News

Following a frantic year, Pets In Need gradually reopens to Palo Alto's animal lovers

Nonprofit welcomes back volunteers, prepares to resume pop-in visits

A dog sits on a blanket in his outdoor cage at the Palo Alto animal shelter on June 15, 2021. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

Ever since the Pets In Need took over Palo Alto's animal adoption services in late 2018, it has been operating in an atmosphere of change and uncertainty.

The nonprofit, which also operates a shelter in Redwood City, took over operations of the municipal shelter on East Bayshore Road with the understanding that the city would soon be upgrading the shelter, which has been deemed shabby by modern standards. While the city completed construction of the shelter's medical suite in September, plans to build new kennels remain in flux, with the project facing a funding gap of about $500,000, according to city staff.

But the ability of Pets In Need to adapt to difficult circumstances was tested in an unprecedented way last year, when shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19 swept through California. In the first week of March 2020, the nonprofit instantly transformed itself from a full-fledged shelter to a remote operation that both tended to the hundreds of animals in its care and served the hundreds of Bay Area residents who suddenly found themselves sheltering at home and aching for companionship.

Immediately after deciding to shut down its facilities, Pets In Need sent out urgent emails informing people about the imminent closure of the animal shelters. Within 48 hours, nearly all 150 animals in the organization's Redwood City and Palo Alto shelters were placed with foster households, said Al Mollica, the organization's executive director.

The sudden shift was followed by months of other adjustments to the shelter's operations, with Pets In Need shifting to a system that relies on Zoom meetings to demonstrate animal behavior and email networks to link potential adopters to their pets-to-be. Its plan for the pandemic was to have only three people per shift to provide medical services, oversee kennel and perform administrative functions, Mollica said.

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Like other facilities throughout the city, Pets In Need is now on the path to business as usual. It already allows visitors to stop by, albeit only by appointment. Its volunteers are back. And with California officially hitting its full reopening phase Tuesday, the organization plans to increase the number of appointments and make face-to-face meetings more routine (with face masks, at least for now). In the coming weeks, the nonprofit expects to allow residents to pop in and look at animals like in the old days — a sure sign of things returning back to normal.

"It's something we haven't done in a year," Mollica told this news organization.

Pets In Need Executive Director Al Mollica walks in a room at the Palo Alto animal shelter where the nonprofit fosters cats on June 15, 2021. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

For Mollica and the nonprofit's staff, the pandemic was a time of creativity and improvisation. Fully operational on March 6, 2020, the shelter became a "ghost town" a week later, with only a handful of staff members present to provide veterinarian services and oversee the kennels, Molllica said.

Pets In Need, which prides itself on being a no-kill shelter, also had to immediately halt performing rescue runs to other shelters to pick up at-risk animals. It also shifted its focus on the most vulnerable animals, which tended to be the larger dogs on euthanasia lists.

"All our partner shelters were getting backed up with animals. The pandemic didn't stop cats from having kittens and people from turning in their dogs and such. That was a struggle for us," Mollica said. "It's what we do. Our business was to save as many animals as possible."

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Through creativity and connections, the organization cautiously resumed its rescue runs. Occasionally it would send a team to a shelter in the Central Valley to pick up at-risk animals in a parking lot — an exchange that was conducted with virtually no human contact. At other times, staff from two shelters would rendezvous in the parking lot of a third shelter to transfer and process the animals, Mollica said.

When the vaccines arrived, Pets In Need staff got their shots and staff became more "ambitious" with its rescue runs, Mollica said. Adoptions went up — reaching a total of 1,635 over the course of the organization's last fiscal year, which ran from May 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021, Mollica said. While this is a drop from its all-time high of about 2,100 adoptions, which the organization reached in the year prior to the pandemic, Mollica is proud of the organization's ability to forge so many connections during a time of social distancing.

A group of cats fostered by Pets In Need, which manages the Palo Alto animal shelter, on June 15, 2021. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

Now, the organization is on a path toward normalcy. About a month ago, it began allowing volunteers to come in for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, Mollica said. Volunteers are now assisting with both caring for the dogs at the shelter and in finding new homes for the roughly 205 animals currently in the organization's care (of those, about 175 are in foster care, while the remainder are in Pets In Need shelters, Mollica said).

"The silver lining over the past year is the fact that all of us now understand — on a visceral level — what it's like to deal with adversity," Mollica said. "Trying to carry out the mission for an organization like Pets In Need when you can't do rescue runs or meet with people is difficult."

There is another positive sign, Mollica said. Even with the influx of adopters during the pandemic, the shelters have not seen too many owners return their pets. That, he said, is a sign that the agency's adoption staff and volunteers are "very discerning and very careful" when linking pets with owners.

"We still follow the same protocols and procedures we always followed," Mollica said. "Not everyone will pass muster. You turn some people down, but the bottom line is, weeks and weeks and months and months later, you don't have the owner surrender and return rate."

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Following a frantic year, Pets In Need gradually reopens to Palo Alto's animal lovers

Nonprofit welcomes back volunteers, prepares to resume pop-in visits

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 16, 2021, 11:46 am

Ever since the Pets In Need took over Palo Alto's animal adoption services in late 2018, it has been operating in an atmosphere of change and uncertainty.

The nonprofit, which also operates a shelter in Redwood City, took over operations of the municipal shelter on East Bayshore Road with the understanding that the city would soon be upgrading the shelter, which has been deemed shabby by modern standards. While the city completed construction of the shelter's medical suite in September, plans to build new kennels remain in flux, with the project facing a funding gap of about $500,000, according to city staff.

But the ability of Pets In Need to adapt to difficult circumstances was tested in an unprecedented way last year, when shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19 swept through California. In the first week of March 2020, the nonprofit instantly transformed itself from a full-fledged shelter to a remote operation that both tended to the hundreds of animals in its care and served the hundreds of Bay Area residents who suddenly found themselves sheltering at home and aching for companionship.

Immediately after deciding to shut down its facilities, Pets In Need sent out urgent emails informing people about the imminent closure of the animal shelters. Within 48 hours, nearly all 150 animals in the organization's Redwood City and Palo Alto shelters were placed with foster households, said Al Mollica, the organization's executive director.

The sudden shift was followed by months of other adjustments to the shelter's operations, with Pets In Need shifting to a system that relies on Zoom meetings to demonstrate animal behavior and email networks to link potential adopters to their pets-to-be. Its plan for the pandemic was to have only three people per shift to provide medical services, oversee kennel and perform administrative functions, Mollica said.

Like other facilities throughout the city, Pets In Need is now on the path to business as usual. It already allows visitors to stop by, albeit only by appointment. Its volunteers are back. And with California officially hitting its full reopening phase Tuesday, the organization plans to increase the number of appointments and make face-to-face meetings more routine (with face masks, at least for now). In the coming weeks, the nonprofit expects to allow residents to pop in and look at animals like in the old days — a sure sign of things returning back to normal.

"It's something we haven't done in a year," Mollica told this news organization.

For Mollica and the nonprofit's staff, the pandemic was a time of creativity and improvisation. Fully operational on March 6, 2020, the shelter became a "ghost town" a week later, with only a handful of staff members present to provide veterinarian services and oversee the kennels, Molllica said.

Pets In Need, which prides itself on being a no-kill shelter, also had to immediately halt performing rescue runs to other shelters to pick up at-risk animals. It also shifted its focus on the most vulnerable animals, which tended to be the larger dogs on euthanasia lists.

"All our partner shelters were getting backed up with animals. The pandemic didn't stop cats from having kittens and people from turning in their dogs and such. That was a struggle for us," Mollica said. "It's what we do. Our business was to save as many animals as possible."

Through creativity and connections, the organization cautiously resumed its rescue runs. Occasionally it would send a team to a shelter in the Central Valley to pick up at-risk animals in a parking lot — an exchange that was conducted with virtually no human contact. At other times, staff from two shelters would rendezvous in the parking lot of a third shelter to transfer and process the animals, Mollica said.

When the vaccines arrived, Pets In Need staff got their shots and staff became more "ambitious" with its rescue runs, Mollica said. Adoptions went up — reaching a total of 1,635 over the course of the organization's last fiscal year, which ran from May 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021, Mollica said. While this is a drop from its all-time high of about 2,100 adoptions, which the organization reached in the year prior to the pandemic, Mollica is proud of the organization's ability to forge so many connections during a time of social distancing.

Now, the organization is on a path toward normalcy. About a month ago, it began allowing volunteers to come in for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, Mollica said. Volunteers are now assisting with both caring for the dogs at the shelter and in finding new homes for the roughly 205 animals currently in the organization's care (of those, about 175 are in foster care, while the remainder are in Pets In Need shelters, Mollica said).

"The silver lining over the past year is the fact that all of us now understand — on a visceral level — what it's like to deal with adversity," Mollica said. "Trying to carry out the mission for an organization like Pets In Need when you can't do rescue runs or meet with people is difficult."

There is another positive sign, Mollica said. Even with the influx of adopters during the pandemic, the shelters have not seen too many owners return their pets. That, he said, is a sign that the agency's adoption staff and volunteers are "very discerning and very careful" when linking pets with owners.

"We still follow the same protocols and procedures we always followed," Mollica said. "Not everyone will pass muster. You turn some people down, but the bottom line is, weeks and weeks and months and months later, you don't have the owner surrender and return rate."

Comments

Ivor
Registered user
Los Altos
on Jun 17, 2021 at 11:00 pm
Ivor, Los Altos
Registered user
on Jun 17, 2021 at 11:00 pm

Even before Pets in Need took over the animal shelter, Palo Alto has not had a really effective low-cost spay/neuter clinic for some years now. After two vet techs quit, the clinic has never recovered anything like its former surgical capacity. As a Los Altos taxpayer, low-cost spay/neuter is a service for which our city has contracted with Palo Alto and has evidently not been receiving for a long time. So those of us working to manage the population of unwanted cats have to travel to SVACA in Santa Clara or HSSV in Milpitas to get community cats spayed/neutered at reasonable cost. The pandemic has only made this much worse with clinics being closed or severely limited; this will be a really bad year for kittens. Palo Alto is also the *only* one of the five shelters in Santa Clara county to refuse to participate in the "Feral Freedom" program which provides for spaying/neutering, vaccinating, microchipping and ear-tipping otherwise healthy, but unsocialized cats and returning them to their territory to live out their lives in peace instead of simply killing them (which has been shown to be an ineffective method of population control). So while this article says Pets in Need "prides itself on being a no-kill shelter," that is a bit delusional. What they mean is they won't kill an otherwise healthy, adoptable animal. For the unsocialized ones, the trip to the shelter is one-way. Perhaps Mr Mollica should be asked to explain what "possible" actually means in his quoted statement: "Our business was to save as many animals as possible." I think his definition is probably rather different from mine .


Lydia
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2021 at 10:07 am
Lydia, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jun 18, 2021 at 10:07 am

Thanks so much to Pets In Need for helping us adopt a pair of rabbits from the "Boba Tea" litter. We were able to "meet" the bunnies first via Zoom, which was helpful, and spay/neuter surgery was included as part of the adoption fee, which is normally hundreds of dollars. However, as first-time rabbit owners, there was a very steep learning curve and we weren't informed that our rabbits would try to procreate when they were siblings and only a few months old (fortunately we separated them in time, and we had the extra equipment on hand to be able to do so). And providing a good life for a rabbit (like any pet) requires understanding their particular needs, which include space to run, things to gnaw on so they won't be tempted by your furniture, and accommodating their need to dig. For those who are completely new to rabbit parenting, I would recommend going through a dedicated rabbit rescue organization like The Rabbit Haven in Sunnyvale or East Bay Rabbit Rescue in Livermore.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Jun 29, 2021 at 1:52 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 29, 2021 at 1:52 pm

Ivor, I appreciate the information you provided. The lack of affordable spay/neuter at PIN added to the strain for PHS in San Mateo as well as the places you mentioned in your county. I hope PIN gets up to speed and resumes s/n this year because it’s sorely needed. Fwiw they’ve always called themselves “no kill”, to the detriment of their organization, some staff and some adopters.


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