, some council members indicated last month that they might be willing to commit more city dollars to new kennels. At the Feb. 14 meeting, council member Eric Filseth stated that if the city wants to preserve a functional shelter, it must invest in it whether or not Pets In Need is the operator.
So, it appears to me that the issue is: Do we want to keep a shelter in Palo Alto or do we want to do what other shelters have done and outsource (animal care) to an organization like the SPCA or something similar? Filseth explained.