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.
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.