Animal shelter overhaul inches forward

Pets In Need
Courtesy of Pets In Need
Pets In Need playgroup coordinator Alex Onitsuka plays with adoptable dog Daisy.

With a unanimous vote of approval, the Palo Alto City Council last week signed off on a five-year, $3.7 million operating agreement with Pets In Need, the organization selected to take control of Palo Alto Animal Services. In addition to Palo Alto, the Bayshore Road facility provides animal control and sheltering services to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents.

“I’m really, really happy to see us get to this point,” Palo Alto City Councilman Eric Filseth said at the Nov. 26 council meeting. “It’s taken quite a significant amount of hard work and passion by a lot of people. ”

Next, Pets In Need’s board of directors will consider the agreement at its Dec. 12 meeting, but only minimal changes – if any – are expected. With the board’s approval of the agreement, the Redwood City-based nonprofit could assume day-to-day operation of Animal Services by mid-January.

“The agreement they approved tonight essentially is the agreement that we’ve reviewed, and we’ve accepted internally, so it’s just a matter of working on a couple of details,” said Al Mollica, Pets In Need executive director.

Animal Services has struggled to retain staff and maintain regular operating hours since 2012, the year partner city Mountain View withdrew its $500,000 contract to partner with Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority.

By joining forces with Pets In Need, Palo Alto will save approximately $200,000 a year in operating costs, according to a statement from the nonprofit shelter.

Changes on the way

The operating agreement includes $3.4 million the city will pay during the first two years of the contract for extensive renovations to the outdated and cramped shelter, which was constructed in 1972. The upgrades include remodeling and expanding the medical suite, installing a modular office/classroom and making minor improvements to the existing dog kennels. Approximately $1.77 million of the $3.4 million will fund the construction of 16 brand-new dog kennels.

The city has signed a letter of intent to eventually rebuild the shelter as a “state-of-the-art facility” in partnership with Pets In Need, according to a city council staff report. Palo Alto would potentially cover up to 50 percent of the design and construction costs, with Pets In Need fundraising campaigns funding the remainder. A Pets In Need feasibility study revealed the organization is capable of collecting between $6 million and $8.8 million from local residents.

Pets In Need plans to run the shelter as a no-kill facility that offers the same intake and outtake services as before, albeit without owner-requested euthanasia. Animal Services’ popular low-cost spay and neuter clinic, discontinued last year due to staffing shortages, will return, according to the city council staff report.

Following last week’s meeting, Palo Alto Community Services Director Rob de Geus said he is relieved the years-long search for shelter viability seems near.

“I think the community, once they get to know Pets In Need and how they work and what they do, they’re going to really like them, is my sense,” de Geus said. “They’re very passionate about what they do.”

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