Town Square

Post a New Topic

Upcoming Menlo Park decision on animal control

Original post made by Preeti, Menlo Park, on May 23, 2021

On May 25th Menlo Park will consider the contract with San Mateo County(SMC) to provide animal control and shelter services with Peninsula Humane Society (PHS).
As it stands, PHS decides whether a dog attack merits hearing. The victim can choose to pay the county $350, and plead their case against the attacking animal, and the assessment of the PHS officer. The County organized “independent hearing” (independent of the view of PHS), however, is set by a County employee who is a prior PHS/partner organization employee of over two decades.
The City of Menlo Park is not involved in setting the hearing, yet the decision handed down is that of the City. The County squarely places the responsibility and hence the liability of the decision upon the city. City attorneys are invited but the Menlo Park attorney did not attend the hearing for Cleo that I requested. At the hearing for Cleo, Cleo was not declared a dangerous dog, and no restrictions were placed on the owner or the dog.
As a comparison, our neighboring city, Palo Alto, takes all animal bite cases to a public hearing at no cost to its citizens. In recent Palo Alto hearings, a Palo Alto Police Captain adjudicated the hearings, while the lead Animal Control Officer participated, as well as the citizens who were animal owners and the human and animal victims of the attacks. Their hearings are public and can be accessed via a website Web Link. There is no opportunity to view public hearings scheduled by San Mateo County.
In cities served by Palo Alto, if an animal is declared dangerous at a hearing, and the animal is moved out of the jurisdiction of Palo Alto Animal Control, the ACO will contact Animal Control at the new jurisdiction to report the dangerous animal’s new location.

My dog Sparky, a toy poodle, died after being viciously attacked by Cleo. In a split second my 15 lb Sparky was carried tens of feet away from me by a 110 lb “Cleo” and shaken violently. Cleo’s person stood there, doing and saying nothing for over three minutes. She finally very calmly instructed Cleo to “drop” (in a foreign language) and the dog complied. The next time I met the duo was a couple of weeks after the incident, with Cleo being walked ahead of her person on a loose leash, yet again. Having recently lost control of Cleo, the woman clearly did not feel the need for a muzzle or a choke collar that would give her additional control. I shuddered to think this was bound to repeat-- something had to be done.
As I spoke with my neighbors, I learned Cleo has a history. Months back a neighbor’s cat “Annilese” was killed in her own driveway by Cleo, and a dog, Memphis was viciously attacked resulting in him losing 17 teeth. There were accounts of “near miss” situations: an owner resorted to tossing his pet over the fence to protect it from Cleo.While walking their dogs, many have witnessed Cleo viciously barking and lunging at the gate facing the sidewalk. Multiple neighbors mentioned Cleo escaping on multiple occasions. These accounts were presented at the hearing in the form of emails, and by neighbors who spoke at the hearing, including owners of Annilese and Memphis. A copy of the recording (hearing date: Jan 11 2021) can be obtained for $5 by emailing [email protected]
Cleo killed two pets and seriously injured a third within a single year-- and on just one street. Cleo may have more victims, particularly since she moved on our street as an adult just a few years back. We don’t know where she came from. Cleo’s living situation was unusual: she lived on a rental property (not with the owner of the house). She does not belong to the tenant either. This is highly irregular since most people live with their pets, unless an animal is kept for sport.
As if spurred on by her acquittal, Cleo escaped yet again on Feb 6th ending up on a neighbor’s porch. Luckily his cats were inside at the time, but PHS Animal Control refused to intervene when called on.
Hearings are critical in ensuring that the animal is licensed and ownership established. The letter stating the decision from the hearing was addressed to two names: “person walking the dog” and the “owner of the house”. Who was to be held culpable? Clearly the hearing officer was not provided with the license stating the name of the owner. PHS had records of two dogs at the address, and they sent another license form after the attack on Sparky. Was Cleo the third dog? At the hearing PHS Animal Control Officer did not clarify the number of dogs they had records of living at the address except stating that multiple dogs do not raise an alarm, since dogs die. However, sending license forms for each attack could result in a new name for each attack. The hearing officer did not inquire names and attack histories of the other dogs PHS thinks live there. Cleo was the only dog there.
In Palo Alto, the Animal Control Officers are in the Palo Alto Police Department and provide complete Animal Control services to the cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Los Altos Hills. Animal Control can be contacted regarding matters such as stray dogs; sick, injured, or dead animals (including wildlife); aggressive animals; animal bites; animal cruelty or neglect; animals in distress; livestock or pet show permits; and other animal related municipal code violations. Pets In Need manages the Palo Alto animal shelters.

Cleo had escaped the house yet again after the hearing, but is now said to have left for North Carolina. It is likely that my having expressed intent to file an appeal to the decision, led to Cleo leaving town, for now. However Menlo Park has no way of truly knowing that Cleo has left or ensuring she does not come back. I share these experiences so they are used to inform the upcoming animal control contract the city is set to consider on May 25th. The hearing for Cleo brings highlights the multiple ways in which PHS failed us:
1. Did not take the case to hearing when Annilese was killed and Memphis bitten.
2. Claimed lack of cooperation from owners as the reason for not taking the above-mentioned case to hearing, which was refuted by the owners at the hearing.
3.Did not take the subsequent third case of Sparky to the hearing.
4. Did not verify licensing and number of dogs at the address.
5. Refused to retrieve unattended and unleashed Cleo on Feb 6th 2021 (after the hearing), and claimed not having received the call from a neighbor afterward; implying a lack of record keeping in the very least.
Additionally the fact that future neighborhood safety should guide all decisions is lost on all: Animal Control, County of San Mateo, and the hearing officer. Failing to advise Cleo’s owner to cover up the gap under the gate through with Cleo maimed Memphis the dog, or recommend a double gate after Anniliese was killed following Cleo’s escape, and failing to ask or require the owners to post a “dangerous dog” sign that would have allowed me and others to be vigilant of Cleo, failing to recommend a muzzle or training are indicative of their inability to understand their function. Failing to take any of these actions yet again at the hearing is merely baffling and seriously undermines confidence in both the county and PHS.
The decision letter reads “All relevant factors were considered in a light favorable to the attacking animal “. Should it not read “ all relevant factors will be considered in the interest of keeping the neighborhood safe”? Is that not the purpose of a hearing particularly when the victims are dead? This bolsters the view that there is a fundamental lack in understanding of their role and explains the victim/owner blaming throughout the process. Each of the above stated steps could have been taken in the spirit of keeping the community safe, but weren't. I am going to assume this is standard practice because not doing so raises further speculation on what was unusual or “special” about these cases.
The County failed us by refusing to investigate these lapses. The County’s Grand Jury report from 2016 points to similar issues: Web Link. The report points out the ~70 year long relationship between PHS and the County and is critical of the county’s role (pages 3 and 8). It points to many lapses by the County prior to the report. The history of faltering on audits and inspections continues, since a midterm audit (2017-2018) of Animal Control was likely not done. Only an RFP for the audit was found in public records, not the audit report.
I urge the Menlo Park City Council to issue their own RFP to contract with an agency such as the City of Palo Alto for animal control and shelter. City of Palo Alto contracts with Pets in Need, 871 Fifth Ave., Redwood City, located close to the Menlo Park border. By contrast, Peninsula Humane Society’s Animal Control is at 12 Airport Blvd, San Mateo, 14 miles from Menlo Park. PHS adoption center is in Burlingame, 17 miles from Menlo Park.
Menlo Park should be able to afford a better arrangement for its pets and their humans, one where its citizens do not have to pay $350 for a hearing organized by an ex-PHS employee resulting in no additional safety for the neighborhood. I urge the Council to give earnest consideration to all options available at this time.

Comments (23)

Posted by Myrtle Baur
a resident of Mountain View
on May 23, 2021 at 3:05 pm

Myrtle Baur is a registered user.

Condolences on the loss of your beloved dog Sparky.

Do you have legal grounds to sue Cleo's owners?

The PHS should not be placing the burden of properly addressing these unfortunate and repeated occurances on the victims.

Back where my kinfolk are from, this type of matter would have been handled quite differently and without any PHS bureaucratic run-around.

One of my uncles would have simply taken Cleo out with a rifle providing the dog was not on its owner's property.


Posted by The Good Neighbor
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 23, 2021 at 4:02 pm

The Good Neighbor is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Vividh
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 23, 2021 at 6:42 pm

Vividh is a registered user.

This is yet another example of the unaccountability and unprofessionalism demonstrated by PHS. I hope the City of Menlo Park learns from this and makes the drastic changes required. Palo Alto has a much better system and it’s an easy change for Menlo Park. Vicious animals can attack humans too and before this situation becomes disastrous, the city should call for a RFP and make changes.


Posted by Chris
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2021 at 8:48 am

Chris is a registered user.

Such a tragic, senseless loss of life. Who’s next? A toddler? An elderly person?
City officials should do their best to keep their residents safe and dogs with a bite history should not be allowed to roam the neighborhood.


Posted by PinkDolphin
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2021 at 1:17 pm

PinkDolphin is a registered user.

Last week Preeti also submitted her post on "Upcoming Menlo Park decision on Animal Control" to Town Square on the Almanac News, but it has not been published. Menlo Park residents may not read Palo Alto Online, and may not be aware of this important upcoming decision. Palo Alto Animal Control provides outstanding services, along with Pets In Need shelter services. Menlo Park City Council ought to consider breaking away from the Peninsula Humane Society contract at their Council meeting this Tuesday, May 25.


Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 24, 2021 at 3:39 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Thinking that PAAS is a good animal control agency is a mistake. The officers do good work but the oversight is poor and it’s been that way for years. The OP should get the war of one of the county supervisors and see what needs to be done to effect change because ultimately it’s not just the agency it’s the laws they enforce.


Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 24, 2021 at 3:40 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Neighbors commenting about the dog still being a safety risk: She doesn’t even live in the area anymore so no animals in this area are at risk anymore.


Posted by A Progressive Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Professorville
on May 24, 2021 at 3:48 pm

A Progressive Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

° Cleo had escaped the house yet again after the hearing, but is now said to have left for North Carolina.

How did Cleo get to North Carolina?

°Neighbors commenting about the dog still being a safety risk: She doesn’t even live in the area anymore so no animals in this area are at risk anymore.

There are countless other dogs with irresponsible owners who will assume Cleo's bad behavior towards others.


Posted by Room At The Inn
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 24, 2021 at 5:18 pm

Room At The Inn is a registered user.

Curious...what kind of dog was Cleo?


Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 24, 2021 at 7:27 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Preeti.
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 24, 2021 at 7:53 pm

Preeti. is a registered user.

About the kind of dog: it is not clear what kind of dog she is: at various times she has been called a malamute/part wolf/part german ... There is no way to know without a DNA test.

I came across Palo Alto 2021 budget doc Web Link
Page 365 talks of Key Performance Measures(the pdf page number): Goal to respond within 45 minutes to animal control requests/calls was met 90% of time in Palo Alto.
2. Page 366: resident satisfaction with animal control services.

I am not sure what the difference in Cost would be for Menlo Park. We already know that while Palo Alto takes 100% of their animal bite cases to hearing Menlo park does not. However what percent of dog bites go to hearing in Menlo Park? and are we paying more or less for the services we get.


Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 24, 2021 at 9:57 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 25, 2021 at 1:13 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

Please remember that the author is only presenting their version of events. There are lots of holes in the story.

Please keep in mind these questions when reading the author’s account. Were both dogs leashed? Where did the attack occur? Who initiated the attack? Who is Cleo’s owner? Who was walking Cleo? How did the author know it was 3 minutes before Cleo’s handler took action? Why hadn’t her owner or handler been held accountable for Cleo killing and injuring the other two animals before killing Sparky? Which specific laws were broken in this attack and did the author break any laws? Which bodies were responsible for which aspect of the hearing? Was Menlo required to attend? Are the county laws regarding dog attacks and vicious dog declarations different in SM and SC counties?

The author is not requested or expected to answer these questions and I sympathize with their loss and trauma. The public simply can’t make an assessment based on the author’s account.


Posted by Vasavi Ramachandran
a resident of Stanford
on May 25, 2021 at 9:37 am

Vasavi Ramachandran is a registered user.

This is just a very tragic incident. Such a nightmare for the family that lost Sparky.

The Peninsula Humane Services is doing a disservice by not addressing this occurrence respectfully.
In this day and age, people with pets need to have the ability to take care of them, and if they aren't as in the case of Cleo's owner/s, should be punished. It is as simple as that.


Posted by Swapna
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2021 at 11:46 am

Swapna is a registered user.

Sparky was such an energetic and lovable dog. I am deeply saddened by what happened to him - he did not deserve it one bit. I hope some action is taken against dogs like Cleo who have been involved in multiple incidents. Neighborhoods should be safe to walk for children, people and other animals.


Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 25, 2021 at 6:11 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Swapna, Cleo no longer lives in the area. I wonder if she’s done any damage to pets in her new location?


Posted by James Toone
a resident of Barron Park
on May 25, 2021 at 7:19 pm

James Toone is a registered user.

The dog owner is ultimately responsible for the behavior of their pet whether it be a dog or a goldfish.

While Cleo may have found new living arrangements, her previous owners should be held liable for this incident.


Posted by Jen Mazzon
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 26, 2021 at 9:48 am

Jen Mazzon is a registered user.

Dog owners who fail to control their dogs in public like this even once should muzzle their dogs in addition to leashing them. That way everyone stays safe, including smaller pets and children.

Separate gripe: Many owners let their dogs off leash where they are legally required to keep them tethered. They know that there are no consequences (e.g. fines) so they simply ignore the local leashing laws. This is an endemic enforcement issue in our communities.


Posted by Jen Mazzon
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 26, 2021 at 9:51 am

Jen Mazzon is a registered user.

Dog owners who fail to control their dogs in public like this even once should muzzle their dogs in addition to leashing them. That way everyone stays safe, including smaller pets and children.

Separate gripe: Many owners let their dogs off leash where they are legally required to keep them tethered. They know that there are no consequences (e.g. fines) so they simply ignore the local leashing laws. This is an endemic enforcement issue in our communities. I wish that I had an effective way report these folks so that they get the message that they must keep their dogs leashed or face some actual consequences.


Posted by Preeti.
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 26, 2021 at 12:35 pm

Preeti. is a registered user.

I was at the Menlo Park council meeting yesterday. A disappointing event I must say overall. Councilmember Jen Wolosin asked the county employee (also an ex-PHS employee) Lori if PHS would consider taking all its animal bites to hearing, similar to Palo Alto. Lori said there are too many animal bite cases to consider taking them all to hearing. This struck me as very odd since other cities are able to do the same. Is it possible that there too many bite cases BECAUSE they do not take each case to a hearing? I know Sparky was the third known case on our street in just one year. None of these cases were taken to hearing and if I had not paid $350 to take my case, Cleo would still be living on our street and very likely would have been involved in another attack. He was loose again after the hearing. OTOH had the previous cases been taken to hearing Sparky would very likely be alive today with our family. It is clear to me each bite to hearing protects lives. I am saddened Menlo Park choose to continue the contract with no change in terms for another 5 years.


Posted by Preeti.
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 26, 2021 at 6:33 pm

Preeti. is a registered user.

I would also like to add that Councimember Jen Wolosin proposed that Menlo Park could potentially handle its own hearings hence providing its residents no-cost hearings and for all bites, leaving the other duties with PHS. She asked Lori at the meeting if there are other cities doing that, and Portola Valley does. I think this idea was not given due consideration by councilmembers which is very unfortunate. Not sure if this is something they could pick up at any time.


Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 26, 2021 at 6:52 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Preeti, you can ask the mayor to make it an agenda item at an upcoming city council meeting. I’m sure other residents would join in with you in this.


Posted by Preeti.
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2021 at 8:07 am

Preeti. is a registered user.

@A Progressive Palo Alto Resident
"How did Cleo get to North Carolina? "

Excellent question! I do not know, I doubt the county knows either. The woman walking the dog at the time of my incident, told the county, that is how I know. Cleo is said to have left about 10 weeks after the hearing.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.

Stay informed.

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

Michelin-starred chefs bring Korean & Taiwanese fare to State Street Market in Los Altos
By The Peninsula Foodist | 1 comment | 4,438 views

For You, Readers
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,700 views

Abortion in America: a new perspective
By Diana Diamond | 9 comments | 2,428 views

 

Meet the Winners

To show appreciation for the local business community, readers voted for their favorite places to eat, shop, work out or spend time with family and friends. The Palo Alto Weekly is proud to unveil this year's Best Of recipients and Hall of Fame honorees.

View Winners