Pets In Need pushed back against police investigation — Part 2 of a series

Shelter Manager Patty Santana, pictured here in Pets In Need’s 2019 annual report, is one of three employees charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty and neglect for the deaths of seven puppies.

Editor’s note: Post reporter Braden Cartwright has been investigating Pets In Need following the decision by the district attorney to charge three employees in the deaths of seven puppies. This series is based on documents he obtained from the city through a California Public Records Request, a letter from Pets In Need workers and interviews. Here’s a link to Part 1.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Pets In Need Executive Director Al Mollica said he resented city officials and questioned the need for a police investigation into the deaths of seven puppies while in the care of his nonprofit, according to emails between him and Palo Alto city employees obtained by the Daily Post through a public records request.

At the direction of his board, Mollica said he is minimizing interactions with the city “until the deceased puppies matter gets resolved,” meaning monthly update meetings between the two parties have been canceled.

The police investigation must be completed before the nonprofit discusses extending the contract beyond 2024, Mollica said in an email on Sept. 29.

“As time drags on (over two months as of this writing!) with no resolution on the investigation, the resentment grows, as does the internal organizational tension,” he told Kristen O’Kane, the city’s community services director, in an email.

Pets In Need is in its third year of a five year, $3.4 million contract to operate the Palo Alto Animal Shelter.

The city outsourced animal services to save money, and at the same time Pets In Need nearly quadrupled its revenue from two years before as it became the animal care provider for Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

The city can terminate the contract within 60 days if Pets In Need breaks the law, according to the contract. However, it’s unknown if that termination clause would come into play if Pets In Need’s employees were to be convicted criminally.

Three Pets In Need employees were charged on Oct. 26 with two misdemeanors, animal cruelty and neglect. Police say the employees — Patty Santana, Maggie Evans and Ingrid Hartmann — took a van full of animals from the Central Valley to the Palo Alto Animal Shelter on Aug. 2 without giving them water or air conditioning, resulting in the deaths of seven puppies.

“I don’t understand how or why this rises to a level to justify a police report since this was PIN’s business and had nothing to do with the city or the PA shelter,” Mollica wrote on Aug. 4 to Cody Macartney, the police department’s lead animal control officer.

Mollica wanted to know who told police

“I’d also like to know who filed a police report on this incident and what the justification was,” Mollica said.

Police Capt. Zach Perron responded later that day.

“When Cody notified me yesterday morning about the puppies, I requested that an officer go out to the shelter to take a report,” Perron said in an email obtained by the Post. “This is standard operating procedure for us; similar to if someone left their pet dog unattended in a parked vehicle on a hot day in Palo Alto and it perished, we would document that in an investigation.”

Mollica and Perron then got into a back and forth about necropsies of the puppies. Mollica said Pets In Need wanted to perform its own necropsy on one of the puppies, but Perron said detectives are having necropsies performed on three of the puppies and keeping the remaining four as evidence “for now.”

The District Attorney said none of the bodies of the dogs would be released to Pets In Need until the necropsy reports are final, Perron said.

“This delay is impeding our internal analysis of what happened,” Mollica said. “Additionally, I have decided that we will not to go on any rescue runs until we can determine what happened with these pups, so your stop request on the necropsy is also stopping our rescue runs.”

Shelter workers speak out

Mollica’s anger at the investigation is also reflected in a letter written by a group of shelter workers who were upset over the deaths.

“The response from Pets In Need’s leadership is appalling,” the employees wrote on Aug. 9. “Mollica has made it clear that there will not be consequences for the neglect that took place during this run, and there will be no accountability or designating of responsibility.”

Employees said Mollica has cast doubt on heat stroke as the likely cause of death by blaming worms or vaccine reactions.

Mollica is aware that animals have died in transit before, but he told shelter employees in emails and at a large meeting that it has never happened before, employees said.

“He has been combative and dismissive of the entire event,” employees said. “The lack of effective leadership and clear accountability by the executive director creates the opportunity for something this abhorrent to happen again.”

Yesterday, Mollica’s lawyer called the Post and requested emailed questions instead of an in-person interview of his client. Mollica’s answers mostly reflected his emails with the city that the Post had obtained through a public records act request.

Cause of the deaths questioned

The police investigation prevented Pets In Need’s own investigation, Mollica said through his attorney. He said puppies may have died from other conditions.

“We can only speculate about what caused the animals to die,” he said.
Mollica didn’t answer a question about why the incident was kept private until the police made a statement 12 weeks after the deaths.

He said that Santana and Hartmann remain employees, and Maggie Evans chose to leave. Pets In Need is providing them with lawyers, he said.

Part 3: Tension between the city of Palo Alto and Pets In Need extends beyond the criminal case.


  1. Al Mollica is a terrible leader who should have been replaced for years and most of the old term employees. Imagine what else he’s kept away from the police and for him to get upset about workers speaking out about this important information. Police should really do a thorough investigation behind this whole non profit.

    • Mollica is verbally abusive to his employees! Countless employees have chosen to leave, even before this happened, due to his lack of leadership. This man cares nothing about animals. It’s amazing that after all of this, the Board of Directors still stands behind him.

  2. The problem with the Bay Area’s non-profit animal shelter organizations are:

    1. These so-called Non-Profits are supposed to be supporting our county with homeless and rescue animals. But instead, they are going out of our county to do rescue runs.
    2. What’s interesting about this situation is that they claim to be rescuing animals but these so-called rescue runs involve employees rescuing younger animals such as puppies and kittens, rather than sick or animals about to be euthanized.
    3. A few of our animals shelters like PIN in the Bay Area, have the wrong mindset of rescue. If you look at their adoptions website or other non-profit animal shelters in our Bay Area, you will notice the high level of puppies and kittens available for adoption compared to older animals in need of homes.
    Why? Because these younger animals are more profitable and go in and out of the shelter quickly. One animal shelter charges $350 for a non-breed puppy and over $175 for a kitten. This is a non-profit animal shelter that receives over millions of donations a year in the Bay Area!

    Employees are forced to go on tons of runs each week to bring in these younger types animals (while taking a FEW older animals) from all over different counties which make zero sense since that isn’t what an animal shelter should represent.

    Please do more investigation on our large animal shelters in the Bay Area and request to see their adoption rates comparing sick or older animals to puppies and kittens. You will see where they are making the profit. It has to be stopped and redirected to focusing on actually rescuing animals truly in need. What’s upsetting is seeing so many CEO’s and Leadership making top dollars and paying line staff minimal salaries just to bring in tons of animals each week just to meet or exceed their financial goals. This type of behavior needs to be exposed but looking at the non-profits tax returns ( seeing how much these types of employees make). This is upsetting that our tax dollars are being misrepresented and animals are being mistreated just to make $$$.

    • using that one run as a generalization is anecdotic at best, but even going with your flow Klarissa, by the reporting, this run included:
      – 20 adult dogs
      – 7 puppies, all reportedly sick to some degree (vomitting, diarrhea)

      So I don’t think that’s proving the point you’re trying to make here.

    • Klarissa, I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but your complaints about “large animal shelters in the Bay Area” just do not reflect reality. In fact, between San Francisco and San Jose, including the East Bay, we have a remarkable group of shelters and rescue organizations who have been striving for years to provide the best quality animal rescue you could wish for and to continue improving the care they offer.

      San Francisco SPCA, Muttville in SF, Cat Town in Oakland, Oakland Animal Services, East Bay SPCA in Oakland & Dublin, Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA in San Mateo & Burlingame, Nine Lives and Pets In Need in Redwood City, Pets In Need in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority in Santa Clara, Humane Society Silicon Valley in Milpitas, San Jose Animal Care & Services–and these are the ones I’ve personally visited while researching how well run animal services operate.

      You complain that these agencies focus on puppies & kittens? Muttville specializes in finding homes only for aging dogs, 10 years and older. The dogs listed for adoption at PIN Palo Alto on Nov.3, 2021, include two 10 month old males, weighing 42 & 44 lbs; a 2 year old female, 46 lbs; an 8 year old female, 7 lbs; two 5 year old males, 66 & 75 lbs respectively; and a 1 year old male, 50 lbs. None of these dogs looks like a puppy.

      Kittens are a different story–because of “kitten season,” during which cute, tiny, orphaned baby cats are picked up and brought to shelters where they may require weeks of bottle feeding and physical care by ranks of generous volunteers. Pets In Need, before they took over the Palo Alto shelter, installed a kitten nursery–at great expense–in their Redwood City offices to ensure the survival of these innocent newborn creatures. PIN volunteers and staff (including director Al Mollica) took kittens home nights & weekends so bottle feedings every two hours could be maintained. A couple of years ago San Jose Animal Care Services found that 16 of the kittens they accepted had ringworm, and SJACA did not have the space or personnel to cope. Instead of euthanizing the kittens, they contacted HSSV in Milpitas and asked for help. HSSV took in the kittens, set them up in isolation to avoid spreading ringworm, and treated them daily for the problem. As medical assistants in haz-mat gear left the room where the kittens were kept, volunteers with smiles and toys came in to help the kittens learn to play & socialize. They all recovered and found wonderful homes. Does this sound to you like a money-grubbing plot to promote the sale/adoption of kittens? Au contraire! The handling of kittens by local shelters demonstrates a commitment to animal welfare, without regard for the expense and volunteer time required.

      Pets In Need was the first shelter in northern California to establish a “no-kill” policy for animals in its care. As far as I know, many/most of the other shelters I’ve mentioned are working toward the day they can claim a high live release rate. They provide annual Asilomar reports detailing the total number of animals taken in (=100%) subtracting the number of those euthanized. Pets In Need’s 2019 animal statistics for the Redwood City shelter shows a live release rate of 99.7%, and in Palo Alto the live release rate was 94.1%

      People have labeled me an “apologist” for Pets In Need. But I am not a misguided ignoramus. I donate regularly to the shelters I visit (and to shelters in Detroit and Houston that I haven’t visited). And that includes PAAS, which is no longer with us. I talk to the experts, I read the Asilomar Accords and the Asilomar reports, I spend time online in seminars sponsored by Maddie’s Fund, I read documents from U.C. Davis about shelter design. I am as heartbroken as anyone about the deaths of 7 puppies in a van after a tragic series of bad decisions on the part of well meaning but flawed care givers. But I am tired of the rage and hostility and inaccuracy and dishonesty I find in the online comments from people with a chronic grudge whose only action is to complain.

  3. These 3 women responsible for the death of 7 puppies while transporting them and numerous other animals (who barely survived.. These animals were transported from the Sacramento Valley area in extremely hot weather greater than 100 degrees. All 3 women were paid employees of Pets In Need – 2 are presently employed by Pets In Need and 1 resigned

    Promotion Given: Out of the 2 remaining employees – 1 has been promoted to a management position!!!

    Pets In Need Has Released This Info:

    We stand behind our employees and are funding all of their legal fees…

    *Where does the funding come from?
    *Donations from you and me?
    *This is outrageous how can they support paying legal fees for these “animal abusers” ??? – I thought the cash donations were to benefit the animals not the animal abusers !!!!


    The van’s air conditioner functioned in the front of the van only and did “not” send any cool air to the cargo area where the animals were placed.
    The 7 puppies were placed in a crate that was so small they were literally on top of one another. The top of the crate was then covered with a towel – deprived of any air circulation during the 3 to 4 hour trip…none of the animals were allowed to get out of their cages…Never once were any given even a taste of water…these 7 dead puppies were covered in vomit, urine and feces. The other animals that did survive suffered from heat exhaustion and had to have immediate care in order to save them.

    Only due to a chance observation by someone not employed by Pets In Need did this story come to light – He reported what he saw to the authorities…I am left to wonder how many times had this neglect happened that were not reported ?

    All 3 paid employees of Pets In Need should be charged and convicted of a felony for the 7 deaths and held accountable for the condition of the remaining animals. If found guilty, prosecuted harshly…and certainly be restricted from ever working in an animal care facility of any kind…

    Please stand with me in behalf of these innocent puppies to keep these abusers from ever repeating such cruelty.

    I Have Started a petition on Care2 and would be happy to share it with you…the more names the better as we will try to stop these 3 women from ever working with animals again + I believe they should be charged with felony counts instead of a slap on the wrist.

    Sign Petition: Justice For The Deaths Of 8 Puppies – Pets In Need Paid Employees -1 Even Got A Recent Promotion

    • Radical much? As tragic as this was, it was unintentional. Not purposeful. And the three employees, according to what I’ve read were devastated. One of the employees was even new to the job and just on the ride to observe how a run is performed. By your line of thinking she deserves a felony on her record? Get real. If anyone is to blame, it’s the organization, poor judgement, and the ONE individual with 20 years of transport experience who should have known better. You know nothing about these people and what’s in their hearts. They work in the profession because they love animals but by all means, do what you can to ruin three people’s lives.

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