News

Nonprofit poised to run animal shelter next year

'Letter of intent' in the works with Pets In Need

The line of dog kennels sits across from the rabbit playpen at the Palo Alto Animal Shelter on East Bayshore Road. Photo by Ben Hacker.

A Redwood City-based nonprofit could take over management of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter as soon as next January, city staff and a spokesman for the group Pets In Need confirmed this week.

The City of Palo Alto plans to bring a "letter of intent" to the City Council on Aug. 21, the next step in transferring the shelter's operations from the municipality to the nonprofit, a plan that's been in the works since last fall.

The letter of intent will outline the scope of operations, the city's and the nonprofit's roles, and a fundraising plan for a possible new facility.

Under the agreement, Pets In Need will continue all current shelter services for the next three to five years. Two other groups — the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter and Palo Alto Humane Society — could potentially be involved with fundraising and educational programs, city staff and the nonprofit group said.

Assistant City Manager Ed Shikada said exact details of the letter are still being finalized, particularly related to financing any renovations of the 45-year-old building at 3281 E. Bayshore Road or conducting a feasibility study for a new building.

Not included as a Pets in Need responsibility will be animal-control services, which will continue to be handled by the police department. Animal control officers, their vehicles and equipment will be paid for by the city, Shikada said.

The letter of intent is not a binding agreement, but it offers a timeline for developing a management agreement between the nonprofit and city, which the nonprofit hopes will be completed and approved by the council in the next few months, Pets In Need spokeswoman Alexandra Baggs said.

Palo Alto's shelter takes in approximately 500 domesticated animals annually (dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and others) from Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, plus about 1,000 injured and sick wild animals. Staff transfers wildlife to the San Mateo County-based Peninsula Humane Society facility in Burlingame; Pets In Need would continue that contract, Baggs said.

The shelter's future has been under discussion since 2012. The City of Mountain View, which contracted with Palo Alto Animal Services for 18 years, dropped its contract in November 2011 in part because of the facility's aging amenities and a cheaper contract with the Santa Clara-based Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority.

The facility needs seismic retrofitting, and Palo Alto staff estimated at that time that a new shelter would cost about $7 million. The City of Mountain View did not want to be responsible for that expense, officials said in 2011.

The departure cost the City of Palo Alto dearly, as Mountain View had been contributing $450,000 annually to the shelter operation. According to a 2015 auditor's report, Palo Alto Animal Services was experiencing a net loss of $900,000 annually. The audit also found the shelter's challenges are "unlikely to be resolved if it continues operating as solely a city-managed function without a significant increase in general fund subsidy, donations, and/or revenue-generating contracts."

Palo Alto could save $200,000 in the first fiscal year by outsourcing to Pets In Need, with greater savings expected in the following years, said Khashayar "Cash" Alaee, city senior management analyst and the project's lead executive.

"It's fair to say that the amount of specific savings is an open question," Shikada said. "We may decide the personnel savings would be put into the new building."

The future of current employees of the animal shelter is up in the air. While the City is consulting with the employees' union, Service Employees International Union, Local 521, Shikada said, some might be offered employment elsewhere in the city and others could conceivably be hired by Pets In Need. Still others may retire, he said.

Pets In Need was chosen by the city as an operator following two requests for proposals from potential operators. The two entities signed a mutual cooperation and support agreement on March 29, which directed Pets In Need to assess program and facility needs, develop a site analysis and conceptual designs for a new building, and create an initial plan for raising private contributions for a new shelter.

Shikada and Baggs said a new facility might be built on another city parcel. The former Los Altos Water Treatment Plant at 237 San Antonio Road near the Baylands is a possibility, Shikada said. The property was included in a May 2012 study of potential sites for the shelter. Palo Alto acquired the property after the City of Los Altos ended its own water-treatment operations and partnered with Palo Alto through the Regional Water Quality Control Plant.

Baggs said Pets In Need has developed three possible concepts for a new facility. The smallest is 12,000 square feet — more than double the existing square-footage. It would have classrooms for educational programs, a conference room, an expanded medical facility, and modern and spacious kennels for the animals.

Scottie Zimmerman, president of the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, said her organization plans to "fully support" the letter of intent. Pets In Need has a good track record for placing shelter animals and its programs include low-cost services for seniors with pets and a mobile spay-and-neuter surgical van, she said.

The Friends group would work with Pets In Need on raising funds for a new shelter, she added.

"Our hope is to raise funds quickly. We've got a lot of people in Palo Alto who love the animal shelter. It will take $10 million or more, and it won't be huge, but it will be modern and progressive," she said.

The letter of intent also discusses potentially having an office and classrooms available for the Palo Alto Humane Society and its educational curriculum. The 109-year-old organization is currently located on Haven Avenue in Menlo Park.

The Palo Alto Humane Society, which does not run an animal shelter, focuses on animal-population control through spay and neuter vouchers, programs to help people manage veterinary costs, education on the humane treatment of animals, animal-related disaster preparedness, and animal-welfare public-policy advocacy, according to its website.

Carole Hyde, executive director of the Palo Alto Humane Society, said her organization intends to support the letter of intent.

"If we can be part of the center, I think that will strengthen the programs," she said.

The organization has explored ways it could help the Palo Alto shelter for several years, she added. Fundraising could be an important contribution.

"Our name is so established that we could be an asset," she said.

Shikada indicated there's a place for both the Friends group and the Palo Alto Humane Society in the shelter's future.

"Both can and will have roles with educational programming. Our interest is not to have duplicate programs" with Pets In Need, he said.

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Comments

12 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 4, 2017 at 9:46 am

A much needed dose of common sense and fiscal responsibility. This move was long overdue and certainly addresses the greater good.


18 people like this
Posted by Oh well....
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 4, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Clearly another failure by City Manager Keene to appropriately maintain city infrastructure. Maybe more of his time should be spent on public needs instead of spending all his time and city funds building up his senior management staff. Bringing in non-profit staff does nothing to repair or maintain infrastructure. What a pity!


21 people like this
Posted by Pro Rider
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Pro Rider is a registered user.

Pets In Need is a very reputable animal rescue organization.

As someone who works with a cat rescue and a horse rescue, as well as another dog rescue, I am very pleased that Pets In Need will now be running the shelter.

I feel a strong sense of relief at this good news!


27 people like this
Posted by just don't get it
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 4, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Do any of you critics have any idea how much time, love and devotion the current staff and the volunteers have given to the PAAS over the years......working in very challenging conditions because the City can't find the funds or interest to update/upgrade the facilities??? All of the animals that come through there are taken care of.... some for a year or more... until they can find their 'forever' home. They do all they can for the senior animals until they find home. The photo of Becca in the 'blarring sun' is so wrong...they have cull shade available and some misters!!! They are never left in the elements to suffer. Go check it out for yourselves before you become so critical. Time for the Self Serving Keene to move on!!!


12 people like this
Posted by Anen
a resident of University South
on Aug 4, 2017 at 5:05 pm

Pets In Need is a great organization and would be a perfect fit to take over the shelter. The city of Palo Alto has done wrong by our animals and community by wanting to rid of the shelter. I hope this plans comes to fruition. For the sake of our animals.


3 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2017 at 12:03 am

Pets in Need taking over has caused many of us involved with animal welfare to roll our eyes. But most orgs gave PAAS a pass for good reasons. Good luck to PAAS!


3 people like this
Posted by Dany
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Oct 11, 2017 at 1:25 pm

I am a longer support of the PA shelter my grandpa used to take me there when i was 10 year old. I am 40 year old now, and it is sad to see it getting close down. But, i have to agree, it is not looking good and perhaps pets in need will do a good job. City manager and some folks are saying it will save money yadayadayada BUT if they look around there of lots of place they could save money in the city. One example is parks, I am tired of seeing those parks employees just siting there killing time and digging holes here and there. Often, I go to the baylands and i have seeing so they call PARK Rangers, Parks employees, and some other Rangers closing the baylands in the evening but they are not city rangers I believe they are contractors. Now, why the city needs RANGERS, PARKS EMPLOYEES, and PARKS CONTRACTORS to dig holes and close gates. IF the city really wanted to improve the shelter or build a new shelter there are areas the city manager could save money. I wish MS Dremann could bring this up to the city manager or at least look at it.


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