This is the third part of a series of stories the Post has published about the city of Palo Alto’s relationship with the nonprofit Pets In Need, which is under contract to provide animal services. Read Part 1 and Part 2. On Monday, after this series was printed, Pets In Need announced it was canceling its contract with the city.
BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Tension between the city of Palo Alto and its animal shelter operator Pets In Need extends beyond a criminal investigation into the deaths of seven puppies in August, and it’s putting the contract between the two parties in doubt.
Pets In Need Executive Director Al Mollica has a list of “systemic issues that need to be addressed” before he agrees to a new contract beyond 2024, he told city Community Services Director Kristen O’Kane in a memo on Sept. 29, obtained by the Daily Post through a public records request.
Mollica lists several issues that must be resolved, including the police investigation into Pets In Need’s fatal rescue run on Aug. 2, when seven dogs allegedly died in the back of a hot van without water or air conditioning. Beyond that, Mollica said the city should abide by a contract signed in 2019 that says the city must build 16 new kennels at the shelter by July 30, 2020.
If they only renovate the kennels as has been discussed, then the city should pay Pets In Need, he said.
City Manager Ed Shikada did not respond for two days to questions and an interview request about why the city hasn’t replaced the kennels.
Mollica has a fraught relationship with Cody Macartney, the police department’s lead animal control officer. He said he wants Pets In Need to hire its own animal control officers instead.
The day after police opened an investigation into three Pets In Need employees for neglecting a van full of dogs, Macartney told a kennel manager that a dog named Oreo, who bit someone, should not be allowed in the play yard.
State law says a dog that bites a person must be “isolated in strict confinement” for at least 10 days, and the city’s animal control officer is in charge of overseeing those conditions.
Mollica was defiant.
“This was clearly written by someone who doesn’t understand how physically and mentally debilitating it can be for a dog to have to be confined in a unsafe enclosed environment with no room for exercise,” he wrote. “Given the condition of the existing kennels and the city’s failure to abide by our agreement on renovating the kennels to a safe condition, I am considering the enclosed play yard as part of the ‘isolation’ for Oreo and any other bite quarantine dog we care for.”
He told Macartney that animal control officers do not have the level of training that veterinarians or behaviors specialists do, and Pets In Need will continue to rely on its own employees’ judgment regarding behavior treatments.
Covid exposures not disclosed
Macartney also told Mollica he heard about a potential Covid exposure of workers at the shelter and that he already asked Pets In Need to tell the city about any potential exposures or positive cases. Mollica said he would keep the city in the loop moving forward.
It’s not just dogs. Another issue from Mollica is over transporting wildlife, like snakes and raccoons.
The shelter moves them to the Peninsula Humane Society in Burlingame, yet the costs of these trips are not covered by the city, Mollica said. Moving forward, the animal control officer should handle these trips or Pets In Need will bill the city, Mollica said.
The shelter moved 157 animals in 90 trips from May to September, according to a report by Pets In Need.
Contract may not be extended
Mollica appeared to be considering the idea of ending Pets In Need’s relationship with the city after the five-year, $3.4 million contract expires on June 30, 2024.
“We’ve saved a lot of lives that we wouldn’t have saved if it weren’t for our connection with the PA shelter, which is exactly what our objective was,” he said on Sept. 29. “On the other hand, we have had, and continue to have, communication and operational difficulties between our respective organizations that has damaged credibility and resulted in a less than ideal work environment for all parties.”
However, 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.
As for the three workers, Mollica told the Post that Maggie Evans has left Pets in Need, while Patty Santana and Ingrid Hartmann are still employees. Pets In Need is providing them with lawyers, he said.