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Love That Pup

By Cathy Kirkman

About this blog: This blog explores life in Palo Alto with our dogs, cats and other pets, as well as the urban wildlife around us, the title being a reference to Sharon Creech's lovely story, "Love That Dog." I grew up in Palo Alto surrounded by ...  (More)

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Two Days to Save This Dog?

Uploaded: Aug 26, 2014
A dog named Elon is slated to be put to death soon at our Palo Alto animal shelter, unless someone does something about it by THIS THURSDAY AUGUST 28, 2014 TIME UNKNOWN. The purpose of this blog post is to publicize his story, in case someone can help, and also to ask if this is really how we want to go about killing pets in our community? Is this process at all reflective of best practices for animal shelters? For an update on the reprieve for Elon, see my follow-up post here.

I received an email today (8/26) from Cynthia X (last name removed at her request for privacy reasons, name previously published with her permission) about Elon's plight. Because of the time constraint on publishing this blog post, my knowledge is limited and I hope to learn more to update this post. Cynthia is the creator of an application (name of app removed at her request for privacy reasons, name previously published with her permission), which was a winning submission in the city's application development contest earlier in the year (HackPalo Alto).

I saw from Cynthia's email thread that on August 16th she asked the staff at the shelter to keep her posted on Elon's situation but only received a response ten days later (today), and was told that she has just TWO DAYS to find a rescue organization or the dog will be euthanized. Two days? That doesn't make sense. According to Cynthia, "We need an independent behavioral evaluation, and if positive, a rescue to pull him out." How can that be done in two days?

According to the August 26 email, from Connie Urbanski, director of the shelter, "Please know that if you have a 501 c (3) Rescue Organization that would like to take an animal from our shelter, per State law they can certainly do so if we are going to euthanize the animal. We need to have a copy of their 501 c (3) document and they need to be willing to sign our partnership agreement." Does the shelter really think 2 days is a realistic period to accomplish this? Especially after a 10 day silence when people could have been working together on this case?

The August 26 email from Ms. Urbanski continues, "As of this morning, after all staff providing input, the decision to euthanize has been made due to his severe behavior around other dogs and some people. Please let me know by Thursday, August 28, if you think you might have a group that would want to take him. We will be more than happy to keep him once I know that someone is coming to take him until arrangements can be made. This dog is fine with some people, and others he is not. We have tried to work with him, but he is just too unreliable."

So Elon is going to be killed because of his "severe behavior" around other dogs and some people. What is that exactly? "The dog is fine with some people, and others he is not. We have tried to work with him but he is just too unreliable." Is this the standard for putting a dog down? The official PAAS Policies and Procedures, a 4 page document is silent on this issue. You can review the document here.

What if his owner turns up? He came in as a stray on August 9th, and then just two weeks and a few days later he is going to be destroyed?

Also apparently no shelter volunteers have been allowed to interact with him. Unfortunately, this is a common complaint about the animal shelter, namely, that volunteers are turned away from the shelter and those who are allowed to volunteer do not get to work with the animals nearly enough. In the past I served on the board of the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, but I don't speak for them. However this complaint about underusing volunteers is a continuing refrain I have heard in our community.

According to Cynthia, "Past history has shown that pit bull type dogs are at high risk of euthanasia at PAAS." Cynthia has done a statistical analysis of the PAAS categorization of dogs and here are her findings: 29% of homeless dogs are categorized as "unhealthy and untreatable" or "lost" at PAAS, vs. 13% of homeless dogs at Oakland. Proportionately regarding homeless dogs, twice as many at PAAS are categorized as "unhealthy and untreatable" or "lost" and subsequently killed by the shelter, vs. Oakland.

She offered to foster the dog herself. Elon is an intact male, age around 2.5 years, with a DA2PP vaccination. So perhaps it is time for him to be neutered?

If you can help, please contact the City of Palo Alto. Animal services falls under the police department.

Bob Beacom
Acting Assistant Chief of Police

Connie Urbanski
Acting Animal Services Superintendent
[email protected]

James Keene, City Manager
[email protected]

Cynthia is working social media as hard as possible to get the word out about this dog. She believes, as we all do, that every life matters. Cynthia can be reached at email address: (email address removed at her request for privacy reasons, address previously published with her permission).

Twitter posting (links have been deactivated subsequent to initial blog post)

Facebook posting (links have been deactivated subsequent to initial blog post)

Please share and reach out to anyone who can help evaluate, rescue, or pledge money to help this dog be properly socialized and trained. Credits for the above photos to Jill Thompson.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by maria b, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 27, 2014 at 9:37 am

I was a volunteer at PAAS until recently. When I last spoke to Connie Urbanski, she told me on August 20 that if there were any dogs who needed extra work, she would call me, yet I haven't been contacted. During my 1.5 years as a volunteer, I actively worked with all Pit Bulls - especially the ones who were not yet up for adoption. I would have gladly worked with Elon to make him "more reliable."

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 27, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Full disclosure: I am a founding member of Friends of the Palo Alto Shelter (FoPAAS). You can see our mission statement under "About Us" on

I support Cathy's message looking for a rescue group that might accept Elon as a dog who needs special training & fostering. I also understand the position of Palo Alto Animal Services who must be confident in a dog's behavior before it is deemed adoptable.

Pit bulls are a sad problem in every shelter where they show up. Whenever one comes in to PAAS, staff & volunteers cross their fingers and hope for the best outcome. Not always possible. Connie Urbanski at the shelter has enlisted the aid of 2 or 3 dog training specialists to work with all the "large" dogs (not just pit bulls), and it's paying off as the dogs reflect good manners. I do not know how the training applies to dogs such as Elon who are not already approved for adoption.

I wish that the kind people who want to save Elon's life had started the campaign for his rescue on August 16th, as soon as they learned he was at the shelter. No need to wait for an animal to be scheduled for euthanasia before we marshal forces to find other options. Especially with pit bulls, it might always be good to approach rescue groups ASAP, just in case?

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a resident of Southgate,
on Aug 27, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Thanks for both of these comments. It seems based on Maria's comment that we are not fully leveraging our volunteer base. In regard to Scottie's comment, I would say that I think it would be a much better practice for the shelter as part of their protocol to contact rescue organizations themselves and make the dog's status publicly known before putting a dog down. Otherwise the volunteer community has to maintain a vigilance over the animals in custody, and how can someone know to launch a rescue campaign if they don't know that the dog is going to have adoption issues? Also I don't agree with saying the breed is the problem, this could have been any dog, we see issues with all types of dogs, it's really who the dog comes from and how they're trained and socialized.

Posted by Kathleen Dugan, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 27, 2014 at 2:52 pm

For this sad situation, seems like a solution is at hand. Just neuter Elon an call in the volunteer who wants to work with him. Two days is just a number, it can be changed.

Posted by sad, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 27, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Sadly my cat was killed by a neighbor's pit bull that escaped from a fenced yard. There are many dogs that need homes. This dog sounds dangerous. Why put other people and animals at risk?

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Cathy, I didn't mean to imply that I blame pit bulls for the bad press they get. When I used to walk Roseanne, a pit bull who lived at the shelter for 8 months before she was adopted, I'd meet grown men who were anxious about being near a pit bull. I'd introduce Roseanne and demonstrate what a sweetie she was, and sometimes the man would admit that he should reconsider his prejudice about the breed. Before I met and spent time with Roseanne at PAAS, I was NOT a fan of the breed. Roseanne taught me to love pit bulls. So did Spanky. And Lulu, so young she still had her baby teeth, who learned to sit for me in about 5 minutes! I gave no command, and she put together that sitting got a reward. That's another thing about pit bulls--they are incredibly smart and eager to please. FYI, I did post Elon on the page for RescueMe, where they showed 250 pit bulls in California up for adoption on their website.

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:35 am

A footnote: At least 10 years ago (maybe 15?), the new editor of the Palo Alto Weekly, Diana Diamond, informed PAAS that the Weekly would no longer permit the shelter to list pit bulls in the "Pet of the Week" section. Absolutely never! She claimed that news reports of terrible attacks by pit bulls made her banishment valid. Not long after that, the Weekly stopped carrying the shelter's "Pet of the Week" photo & description of any dog or cat. Still true today. The Weekly shows pets from Peninsula Humane Society, in Burlingame, but not Palo Alto Animal Services.

I wrote a letter to the editor at the time explaining that pit bulls at PAAS were evaluated for temperament & behavior before they were approved for adoption. In addition, volunteers worked with all the dogs every day but Sunday and kept the shelter staff informed of each dog's health and behavior. I challenged Ms. Diamond to find a single report of aggressive or dangerous behavior of a pit bull adopted from PAAS. No response.

Freedom of the press? Or the same kind of irrational ignorance that continues to follow pit bulls wherever they are found?

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 28, 2014 at 11:31 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Thanks much for these comments. Thanks Scottie for posting on RescueMe, and thanks for bringing up this question about the newspaper. I think you're referring to the Palo Alto Daily News, not the Weekly. In response to "sad," I believe we should follow shelter best practices before killing dogs in our community, and I don't think we should generalize about dogs or dog breeds; this could have been a chihuahua. I do agree with Kathleen, that it seems like there could be a solution here, or at least more options to be considered for this and every dog that comes through the shelter. It would be nice to have more detailed policies and procedures that follow best practices in animal shelters (who knows, maybe since we're Palo Alto we could actually *create* some even better, new best practices?) along with more transparency about our process so that community members don't have to bird-dog the status of each dog that comes through, and the resource of potential volunteers can be tapped and fully utilized.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Aug 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Politics and hand-wringing aside, what's the real deal with this dog? Is this one of the cases where PAAS is euthing a dog whose behavior isn't that bad, but it's more convenient to put him down? I say this based on their local reputation in recent years.

Or, is Elon's animal aggression/prey drive really that hard to handle for most folks? And what behavior does he *really* exhibit toward people?

The bottom line is that most dog and other animal aggression can be managed by a responsible owner. A human aggro pit bull can be a recipe for disaster, if the dog has really shown aggression and/or poor bite inhibition.

So what's the bottom line with Elon?

Call Our Pack, from the South Bay, and plead with Marthina McClay to assess him. She's stellar, and she's not that far away: Web Link

Here is their Facebookpage: Web Link

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 28, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Cathy, I'm pretty sure it was the Weekly, not the Daily News, though I think Diana Diamond did move from the Weekly to another local paper -- but not till she imposed the "no pit bulls" standard based on her emotional, irrational response to one of those terrible stories about a violent incident. It doesn't matter which paper it was. What matters is that people who ought to know better think it's appropriate to profile an entire breed and condemn them.

Hmmm, thanks so much for mentioning Our Pack. I really admire the groups that focus on helping the unjustly vilified pit bulls around us. And thanks for reminding us that we're writing in this blog about a situation when we don't have all the hard facts.

I'd love to have a comprehensive list of the rescue groups in northern California. Anyone know where I can get such a list? When our shelter Friends group becomes acquainted with specific rescue groups, we add them to the "Affiliates" page on our FoPAAS website.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 29, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Terry and I spent a lot of time with Shylow recently and she was sad (Terry, Shylow we presume was psyched) that someone else had decided to adopt her, ahead of us.
Then we found it it was our neighbor M_ and her family that adopted Shylow.
Then we found that D_, married to M_, was severely allergic to Shylow and she was returned to Palo Alto shelter.
Then we found that two days later another family took home poor, lovable and sady (but presumably slightly more psyched) Shylow.

Overall I found we get a LOT for our tax dollar with our public sector shelter. Kudos to Bonnie and staff.

With due respect to Cathy and Cynthia (and Elon) this is an atypical case.

Kudos to Bonnie and Connie and staff. (Satchi)

Does not mean, due respect to Scottie, that I support a brand new capital improvement shelter, but will hear you out on this.

Mark Weiss
intact male
running for City Council
(misses Frida)

Got all that?
more info on my blog if you sniff it out

(i also spend quality time with a private dog dating service and Maryann, but have yet to post those photos)

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 29, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Hi Mark, thanks for your comments. I appreciate the respect because I have teenagers, but I don't think you're refuting anything because of course anecdotal evidence can't be the basis for your assertion that this is an atypical case. If you're running for council, I hope you have an interest in reviewing departmental policies, implementing best practices, and maintaining transparency and accountability. See my follow-up post re Elon's reprieve. Also I don't think you want to come to snap judgments about issues relating to operational policies, or come across as dismissive of residents who have different experiences and views. Just my opinion as a voter. As a long-term resident, I've happily adopted many animals over the years, so that's not really the point here, but I'm very glad you shared as it's good to get a mix of views in any discussion.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Aug 29, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I think Mark's wrong. Elon is atypical given the behavior he demonstrates (atypical for his breed and for so many of the dogs at PAAS), but what's NOT atypical is the shelter putting down an adoptable dog, hence the scrutiny and questioning what is really going on.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford,
on Aug 31, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

Yet another terribly sad story. I hope Elon found a home--any luck at all?

The other night at a restaurant on California Ave. a couple was dining on the patio with their dog. The dog rose to greet me and was so friendly, repeatedly giving me his paw to shake hands, wagging his tail, etc. I was kneeling down, patting him, my head by his, and it dawned on me he was a pit bull. I'm a firm believer that it is the owner, not the breed, who is responsible for aggressive behavior. The woman thanked me for communing with her dog, as many are frightened of the breed. It was my pleasure to have an encounter with such a sweet dog.

I truly hope Elon found a forever home.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 31, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

What a nice story Nora about the dog you met! It's always such a pleasure to meet mellow, well-trained dogs of any breed, and the owner behind the dog, but especially when it's of a strong breed. The other day I saw a woman walking a well-behaved bulldog while I was circling around looking for a parking spot downtown, and I just had to compliment her on the lovely job she was doing with her dog! And see my subsequent blog post about the reprieve for Elon.

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