Pets in Need, Palo Alto's contracted animal services agency, is a no-kill shelter, but three of its employees have now been cited and are being charged with animal cruelty and neglect in the deaths of seven puppies, a press release from Palo Alto police stated Tuesday.
The puppies died during transport from the Central Valley on Aug. 2. The three employees had taken a Pets in Need van, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, to the Central Valley to pick up extra animals that could not be accommodated at other shelters or that were not successfully adopted. The transport trips are a routine activity for Pets In Need, which brings the animals to its local facilities to put up for adoption, police said.
The employees were gone for several hours during the Aug. 2 trip and had picked up 27 dogs including the puppies. The young Labrador/pit bull-mix dogs were 3- to 4-month old siblings and weighed about 9 pounds each.
The van lacked air conditioning in the rear cargo area, and the employees did not provide water for the dogs during transport, police said. The temperature in the Central Valley that afternoon was in the range of 90 to 100 degrees.
The employees reported that none of the animals appeared distressed when they checked them during a stop for gas in Los Banos on the return to Palo Alto. When they arrived at the Palo Alto shelter at 3281 E. Bayshore Road, however, Pets In Need staff found seven puppies were unresponsive. The employees immediately summoned assistance from veterinary staff, who unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate the puppies. All of the other dogs in the van survived, police stated.
Following a police investigation, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office chose to file two misdemeanor charges — animal cruelty and neglect — against each of the three employees. A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge signed arrest warrants on Oct. 25, Detectives cited and released the employees on Oct. 26, per standard protocol for nonviolent misdemeanor warrants, police said.
The employees are Patricia Santana Valencia, 40, of East Palo Alto, Margaret C. Evans, 36, of Fremont and Ingrid Anne Hartmann, 45, of San Carlos. Since they were cited and not taken to jail, no booking photos are available, police said.
Pets In Need has operated the Palo Alto Animal Shelter since 2019 under a contract with the city of Palo Alto. The employees work for Pets In Need and not for the city of Palo Alto, police noted.
Pets in Need posted a statement on its website: "Pets In Need has been saving animals and conducting rescue runs for over 50 years.
"This was a tragic incident that has saddened the entire Pets In Need family."
City spokeswoman Meghan Horrigan-Taylor said in an email: "This is an extremely unfortunate incident for all involved. The city will continue to support the District Attorney and Pets In Need as the parties work through this difficult situation."