Under new management, animal shelter to get upgrades, potential new facility

Pets In Need
Megan V. Winslow / Los Altos Town Crier
Pets In Need Executive Director Al Mollica poses with terrier Melanie outside the nonprofit’s Redwood City shelter last week.

Following years of financial uncertainty, Palo Alto Animal Services may soon secure the monetary and managerial stability stakeholders seek to upgrade the existing shelter or to even build a new one.

Next week board members of Pets In Need, the Redwood City-based nonprofit organization selected to assume operations of the Palo Alto shelter, will consider a management agreement containing a $1.86 million funding request for addressing deficiencies there. PAAS is the contracted provider of animal services for Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

If the Palo Alto City Council agrees to the proposal, Pets In Need could begin running PAAS by March 1, said Al Mollica, Pets In Need executive director.

The city councils of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills won’t have an official say until 2019, when their contracts are up for renewal.

“This is a huge step for the organization,” Mollica said. “It’s been a high organizational priority for the last couple of years for us, and we see this as a great opportunity for us to expand our mission to save as many animals as we possibly can.”

Renovation plans

First comes saving PAAS. The 5,000-square-foot facility, located on East Bayshore Road, was constructed in the early 1970s. It’s outdated and cramped for both the animals serviced there and the humans who work there. Pets In Need’s $1.86 million funding request comprises three components: expand the shelter’s medical area; expand spaces allocated for the staff and for educational programs; and add kennels.

Mollica said Pets In Need’s leadership is content with concentrating on the medical, staff and educational expansions – upgrades that could include bringing modular buildings on site – and waiting, if need be, until a future funding cycle to address the kennels, estimated to claim $1.1 million of the $1.86 million.

“The discussion with the city is, ‘Let’s find a happy medium that will allow us to renovate the existing facility so we that can operate effectively for three or four or five years – however long it’s going to be – before we eventually, hopefully, do a fundraising appeal for a new facility,” he said.

Depending on size, materials and features, a new PAAS shelter would cost between $15 million and $20 million, according to Jeremy Lindston Robinson, president of the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter. Friends is a volunteer group formed approximately four years ago to support the shelter in the wake of the recession and the loss of its $450,000 contract with the city of Mountain View, which withdrew to partner with Silicon Valley Animal Control in 2011.

Despite various tweaks to services and procedures, Palo Alto’s attempts to make PAAS more self-sufficient failed, and the shelter became a drain on the city’s general fund.

With Friends’ backing, Palo Alto issued two requests for proposal (RFP) designed to identify a potential new service provider. The first, in late 2015, netted just Pets In Need. The second, in early 2016, garnered responses from Pets In Need, Humane Society Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County. The Palo Alto City Council in August approved a letter of intent to transfer PAAS management to Pets In Need.

Fundraising for future

Alice Hodges and Jean Miller Mahoney started Pets In Need as the Lost Animal Registry in 1965, according to the organization’s website. The Registry, operating out of a garage for a time, incorporated as a 501(c)3 animal shelter in 1967 under the name Pets In Need and relocated to a small Whipple Avenue facility in 1986. Pets In Need’s leadership opened its current 9,000-square-foot, LEED-certified, Fifth Avenue shelter in 2010.

The no-kill facility rescues and finds homes for hundreds of dogs and cats each year and has earned a four-star rating, the highest, from charity evaluator Charity Navigator for its financial efficiency, accountability and transparency; in fiscal year 2017, Pets In Need marked $2.14 million in expenses but brought in $3.39 million in revenue, including investment income.

PAAS currently operates on an annual budget of approximately $1.8 million. Mollica hopes to cut the operating budget to $1.5 million, partly by making staffing changes.

“In theory, if this works right, people will either retire or come to work for Pets In Need or find other jobs with the city,” Mollica said.

Mollica expects to cover PAAS operating costs through a $650,000-per-year management fee split by the cities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto, approximately $200,00 in revenue made from sources such as licensing and surrender fees and between $500,000 and $750,000 generated through fundraising. Already Pets In Need staff members are working on a feasibility study to identify potential large-gift donors to help fund a new facility, preferably in Palo Alto.

“People in Palo Alto and Los Altos and Los Altos Hills want to have a shelter that’s easily accessible, and what they want is a shelter they can be proud of, a shelter that’s more than just a place where you leave animals until they’re found or put to sleep, but they’re actually cared for, and an environment is created where people want to go there and be there,” Robinson said. “So what we have in mind for the new shelter is quite a bit different than what we’ve had in the past years.”

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