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Palo Alto shuts down spay and neuter clinic

City attributes abrupt move at animal shelter to lack of staffing

Citing a staffing shortage, Palo Alto abruptly shuttered last week the spay and neuter clinic that the city has been running at the municipal animal shelter on East Bayshore Road for more than 40 years.

In a surprising move that had not been discussed by the City Council or any of the council's committees, staff had temporarily halted a service that the city has been offering since 1973. With little explanation, the announcement of the clinic's closure was posted on the Animal Services webpage late last week.

Chief Communications Officer Claudia Keith said the move was not a part of a long-term plan. Rather, it was caused by recent changes in personnel that made it difficult to sustain the operation. She said she became aware of plans to eliminate the spay and neuter clinic just last week.

"We're looking at this as a temporary disruption," Keith told the Weekly.

The change comes at a time of transition for Palo Alto's beleaguered animal-services operation, which has seen its revenues drop and its expenditures rise in recent years. The problem was exacerbated in 2014, when View withdrew from the partnership.

Now, the city is in the process of transferring the operations of the shelter to Pets In Need, a Redwood City-based nonprofit that would take over some time next year, if things go according to plan. Concurrently, the city and the nonprofit would work toward raising money to build a new shelter that would replace an existing facility that a 2015 audit deemed to be "outdated and inadequate to meet modern animal-care standards."

The city's announcement on closing the clinic attributes the decision in part to the pending change in shelter management.

"Unfortunately, due to a current lack of staffing, and planned changes in shelter management in the near future, we have decided to temporarily close our spay and neuter clinic," the city's announcement states.

The announcement notes that the "shelter animals will still receive the same high-quality care they always have" and the weekly vaccine clinic will continue every Wednesday, from noon to 1 p.m.

Deputy City Manager Rob de Geus, who is managing the animal shelter's transition, said the closure was prompted by two factors: the veterinarian's departure for the next two weeks and by uncertainty over the future of other shelter employees.

According to the city's budget, the animal services operation consists of 10 positions: a superintendent (a position that is currently vacant), four animal-control officers (one of whom is temporarily filling the superintendent vacancy), a veterinarian, two animal-service specialists and two veterinarian technicians.

Though the city plans to continue providing animal-control services even after the transition to Pets In Need, other positions could be eliminated under the proposal being negotiated between the city and the Redwood City-based nonprofit.

This has created a rift between city management and shelter staff, who have argued against the contracting out of animal services to Pets In Need. The city has been entangled in negotiations with the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, since late 2016 over the potential elimination of five positions.

In late August, as the council was preparing to approve a letter of intent with Pets In Need, staff from the city manager's office vowed to give the union employees "priority hiring for any vacancies within the City (for) which they qualify" and to provide training resources to help employees with the transition, according to a report. At that time, the union had indicated its intent to propose severance options that management said were "above and beyond" those in the union contract.

While the animal shelter is dealing with employee shortages, Palo Alto officials are referring customers to the Pets In Need facility in Redwood City. The city also lists other Bay Area organizations that provide spay and neuter services: the Peninsula Humane Society in Burlingame; the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas; the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority in Santa Clara; San Jose Animal Care and Services in San Jose; and the Santa Clara County Animal Shelter in the unincorporated community of San Martin.

The city's announcement states that once the partnership between the city and Pets In Need is in place, "all Animal Shelter services will return to normal."

The sudden closure of the spay and neuter clinic came as a surprise to Carole Hyde, executive director of Palo Alto Humane Society, a nonprofit that has been involved in the city's negotiations with Pets in Need and that expects to be involved in the fundraising effort for Palo Alto's new shelter.

"We've had a lot of meetings with the city and Pets In Need and are very enthusiastic about the idea of a new shelter," Hyde said. "The closure of the spay and neuter clinic was never mentioned in those meetings."

Hyde said she had reached out to city leaders to urge them to hire a temporary veterinarian to keep local clinic open. Going to another community for spay and neuter services would be a "hardship for Palo Alto's pet-owning community," Hyde said.

De Geus acknowledged that the city should've done a better job in communicating the pending changes at the animal shelter. He noted, however, that it's not just the veterinarian's temporary absence that is driving the decision.

De Geus said the clinic is already booked solid through Dec. 8. And with the staffing plans in flux because of negotiations (various shelter employees are considering whether to retire or take different positions in either Palo Alto or another city), it's hard for shelter management to commit to making new appointments for spay and neuter operations, he said.

"We want to be careful that we're not booking surgeries beyond what we're confident that we have staff in place to perform," he said.

De Geus said the city plans to discuss the spay and neuter situation with Pets In Need and see if the organization can help with providing the service. He called the shuttering of the spay and neuter clinic a "situation of temporary inconvenience."

"The bigger point is that we're on a path to something better and we have a vision to build a new shelter with Pets In Need and our outstanding nonprofit partners," De Geus said.


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26 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 30, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"In a surprising move that had not been discussed by the City Council or any of the council's committees, staff from the Office of City Manager unceremoniously pulled the plug on a service that the city has been offering since 1973. With little explanation, the announcement of the clinic's closure was posted on the Animal Services webpage late last week. "

Really?? Shame on the city.

9 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 30, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Excellent move as a result of outsourcing. Our citizens and their pets can now receive more than adequate services at a much lower cost to tax payers, as well as relieve the burden and liability of maintaining full-time employees. Pets in Need has a solid reputation in the industry. It's most definitely a win across the board that's been long overdue. I applaud the city.

35 people like this
Posted by 5th Generation
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 31, 2017 at 1:28 am

I can't help but think that this is part of the City Manager's plan to do away with the Animal Hospital altogether. Sabotage and purposeful mismanagement could work wonders for Keene.

Palo Alto has no shame.

52 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2017 at 3:36 am

Another city service shut down by a city manager who continues to sell off all city services to fund salaries for his ever increasing senior management "team". Who do you blame when an outsourced contractor fails to provide service. Nobody! Mission Accomplished! What a pity!

2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2017 at 2:20 pm

"City Services" all have costs and constituencies that are looking for taxpayer subsidies. Many of those using this particular service were not Palo Alto residents who were looking for subsidies for their pets. These services are provided in the private sector. The idea that the Palo Alto taxpayers should subsidize these non-residents is not easily digestible by most taxpayers--so there is no reason not to shut down this service.

42 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2017 at 2:42 pm

38 year resident is a registered user.

Concerned has it right. Keane has two spokespeople whose salaries could easily fund a good portion of the clinic operational expenses. Why doesn't he get rid of one of them at the very least?

24 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2017 at 2:49 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Joe, your argument that these "subsidized city services" are taxpayer subsidies and could be provided by the private sector could be applied to much of what the city provides to various groups -- commuter subsidies (Lyft, public transit fees, etc.) charging stations for electric cars, "hostess" packs of plastic cups and paper plates provided by PA Utilities, etc. etc.

I'd be happy to stop paying non-resident commuter expenses in return for the $9,000 per month the city could have paid a temporary vet!

28 people like this
Posted by Where is it all going
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 31, 2017 at 2:49 pm

"resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood",

No reason not to shutdown ... provided by the private sector ... subsidies for pets ....

First, PA residents use that service, too, but who cares, right? Who cares about anything except the checkbook in your world? Wow, what a life ... pitiful.
Software giants worth billions are erecting enormous buildings on this very expensive land. But no, they need to kill the little guy and his pet, too. This is pathetic.

20 people like this
Posted by Pennywise, pound foolish.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 31, 2017 at 7:27 pm

Pennywise, pound foolish. is a registered user.

Seems like a very short-sighted decision. Spay and neutering services reduce the numbers of future animals that require Animal services. Too bad. Pennywise, pound foolish.

18 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 1, 2017 at 6:54 am

eileen is a registered user.

The land the clinic sits on is way to valuable for cats and dogs! It's all about land value these days. My children loved to stop by and visit the kittens. All our pets came from there. Our city is becoming one big office park serving only big business and the workers.

14 people like this
Posted by Cat Mom Leonorilda
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2017 at 12:08 pm

The City Manager's office is using an bona fide emergency leave of absence of the staff veterinarian at Animal Services to force a closure of the spay-neuter clinic. The city can well afford to hire a competent temporary contract veterinarian in the staff vet's stead during her absence. This is another move by the City Manager to sound the death knell for the municipal shelter. Shame!

Like this comment
Posted by just don't get it
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 1, 2017 at 12:36 pm

The city will continue to subsidize the shelter...even more with Pets in Need. And, the services will be very different. Plus there is no guarantee that the 'fund raising' will get the donations to fund a $25 M shelter and keep the funds coming year in and year out to pay the expenses. One should look at the City's give away bottom line before making so many decisions. And, the city wants to put another car lot on that property!!!! Really!!!

4 people like this
Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2017 at 3:45 pm

I learned somewhere that Palo Alto Animal Services (PAAS) was one of the first in the nation to offer LOW-COST spay & neuter surgery. In addition, Palo Alto Humane Society (PAHS) has offered vouchers to help pet owners trim the cost of s/n surgery even more. People who operate shelters and their volunteers know how important spay/neuter is to prevent unwanted litters of puppies & kittens. It's also important to prevent euthanasia of healthy animals because shelters are overcrowded. Spay/neuter is the key to successful animal control.

Full disclosure: I'm a member of Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter (FoPAAS). I think the move to a public/private partnership between the City and Pets In Need is a positive solution. I am concerned about the decision to close the spay/neuter clinic indefinitely. I wish the City had chosen to hire a contract veterinarian to cover surgeries at PAAS while our own amazing veterinarian cannot be there. Fingers crossed that the City and PIN complete plans ASAP so our shelter can again offer full services to its customers.

Finally, the shelter staff, volunteers, and Animal Control Officers have all been determined to maintain shelter services and amenites. This in spite of a significantly reduced number of employees since the end of FY 2012.

8 people like this
Posted by Nonutzklutz
a resident of Triple El
on Nov 1, 2017 at 9:05 pm

Neuter the city manager, if it hasn't been done already.

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