Pets In Need workers say puppies’ deaths were ‘horrible, painful’ — Part 1 of a series

FIRST IN A THREE-PART DAILY POST SERIES

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. Part 1 appeared in Thursday’s edition of the Post. Pick up today’s Post for Part 2. Part 3 will be printed on Saturday.

BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer

Seven puppies in the care of Pets In Need were packed together in a small crate with a towel covering them for more than four hours on a 90-degree day when they died, according to a letter written by concerned Palo Alto Animal Shelter workers.

“These seven puppies died horrible, painful, slow deaths,” the employee letter
says. “There was no air, no room to move, and no way to escape. They had to witness their siblings suffer and die before they finally succumbed.”

The puppies were being moved to Palo Alto on Aug. 2 along with 20 other dogs from a shelter in the Central Valley, where they were at risk of euthanasia.

The three employees taking them used a van with cramped space for crates and poor air conditioning so HR Manager Ingrid Hartmann could tag along, the letter says.

Pets In Need is not responding to any questions about the allegations from its shelter workers. Those allegations contradict some of Executive Director Al Mollica’s statements.

City manager is reviewing the employees’ letter

Pets In Need has run the Palo Alto Animal Shelter since 2019, charging the city about $700,000 a year. City Manager Ed Shikada said he is “reviewing the letter and determining next steps.”

A group of employees wrote the letter to the Pets In Need board of directors on Aug. 9, a week after the fatal journey. Resident Kristen Andersen, who opposes Pets In Need over their handling of feral cats around Crescent Park, sent it to the Palo Alto City Council last week.

Pets In Need has two vans to transport animals to Palo Alto and Redwood City, employees said. One of the vans is smaller, with space for about 15 crates and air conditioning that only works to cool the front of the vehicle. The larger van can carry about 25 crates, including extra-large ones, and has dedicated climate control in both the front and cargo areas.

HR Manager Hartmann, Shelter Manager Patty Santana and Behavior Manager Maggie Evans took the smaller van because it has two rows of seats, unlike the bigger van, which can only seat a driver and one passenger.

“This was the first of many avoidable mistakes made throughout the day,” employees said.

Puppies were already ill

When the transport team first encountered the puppies at a shelter in Madera, they were already sick.

They were covered in vomit and diarrhea after being transported from another location, employees said.

The shelter intake policy says that a veterinarian must approve medical cases where the dogs are to be housed, but the transport team took them without contacting medical director in Palo Alto, employees said.

The litter that perished were large-breed, 10-week-old Labrador-pit bull mixes weighing between 10 and 15 pounds. All seven of them were packed in a crate that was 30 inches long, 18 inches wide and 23 inches tall, employees wrote.

“It provided no room for the puppies to lie down or even turn around without stepping on each other,” their letter states.

Little ventilation

The crate was also shrouded in a towel to protect the other animals from disease, leaving the animals with little ventilation, employees said.

The suspects told police they stopped in Los Banos to check the animals and they were OK, police said.

But when the transport van arrived in Palo Alto, the 20 surviving animals were dehydrated and showed signs of heat stroke, and the seven puppies that died were stiff but still hot, employees said.

Hartmann, Santana and Evans were charged with animal cruelty and neglect on Oct. 25 after a 12-week investigation by the Palo Alto Police Department. They’re scheduled for an arraignment on Nov. 30.

Pets In Need changes statement

Rob Kalman, the board president, and Al Mollica, the executive director, said in a statement that they are conducting their own investigation. In their first statement, they said that police were incorrect about the rear cargo area lacking air conditioning.

“We are working to ensure that the cited employees’ side of the story is heard, and a fair and complete account of their role is communicated to the authorities,” they said last week.

The statement has since been replaced on their website with a watered down version that does not defend the employees.

Katerina Adamos-Jardine, the marketing manager for Pets In Need, won’t say if the employees still have a job.

Pets In Need was contracted to operate the Palo Alto Animal Shelter for five years in 2019 to save the city about $200,000 annually. The shelter provides animal care services for residents of Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills and brings in animals at risk of euthanasia from around the state.

The nonprofit has operated an animal shelter in Redwood City since 1986.

Since signing the Palo Alto contract, Pets In Need’s bottom line has soared. The nonprofit’s revenue was $1.7 million in fiscal year 2015, $2.2 million in 2017 and $8.1 million in 2019, the most recent fiscal year with available data. Most of the money comes from donations.

Mollica made $213,259 as the highest paid employee in 2019.

Thursday: Pets in Need leader resents police investigation, tells employees to reduce cooperation with the city.

After this was printed, Mollica’s attorney contacted the Post and arranged to have his client’s responses to the paper’s questions sent via email. Mollica continues to decline the Post’s request for an in-person interview.

22 Comments

  1. Al Mollica is not doing himself or Pets in Need any good by declining interviews and not cooperating with the city. Without his side of the story, I can only believe what I read. I am a long-time supporter of PIN, but I’m horrified by this episode. If the allegations are true, I will no longer support PIN unless the three employees are fired.

  2. Thank you to the employees who came forward with their concerns in the letter to the PIN board and the city. And thank you to the Daily Post for reporting this. Hopefully some positive changes will come of this.

  3. I think the puppy deaths are a symptom of poor management at PIN and poor oversight by the city. Wouldn’t be surprised if the city used this incident as a reason to cut its ties with PIN and find another non-profit to run the shelter. Mollica’s refusal to talk to the Post suggests he’s got something to hide, and that there’s a coverup going on.

  4. The police report shows the puppies were left in 100 degree temps in a yard in the central valley, without PIN’s knowledge, right before they were delivered to PIN, and that the city is pressuring the police chief to pressure the detective on this case. Everyone is freaking out and throwing PIN under the bus not realizing what happened.
    Why isn’t any of this being covered and my more detailed comments about this being censored?

    • But it still does not take away from the fact that a supposedly seasoned animal welfare provider STUFFED 7 puppies into a single crate and then covered them with a towel. There was no room for them to turn around, let alone cool off. Have you read the letter the staff wrote to the board? They were there to witness what it was like for animals coming in.

      • That’s not listed as a cause of death. Get the police report and read it. It’s available by request online. All the staff people are trying to throw blame to distance themselves, not realizing the puppies were sadly baked before PIN got them. The animal welfare provider was indeed seasoned, so I’m doubting she packed in puppies so tightly to kill them. Something fishy is going on in the city driving this.

        • The puppies have been sent for necropsies; the police report is awaiting that information. Police don’t list a cause of death in cases like this until an autopsy or necropsy is done. And if the puppies were “sadly baked before PIN got them” the PIN employees should have (1)asked that they receive medical attention or be euthanized immediately at the shelter that held them, or (2) provided that care themselves and ensured that the conditions of travel (a 4 hour drive) were humane. The employees did neither. Like Al Mollica, you are just digging yourself into a deeper hole.

      • I am not, and as I mentioned, I don’t even so much as have a pet from them. Everyone is also welcome to continue to hate PIN as much as they like. I don’t know the backstory of all the animosity. I just read the police report – which has the necropsy results – and think it’s clear they aren’t responsible for these deaths. Also, my comments keep getting censored on both papers’ websites.

    • You should have read the news release put out by police. It says: “The suspects reported that none of the animals appeared distressed when checked on during a stop for gas in Los Banos on the way back to Palo Alto.”

      So Jeff are you saying that the pups were “baked” when PIN picked them up but they made a sudden recovery when they stopped in Los Banos, and then were dead in Palo Alto? That doesn’t make sense.

      • They weren’t distressed from the travel, as the employees saw it. But the employees did know they were in a bad state at the kill shelter, and were vomiting and infected with something. The other shelter would likely have put them down if the employees hadn’t taken them. They weren’t on the scheduled pick up. The employees decided to pick them up too because they were about to be put down. They were trying to do a good thing. They shouldn’t have. It ended up biting them. Either way the puppies would still be dead.

        • David, the contortions you are going through to defend Pets in Need are ridiculous. If the puppies were in distress before PiN picked them up, they should have provided appropriate care, including water (essential for animals that are sick and traveling in a hot van for 4 hours or more.) Sick animals need MORE CARE, NOT LESS CARE than healthy animals. No animals should be transported in a hot, closed van without water on days when the temperature is 90-100 degrees. Temps inside the back of the van were likely higher than the air temperature outside. If PiN employees couldn’t provide humane care and transport for sick (or healthy) animals, it would be more humane to euthanize them than to torture them for 4 hours or more by baking them in a tiny, filthy crate (with no water, no room to turn around) in an unairconditioned closed van on an extremely hot day. What they did was inhumane to any animal, and literally torture for puppies, sick or not.

  5. Jeff, in addition to stuffing 7 large puppies in a crate that was way too small, these employees did not provide any water on a very hot day (90 degrees plus outside). If the puppies were in poor health when PIN picked them up, they needed MORE CARE, not less. What you are claiming means that PIN’s actions were even worse than described. Euthanasia would have been much more humane than what PIN did to them. And poorly trained, poorly performing employees allowed to operate this way shows this problem goes way up the line, right to the top.

  6. David, the contortions you are going through to defend Pets in Need are ridiculous. If the puppies were in distress before PiN picked them up, they should have provided appropriate care, including water (essential for animals that are sick and traveling in a hot van for 4 hours or more.) Sick animals need MORE CARE, NOT LESS CARE than healthy animals. No animals should be transported in a hot, closed van without water on days when the temperature is 90-100 degrees. Temps inside the back of the van were likely higher than the air temperature outside. If PiN employees couldn’t provide humane care and transport for sick (or healthy) animals, it would be more humane to euthanize them than to torture them for 4 hours or more by baking them in a tiny, filthy crate (with no water, no room to turn around) in an unairconditioned closed van on an extremely hot day. What they did was inhumane to any animal, and literally torture for puppies, sick or not.

  7. Check out the Pets In Need website; the organization has given notice that they are terminating the contract with Palo Alto. Since they have no real defense for these actions, they are trying to shift the attention and blame to Palo Alto. B the only thing they can cite is Palo Alto took too long to complete renovations on the shelter, and that the City has not yet renovated some dog kennels. NOTHING that answers the charges of cruelty, gross neglect, and incompetence by their staff, and the attitude that as a non-profit their actions should never be examined or criticized. The biggest load of …..baloney imaginable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.