Rethinking Animal Control in East Palo Alto

East Palo Alto spends around $550,000 on Animal Control each year, contracting with San Mateo County. In my opinion, East Palo Alto spends a lot on animal control and gets very little in return. I think we need to rethink how we are spending this money and come up with different solutions for the many problems we have in East Palo Alto with dogs, cats, and the various other animals we see wandering our streets.

Animal control is located about 15 miles from East Palo Alto. Driving from East Palo Alto to San Mateo will take at least 25 minutes, and as much as an hour if traffic is bad during rush hour.  Public transit will take approximately two hours. This is a huge physical barrier to EPA residents utilizing the limited free spay/neuter/vaccine clinics, as well as animal control officers providing service in East Palo Alto.

East Palo Alto residents would benefit from many more services that other cities provide. For the $550k the city is spending on Animal Control, I would hope to see monthly clinics providing services to residents:  chipping, licensing requirements, spay & neuter clinics, deworming, vaccination clinics, and other pet services.

Due to the distance between the HQ in San Mateo and our location in EPA, Animal Control officers often take an hour or more to respond to calls for service. Loose dogs are often far from the reported location when an officer responds to a call, and not captured by the officer. EPA residents have made extensive use of Facebook to reunite lost pets with their owners, but we have received very little help from the animal control agency that we are paying so much money for. Having a local animal control location would immensely benefit the community.

Feral cats are a major issue in East Palo Alto. We should make an effort to spay and neuter these cats and keep their numbers from getting even larger. We adopted our cat, Lexi, from a colony of feral cats located next door to our house, and she has been a wonderful addition to our family - as you can see in the photos below. There are at least 6 more feral cats living near us, and one looks to be pregnant again. While certain individuals have taken heroic efforts to trap these cats, spay/neuter them, and release them back onto the streets, we really need a sustained and funded effort to address this issue.

East Palo Alto's new city hall should include animal control and services in the design. I hope the new city hall will include animal services in the design, including holding pens for lost dogs and cats, and perhaps a space to provide vaccinations, chipping, and dog/cat licensing.

East Palo Alto should look at ending their contract with San Mateo County and partner with Palo Alto’s Animal Control, which is located a very short distance from EPA on East Bayshore Road. Many EPA residents already go there for vaccine clinics, we could formalize the relationship and have a much closer animal control office for lost pets.

Animal Control should be spending time, effort, and energy educating EPA residents on the realistic costs of having a pet. Many people adopt a pet and are getting rid of their dog or cat within six months. Some find out that their apartment will not allow them to keep a pet. Others find the cost prohibitive and are shocked by $4000 pet bills. Others grossly underestimate the time required to care for an active dog, and do not have a lifestyle which allows them to take a dog for a walk several times a day. Owning a pet is a huge commitment, and it is really sad when someone who only sees the benefits of dog ownership is overwhelmed by the tremendous responsibility that comes with having a pet.

East Palo Alto urgently needs a basic veterinary clinic in town. East Palo Alto has thousands of dogs and cats, and every one of them receives treatment outside of EPA – there has not been a vet clinic here for years. A local vet could provide treatment for sick pets, spay & neuter, vaccinations, and other pet care.  The city could use some of the $550k spent on animal control to help a local vet open an office in EPA. This would be a great business opportunity for a local vet (how many cities of 30,000 residents do not have a vet?) and provide a needed service to residents.

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