City close to turning over animal shelter to nonprofit

The Palo Alto Animal Shelter at 3281 E. Bayshore Road. File photo.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

The Redwood City-based nonprofit Pets in Need is chomping at the bit to take over the city of Palo Alto’s animal shelter, but ongoing negotiations over the city’s obligation to renovate the 46-year-old shelter on E. Bayshore Road may delay the contract until August, according to Pets in Need Executive Director Al Mollica.

A contract was set to come before City Council last Monday with the possibility of handing over operations to Pets in Need starting July 1, but it appears that the deal won’t be finalized until after the council returns from its recess in mid-August.

The city is planning to pay Pets in Need $650,000 per year to care for about 600 cats and dogs and 1,000 wildlife animals, which Mollica said is the approximate number that have been rescued over the last seven to 10 years.

The nonprofit will provide animal services to residents of Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills and will operate Palo Alto’s facility as a no-kill shelter at 3281 E. Bayshore Road.

Pets in Need pulls animals that are in danger of being euthanized from public shelters all over Northern California and spays or neuters, vaccinates and treats them for any medical issues. Within a few weeks, the nonprofit has hopefully found them a permanent home, Mollica said.

Mollica said he expects Pets in Need’s annual budget will be $1.2 million or $1.3 million: half of which will come from the city, and half will come from the nonprofit’s fundraising.
Pets in Need responded to the city’s request for proposals for a private shelter operator in 2015.

Shelter needs work

A city internal audit in 2015 found that the 5,000-square-foot facility was inadequate for the size of its operation, and needs $2 million in renovations. The city has offered $831,000 for renovations, but officials are “wringing their hands a little bit” about the rest of the cost, he said.

“The city’s going to retain ownership of the facility. You can’t expect us to put money into it,” Mollica said. “It’s a city facility. You should pay for that. We’re not asking for, like, ridiculous, unreasonable improvements.”

Not enough dog kennels

The renovations include expanding space for employees and education programs, possibly adding a module or unit in the parking lot and adding more kennels. The shelter currently has only 26 dog kennels, which Mollica called “a very precarious situation when you’re trying to run a no-kill shelter.”

“We’re OK going in and operating out of the shelter for some period of time, but there are serious, basic, fundamental improvements that have to be made while we’re operating,” Mollica said.

The renovations are in competition with the city’s long list of other costly infrastructure projects, including parking garages, a new police station and grade separations at rail crossings.

“‘Who’s going to pay for that? We don’t have the money. We have a lot of other priorities.’ That’s what we’ve been hearing for the last three years,” Mollica said.

Personnel changes

Several employees of the Animal Services department have retired or taken other jobs in anticipation of the turnover, Deputy City Manager Rob de Geus told the Post. Others have agreed to join Pets in Need.

“That’s another part of the negotiation is working with the union, SEIU, that a number of the employees are part of,” de Geus said.

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