Need to find a home for that stray kitty? Concerned about your neighbor’s aggressive doggy? Looking to adopt a furry friend? Who you gonna call?
For local residents, the answer to that question is not so straightforward. That’s because in 2001, the City of Milpitas began contracting with the San Jose Animal Care Center (SJACC), which opened their new facility in south San Jose near the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in 2004 as part of San Jose’s newly formed Animal Services Division.
Under the terms of the contract, SJACC is responsible for all shelter services and field calls for the City of Milpitas. This is a common solution for cities that lack their own shelter facility. SJACC also provides services to Los Gatos, Saratoga, and Cupertino. As one of the largest facilities around, the 45,000-square-foot campus serves approximately 2/3 of the total population of Santa Clara County, which equates to 1.2 million residents.
What about the Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV), you might ask, located at 901 Ames Avenue in Milpitas? In fact, the City of Milpitas used to have a contract with HSSV (formerly the Santa Clara Humane Society) for the same services that are now being provided by SJACC. This contract, which became active in 1993, ended in 2001 due to a change in HSSV’s mission; they disbanded their field services in favor of higher-quality shelter services. This shift resulted in the opening of a new state-of-the-art shelter facility in 2009.
So while HSSV is technically located within Milpitas city limits, their services are limited to non-field-type activities, which include adoptions, training, vaccinations, microchipping, pet surrender, euthanasia, and the like. They also offer animal loss support groups and a pet pantry, available to all family residents of Santa Clara County experiencing financial instability.
RAINING CATS AND DOGS
To say that SJACC has faced challenges over the past few years would be an understatement. The center has been in the news spotlight recently as staffing turnovers have crippled their ability to provide much-needed services to the community. Says Deputy Director Jay Terrado, who has been with SJACC since 2001, “We’re doing what we can, but when you don’t have the staff, it’s challenging. We sometimes have to turn healthy animals away because we just don’t have the ability to house them right now.”
Staffing shortages have ravaged practically every department within SJACC. The Field Unit, which primarily responds to calls regarding aggressive, injured, sick, stray, or dead animals, has two vacancies in their 22-person roster, with others out due to medical reasons. Two full-time Veterinarian positions and 3 full-time Animal Health Technician positions also remain vacant.
Finding qualified applicants to fill these holes has been priority number one, but hiring takes time. Says Terrado, “There has been a lot of focus on recruiting people, but you can’t force people to apply. And even when we do hire someone new, it usually takes about 6 months to train them.”
The medical team at SJACC has been especially impacted. Shelter veterinarians are a rare breed and can be hard to find. Terrado bemoans the fact that often qualified applicants will choose a private practice over a city position because the pay is so much greater. In an effort to entice new candidates in an increasingly competitive market, the City of San Jose has raised the salary range for veterinarians by nearly 50% this year, changing their base salary from roughly $100,000 to $150,000, with a $20,000 hiring bonus.
With only one school in the state offering a degree in the veterinary specialty of shelter medicine (UC Davis) and only about 30 nationwide, the number of graduates is limited. Add to that the incredible surge in adoptions during the pandemic, and what you’re left with is too many pets and not enough vets.
Says Sandy Mallalieu, Senior Director of Marketing at HSSV, “There’s definitely a shortage in the fields of private veterinary care and shelter medicine. There’s just such a high demand at the moment. We’re trying to grow the ranks by encouraging young people interested in animals to spend time at our facility. We currently have two UC Davis students who volunteer here. By investing in their future, we’re hoping we can solve this crisis.”
Terrado also points out the fact that working at a shelter can be a highly emotional experience which can often lead to employee burnout. “It’s hard on staff. It’s a very stressful environment. People work here because they care, and when you see some of these animals being returned to us, it’s heartbreaking. You have to have blinders on.”
When the pandemic first hit in 2020, adoptions soared. Terrado recounts how the shelter was down to 28 animals, a historic low. But over the past year, as more and more people have returned to work, animals have been returned to shelters. Terrado chalks this up to lifestyle changes. In June, the number of animals at SJACC was over 650. At the end of August they were at 430. Their ideal capacity is 300.
Another factor contributing to shelters currently bursting at the seams with animals is “kitten season,” when cats throughout the land go wild from April to September. SJACC normally operates a trap/neuter/release program to stem the tide of baby furballs, but that has been put on hold due to their staffing shortages. The result: an explosion of feline critters that has inundated shelters throughout the county, like an endless wave of tribbles.
RUNNING WITH THE PACK
To be sure, the worst is over. Nearly 50 new staff members, including several key management positions, have been hired at SJACC over the past six months as part of an ongoing campaign by the City of San Jose to bolster their animal services. This puts their current staff total at roughly 120. Terrado admits there are many areas where there is room for improvement, but in the meantime they are committed to serving the community as best they can.
Partnerships with HSSV and other rescue operations have certainly helped lighten the load, literally. HSSV has taken in animals when SJACC was just too overwhelmed, as well as assisting with medical procedures. In 2021, SJACC sent over 5,000 animals to other rescue operations, and transferred over 4,500 animals to other organizations. Total intake was about 15,500 animals. Says Mallalieu, “We’re both part of the WeCARE Alliance, a group of local shelters that support each other however we can. The goal is to save more animal lives together.” Other members of the WeCARE Alliance include the City of Palo Alto Animal Services, the County of Santa Clara Animal Shelter, the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, and Town Cats.
EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY
So what does all of this mean for the residents of Milpitas? Good question. And one which Mayor Tran and City Council looked to answer not that long ago when they entertained the possibility of having the City of Milpitas provide animal services themselves. After all, the annual contract with SJACC doesn’t come cheap. According to Bill Tott, Building Official for Milpitas’ Building Safety and Housing Department, “The contract comes to $520,000 per year. That’s a lot of money for animal control, but what they do is much more than that. I can’t imagine trying to duplicate what they have in San Jose.”
Indeed, the scope of services that SJACC provides is breathtaking. Their Field Services division responded to over 20,000 calls for service in Fiscal year 2021-2022. Of those calls, approximately 2,000 were for Milpitas. Field Services responds to the following types of calls: aggressive animals; injured, sick, and stray domestic animals; dead animal pickup; noise complaints; vicious animal regulation; pet shop inspections; injured or sick wildlife; and animal crimes investigations.
Currently, when Milpitas residents call the City regarding an animal issue, they are usually referred to SJACC. Says Tott, “When we get a call, we refer them to SJACC. In the case of a code violation, like a dangerous dog that has bitten someone, or a noise complaint, SJACC will investigate and then send us a report. Code Enforcement will then issue a fine or citation based on the report.”
Field Service calls are grouped into three categories: Priority 1 (emergencies), Priority 2 (urgent calls), and Priority 3 (non-urgent). According to Terrado, the majority of field service calls in Milpitas are non-emergency calls. Under their contract, response times for SJACC have been set as one hour or less for Priority 1, six hours or less for Priority 2, and twelve hours or less for Priority 3. As an example, there were 62 calls for service in January 2022 and 11 violations. Only two of the response times were not met.
SJACC Shelter Operations include adoptions, licensing, animal enrichment, animal feeding, owner surrender, rabies testing, microchipping, cage/kennel cleaning, and animal euthanasia. Medical staff conduct advanced procedures such as X-rays, blood analysis, dental procedures/extractions, major surgery, orthopedic procedures, and forensic analysis for criminal investigations. Normally they provide free or low-cost spay/neuter surgeries, but this has been put on hold due to staffing shortages (this applies to HSSV as well).
Tott acknowledges the confusion residents have sometimes when they visit HSSV expecting to find their lost dog: “I can understand the frustration if I were a Milpitian and I had my dog impounded and I go to HSSV and they tell me, ‘No, no, it’s not here, it’s in San Jose.’ I mean, here you are in our city and I can’t get service from you?!”
Happily, to help you out, we’ve compiled our own handy dandy list of services provided by HSSV and SJACC. So the next time you’re wondering who to call, check it out. Both HSSV and SJACC are also encouraging the public to consider adopting to help empty the shelters. Or why not become a foster family? Mallalieu says it’s a great way for kids to practice having a pet of their own, and all medical, training, and food expenses are paid for.
For additional information, please contact:
901 Ames Avenue, Milpitas
2750 Monterey Road, San Jose