A Reprieve for Elon [Now RIP Elon] | Love That Pup | Cathy Kirkman | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

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)

View all posts from Cathy Kirkman

A Reprieve for Elon [Now RIP Elon]

Uploaded: Aug 28, 2014
Good news to report today about Elon, the stray dog at our shelter who needed to be rescued by today 8/28 to avoid being put down. See my prior blog post for details. The animal shelter now says they are going to keep him while they see if a rescue can be arranged.

I sent an email to Claudia Keith, the city's Chief Communications Officer this morning, 8/28, asking for an update on Elon's status. I never heard from her (so much for communications), but I did thereafter receive email from Connie Urbanski, director of the shelter, who stated:

"Elon is still waiting to see if there is a 501 c (3) rescue that can help with him. He is not, nor was he ever being euthanized today."


"We are trying to give this dog every opportunity to have a rescue come for him. He truly has questionable temperament and is very unpredictable I asked for a plan so that we could move forward with having arrangements made to ready him to be taken by a 501c (3) organization. There is no date at this point, as I am hoping some group will be coming forward. It is my understanding that a wide range of rescue groups have been contacted through social media. Every effort is being made that he will not be euthanized."

This is really wonderful to hear! But what about the 8/28 deadline that caused this concern in the first place? The closest thing to a response on that was:

"We cannot leave everything open ended. I needed to have a timeframe to complete his processing if he was to be picked up by a rescue group."

Ok, so that means an arbitrary false deadline of 2 days.

I asked for details on the steps they take in their process for a dog that gets put down. The closest I got to a response on that was:

"Maybe this will help, everything we are doing is in accordance with State law regarding disposition of animals."

Ok, hopefully that's a given, but not really an answer.

So not much in terms of accountability and transparency here, but hopefully this leads to a good outcome for Elon, and possibly further consideration about how we are doing things for other dogs.

I hope we can aspire to being a leader in best practices at our shelter, so when someone asks me to put a lawn sign out for their city council campaign, I hope they care about this type of thing.

Update 9/9/14: Today from Ms. Urbanski, director of the animal shelter:

"Elon was re-evaluated by the Animal Behavior Manager, and one of her staff from HSSV; and Marthina the Director of Our Pack, and he failed the evaluation. Elon was euthanized."

At least from Elon's story we have some sense of the process that occurs or should occur before a dog is put down. RIP Elon.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:09 pm

That is great news, and I hope the public attention helps attract the attention of several rescue groups! I also want to say what terrific photos Jill Thompson did of Elon. He looks happy and playful in Jill's magical pictures.

One of your questions is why didn't the shelter staff start and maintain a diligent search for a rescue group for Elon? I don't think we know what they did. In my experience, PAAS has good relationships with all kinds of rescue people. We truly don't know the details in Elon's case. Meanwhile, to be fair, I should point out that the shelter has been understaffed for at least a year.

From July 1, 2013 to late June of 2014, they were short three important positions. This left the Veterinarian, the Superintendent, two animal specialists, and the volunteer coordinator to handle all the office work and veterinary care for a year. The staff and veterinarian were ably assisted by three Animal Control Officers, who are on call 24/7 for animal emergencies in the city, and who also shared responsibility for food, clean cages, and routine maintenance of the animals at the shelter. End of June, 2014 the city hired two Vet Techs and a fourth Animal Control Officer, and I'm sure this has helped relieve some of the stress. No doubt the shelter has its bad days and lets things slip through the cracks. But they have been keeping the place open and operating. I'm sure we all want improvements! And we get tired of what seems to be resistance to change. But the story is not simple, all good or all bad.

Let's put our energy into finding a rescue group willing to take charge of Elon. Does that sound like a plan?

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a resident of Southgate,
on Aug 29, 2014 at 8:01 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Thanks Scottie for commenting. Fyi, one of my specific questions to Ms. Urbanski was "Have you contacted rescue groups or other organizations regarding this dog, and if so whom have you contacted and when did you do so." No response. "Describe in detail the steps in your process for a dog that gets put down." No response, except that the law is followed. So the reason we don't know more here is because they've chosen not to say. Also, I think it is good to have public dialogue about how things are working at our city, or not. This blog post was about Elon's plight, but it was also about what our practices are at the shelter. Unfortunately, I've not had much to share on that because I haven't gotten meaningful responses to my questions. The staff at the shelter are paid employees whose job it is to keep the place open and operating. I've heard nothing but complaints from community members about shelter operations and underuse of volunteers since the shelter was saved from closure. So I hope things are going to be turned around, but it seems like you're suggesting this is an isolated incident and I don't think that's the case. I think we can put energy both into helping Elon and also having transparency and accountability at the shelter to improve its practices.

Posted by maria b, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 29, 2014 at 9:42 am

I am glad to hear that the death sentence has been shifted back. However, as a former PAAS volunteer, I know how distressed the dogs in the back get when they are not being given sufficient attention and exercise.

I recently worked one-on-one with a dog that I named Sam at PAAS. He'd been there on the "un-adoptable" side for more than 2 weeks (since June 23, 2014), despite the fact that he'd been found already neutered and despite the fact that Our Pack had evaluated him. Connie eventually did ask me if I was willing to work with him on June 7, 2014. But when I got there, he did not even have a collar on.

Luckily, for Sam, he has gotten extra special attention. After I had to leave town in August, I was told 2 other dog trainers had been assigned to work with him and he is now up for adoption.

My fear is that if Elon is showing kennel stress, then continuing to hold him with little human contact is very detrimental. Although I am no longer an active volunteer at PAAS, I have extended my willingness and desire to work with Elon until a rescue group pulls him or until a 2nd or 3rd opinion is assessed.

I will let you know if I hear back from Connie.

Posted by scottie zimmerman, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 29, 2014 at 11:25 am

Sam is a lovely dog and has been out front for a while. He is getting special training, as you say Maria. I hear only good things about his behavior when I'm at PAAS to take cat photos. Has Jill done a set of beautiful pix of Sam? Can we start a campaign to bring attention to him and find him a new home? Or is one in progress, and I'm out of touch? (Not the first time....)

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Aug 29, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Maria - didn't Urbanski say that Elon was too unpredictable to interact with volunteers? Since public safety is a priority for PAAS, it sounds to me like a wise decision, until experts can better evaluate him.

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 30, 2014 at 6:48 pm

At San Jose Animal Care & Services they list 82 adoptable dogs; 11 of these are pit bulls (13%). Oakland Animal Services lists 40 adoptable dogs; 15 are pit bull terriers (37%). At HSSV they list 51 adoptable dogs; 2 are "pit bull mixes" (4%). SCVACA lists 14 dogs and 0 pit bulls.

Some shelters, among them Oakland, San Jose, and Palo Alto, are required to accept owner-surrendered dogs and strays found within their service areas.

Some shelters, among them HSSV and SVACA, are privately funded nonprofits, able to choose which dogs they'll accept as candidates for adoption. None of these shelters would have accepted Elon, based on his aggressiveness toward people and dogs. PAAS took Elon in and evaluated him, observed his unfortunate behavior, and chose NOT to offer him for adoption. They did not pass the buck.

I do NOT mean to imply any right or wrong policy here. All these shelters have responsible guidelines and care deeply about animal welfare.

Elon has been judged untrustworthy by people at PAAS with YEARS of experience evaluating dogs and working with powerful breeds. OK, so let's enlist the aid of the pit bull rescue groups? Only they've got enough well-behaved dogs to work with and don't seem to want the problems Elon brings with him. Why is Elon the dog most deserving of attention and rescue in the Bay Area? Why is the handling of one difficult dog an easy excuse to attack the policies at PAAS? Why aren't we spending this energy finding a home for Sam, a beautiful pit bull at PAAS who's been through special training for improved manners and was always found to be trustworthy?

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 31, 2014 at 8:55 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Hi Scottie, thanks again for your thoughtful comments, really interesting information! However, no one has said that Elon is the dog most deserving attention in the Bay Area, he's just a dog in our community that inspired a blog post. And no one is attacking the policies at PAAS, it's not even clear what they are. As citizens we can ask questions about our city government, hopefully without it being characterized by others as an attack. Also fyi it appears from their website that SVACA has an open surrender policy. In terms of Sam, this blog post was about a dog that is or was going to be put down, but that doesn't preclude efforts for those dogs put up for adoption.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford,
on Aug 31, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.


Thank you very much for these blog posts on Elon, and the situation in general. I'm so happy he had a reprieve, if indeed he was to be euthanized. I wish our city would consider the care of God's needy creatures as much as do sports and other facilities.

If people wish to make contributions to help these dogs get adopted, who might be the best recipient? (If that can be answered diplomatically, that is!) Many thanks.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 31, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Hi Nora, thanks for commenting. I think our community made a strong statement about animal welfare when it kept the shelter from being closed a few years ago, thanks to people like Scottie Zimmerman and Carole Hyde. You might consider donating to Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter or the Palo Alto Humane Society, as these organizations are right here in town doing important work and could use all of our support. Also, OurPack.org is another local nonprofit that does pit bull rescue work. Others may have suggestions, please chime in if you do!

Posted by Alistair Thompson, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Sep 1, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Thank you for writing this Kathy! The more we get the community involved the better. We need to make sure Elon gets a chance and this is great way to make sure that happens.

Posted by Alistair Thompson, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Sep 2, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Just and update: A representative from HSSV evaluated Elon today and have him a positive report. Said he was very playful, familiar with some commands and controlled around other dogs. HSSV has not committed to taking him but the positive evaluation is a positive step.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 2, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Hi Alistair, thanks so much for your comments and the news of this positive development! I asked Ms. Urbanski for an update today on Elon's status and hope to hear something back from the city as well.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Today 9/9 from Ms. Urbanski, director of the animal shelter:

"Elon was re-evaluated by the Animal Behavior Manager, and one of her staff from HSSV; and Marthina the Director of Our Pack, and he failed the evaluation. Elon was euthanized."

At least from Elon's story we have some sense of the process that occurs or should occur before a dog is put down. RIP Elon.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Sep 16, 2014 at 1:04 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

Cathy, why does this particular case illustrate the process for evaluation? Has PAAS been hiding how it evaluates dogs?

BTW, the live release rate that Scottie Zimmerman quotes is quite good for a small city shelter, especially one run by a police dept and not a very widespread outreach program. Another point about PAAS that is admirable is that they were adopting out pit bulls long before other shelters in the area were doing so, including HSSV. Long before it was standard, they evaluated each dog on its own merit, not based on its breed. They did this regularly and quietly. While I am not sure if the same evaluation staff from back then are still at PAAS, it sounds like they took proper precautions with a powerful and potentially dangerous dog. I am glad that they didn't take chances with public safety and were able to confer with other animal welfare professionals to give the dog every possible chance while preventing any harm.

After rereading these posts, I find it sad and problematic that amateurs such as yourself embarrassed and shamed PAAS staff via second guessing publicly in a manner that was entitled and arrogant (minus Scottie Zimmerman). And guess what? PAAS was right about Elon - and they were right without consulting with HSSV and McClay.

Many of us who have been critical about some of PAAS's practices have done what is now standard for grumbling - vent online and then let it go. But this incident with Elon is different. It is an example of residents wanting to make a difference but having neither the knowledge, experience or wisdom to do any of that. What's just as bad is that none of you seem to know that you've damage your own reputations in the animal welfare community. Actually, I think one of you now knows this - the one who asked that their name be removed from your blogs about Elon.

Alistair Thompson was wrong - getting the community more involved wasn't better.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 16, 2014 at 9:40 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Hi Hmmm, thanks for your comments, although I will have to disagree with your views on this. I do think we've learned a bit about the process, at least in terms of what the shelter has shared with us: they say they comply with the law, the 2-day deadline was arbitrary and, in my view, unreasonable, and I'm not sure what else they do, as they didn't really answer my questions. I didn't know the dog, so this was about the process, not the dog per se, as I stated in my original post. I don't know if they got the outside evaluations beforehand or after I posted about the dog, as they didn't answer my question about that. I don't think the shelter has been embarrassed or shamed, as they are a public agency and should welcome public discussion of their policies and practices. I don't think it's sad or problematic, entitled or arrogant (ad hominems), for a citizen to ask questions about their public agencies. It should be welcomed and encouraged: that's what the public did in fact when it kept the city from closing the shelter down for good. As a resident I am happy to be what you call an amateur (another ad hominem); citizens don't need credentials to expect the city to respond fully and faithfully to their inquiries. I'm looking forward to asking more questions about the shelter in the future, as I believe fresh air and community involvement are always the way to go with any public agency. So I think we will have to agree to disagree on this, but thanks again for your comments.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Sep 16, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Of COURSE you feel that way, and that's the problem. You of course don't hold yourselves accountable for being part of the problem, you just think you're part of a murky, undefined solution. You refute all I've said without due consideration, in order to avoid any responsibility in this boondoggle. This is likely part of why PAAS isn't open with you and won't collaborate - you're not trustworthy.

Being happy to be what I call an amateur in all of this is a mistake. Your opinion about how fully the city has responded is wrong-headed and hasn't brought any satisfaction, in good part due to the lack of accurate context. Your residents, thus far, haven't demonstrated the knowledge or expertise to steer PAAS into the territory of excellence that you claim it can. And given the nasty emails I've received from one of the people involved in all of this, I'm not surprised that the city wasn't more cooperative.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 16, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Hi Hmmm, thanks again for commenting, as civil discourse is the essence of our democratic society. Again, I hope we can agree to disagree, and regardless whether you think I'm not trustworthy (another ad hominem), the city has an obligation to provide information to the public. For example, I could make a public records request. Also the city recently did a mea culpa around transparency. But anyway, thanks again for reading and sharing.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Burning just one "old style" light bulb can cost $150 or more per year
By Sherry Listgarten | 12 comments | 2,993 views

Banning the public from PA City Hall
By Diana Diamond | 26 comments | 2,149 views

Pacifica’s first brewery closes its doors
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 1,871 views

Premiere! “I Do I Don’t: How to build a better marriage” – Here, a page/weekday
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,419 views

Holiday Fun in San Francisco- Take the Walking Tour for An Evening of Sparkle!
By Laura Stec | 7 comments | 1,406 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.