Palo Alto mulls major reductions in animal services

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By Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly
May 7, 2012
Read the original article at www.paloaltoonline.com

Palo Alto residents would lose many of the animal services they currently enjoy, including the ability to voluntarily surrender pets, if the city were to scrap its longstanding operation and outsource it to another city, according to a new city report.

The city is considering outsourcing its animal services in response to Mountain View’s decision last year to opt out of its partnership in the Palo Alto facility. The Animal Services Center on East Bayshore Road has been providing services to Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills since 1993. Mountain View’s decision to switch from Palo Alto to the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA) in Santa Clara means Palo Alto will no longer receive about $470,000 in annual fees from Mountain View.

Palo Alto City Manager James Keene included the decision to outsource animal services in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013. Eliminating the local operation, along with its 13 full-time positions, would save the city about $500,000 a year, he estimated.

But the decision has also attracted intense opposition from local animal lovers and volunteers, many of whom have joined a group called “Save our Shelter” to oppose the proposal to close the aged but popular Animal Services Center. The City Council’s Policy and Services Committee is scheduled to discuss the facility’s future at its meeting Thursday night.

In a new report, Police Chief Dennis Burns presents a potential middle ground by outlining three options that would scale back but not eliminate the animal-services operation. Under one scenario, the city would eliminate two full-time positions, an animal-services supervisor and an animal-control officer, and the half-time volunteer-coordinator position, saving the city about $270,826 total. Burns warned that under this scenario, “there would be no back up officer in cases of simultaneous calls for service, calls for service with multiple animals, nor field coverage in times of illness, vacation or family leave.” It would also mean less disaster-preparedness training and a reduction in shelter tours.

The second option would significantly reduce the city’s level of field services, eliminating both animal-control-officer positions and switching from a full-time veterinarian to one operating on a contract. The city would scrap its spay/neuter clinic, its volunteer program and its store, saving about $194,034, according to the report. The third option would scrap all of its veterinary-care services, outsourcing it to local animal hospitals. It would no longer offer spay/neuter or euthanasia services and would lose out on the fees associated with these services. The third option would cost the city about $17,583 annually.

Though the lattermost option would significantly reduce the cost, it would come with major repercussions for local animals. Burns points out that under the current system, the city’s veterinarian handles medical issues that are not chronic in nature, including amputation, hernia repair and eye enucleation. With a positive outcome, such services could make an animal adoptable, Burns wrote.

“Treatments such as those listed are done in the regular course of work by the veterinary staff and adoption or rescue is the likely outcome,” Burns wrote. “If these procedures were to be contracted out to regular veterinary practices the costs associated with these services may make them unobtainable and the animal would be euthanized.”

The new report also lists several agencies that could provide animal services to Palo Alto should the city decide to outsource them, including SVACA, San Jose, the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas and the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo. Service levels would change depending on provider. The Peninsula Humane Society, for example, would not provide animal-control field services, Burns wrote. San Jose, for example, offers many of the same services that Palo Alto offers but does not accept voluntarily surrendered animals. Other agencies do, but they charge a fee.

“Many shelters will not accept surrendered animals or they may charge a fee, resulting in the owner abandoning the animal,” Burns wrote. “PAAS is one of only a few shelters in the area that accepts surrendered animals at no charge to the owner.”

The new report was met with instant skepticism by local animal activists, including the “Save our Shelter” group and the Palo Alto Humane Society. The groups blasted the proposal to outsource animal services and to end the existing policy of allowing voluntary surrenders of stray and unwanted animals. The Humane Society called outsourcing animal services “a radical change in the principle that has guided the community for 60 years, namely, that local animal control services make for ‘safe streets, parks and schools’ for people and their pets.

“In addition, outsourcing animal services breaches the moral obligation that the City has to animals entrusted to its care,” the organization stated.

“Save Our Shelter” also wrote in a statement that it “wholeheartedly oppose(s) the wholesale outsourcing of animal services to competing animal shelters.”

“Palo Alto Animal Services is the only public animal shelter between San Mateo and Santa Clara,” the group wrote. “If it were to disappear, we believe Palo Alto would see many more strays on its streets, more lost pets that never come home, and more unwanted cats and dogs, due to the loss of the low-cost spay and neuter clinic.”