Need to find a home for that stray cat? Worried about your neighbor’s aggressive dog? Are you looking to adopt a four-legged friend? Who are you gonna call?
For local residents, the answer to this question is not so simple. That’s because in 2001, the town of Milpitas began contracting with the San Jose Animal Care Center (SJACC), which opened its new facility in south San Jose near the county fairgrounds of Santa Clara in 2004 as part of San Jose’s new Animal Services Division.
Under the terms of the contract, SJACC is responsible for all hosting services and field calls for the town of Milpitas. This is a common solution for cities that do not have their own hosting center. SJACC also provides service in Los Gatos, Saratoga and Cupertino. As one of the largest facilities around, the 45,000 square foot campus serves approximately 2/3 of Santa Clara County’s total population, 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 had a contract with HSSV (formerly the Santa Clara Humane Society) for the same services that are now provided by SJACC. This contract, which entered into force in 1993, ended in 2001 due to a change in mission of HSSV; they have disbanded their field services in favor of higher quality accommodation services. This change resulted in the opening of a new state-of-the-art accommodation center in 2009.
So while HSSV is technically located within the city limits of Milpitas, its services are limited to non-field related activities including adoptions, training, vaccinations, microchipping, handing over of pets, euthanasia, etc. 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 the SJACC has faced challenges over the past few years would be an understatement. The center has recently made headlines as staff turnover has crippled its ability to provide much-needed services to the community. According to Deputy Director Jay Terrado, who has worked for SJACC since 2001, “We do what we can, but when you don’t have the staff, it’s difficult. We sometimes have to turn away healthy animals because we simply don’t have the capacity to house them at the moment.
Staff shortages have plagued virtually every department of SJACC. The management unit, which primarily responds to calls about aggressive, injured, sick, stray or dead animals, has two vacancies on its roster of 22, with others absent for medical reasons. Two full-time veterinarian positions and 3 full-time animal health technician positions also remain vacant.
Finding qualified candidates to fill these gaps has been the number one priority, but hiring takes time. Terrado says, “We’ve focused a lot on recruiting people, but we can’t force people to apply. And even when we hire someone new, it usually takes about 6 months to train them.
The SJACC medical team was particularly affected. Shelter vets are a rare breed and can be hard to find. Terrado laments the fact that often qualified candidates choose a private practice rather than a position in town because the salary is much higher. To attract new candidates in an increasingly competitive market, the City of San Jose increased the pay scale for veterinarians by nearly 50% this year, increasing their base salary from approximately $100,000 to $150,000, with a signing bonus of $20,000.
With only one school in the state offering a degree in the veterinary specialty of shelter medicine (UC Davis) and only about 30 nationally, the number of graduates is limited. Add to that the incredible increase in adoptions during the pandemic, and you’re left with too many pets and not enough vets.
According to Sandy Mallalieu, Senior Director of Marketing at HSSV, “There is definitely a shortage in the areas of private veterinary care and residential medicine. There is so much demand right now. We try to swell the ranks by encouraging young people interested in animals to spend time in our establishment. We currently have two UC Davis students volunteering here. By investing in their future, we hope we can resolve this crisis.
Terrado also points out that working in a shelter can be a very emotional experience that can often lead to employee burnout. “It’s hard on the staff. It’s a very stressful environment. People work here because they care, and seeing some of these animals being returned to us is heartbreaking. You must have blinders.
When the pandemic first hit in 2020, adoptions soared. Terrado recounts how the shelter was reduced to 28 animals, a historic low. But over the past year, as more people have returned to work, animals have been sent back to shelters. Terrado attributes this to lifestyle changes. In June, the number of animals at SJACC was over 650. By the end of August, they were at 430. Their ideal capacity is 300.
Another contributing factor to the shelters that are currently overflowing with animals is “kitten season,” when cats across the country go wild from April through September. SJACC normally runs a trap/neuter/release program to stem the tide of baby hairballs, but this has been put on hold due to their staff shortages. The result: an explosion of feline creatures that flooded shelters across the county, like an endless wave of triples.
RUN WITH THE PACK
Of course, the worst is over. Nearly 50 new staff members, including several key leadership positions, have been hired at SJACC in the past six months as part of an ongoing campaign by the City of San Jose to strengthen their animal services. This brings their current workforce to around 120 people. Terrado admits that there are many areas where improvement is possible, but in the meantime they are committed to serving the community as best they can.
Partnerships with HSSV and other rescue operations have certainly lightened the load quite literally. HSSV took in animals when SJACC was just too overwhelmed, in addition to helping with medical procedures. In 2021, SJACC sent over 5,000 animals to other rescue operations and transferred over 4,500 animals to other organizations. The total ingestion was approximately 15,500 animals. According to Mallalieu, “We are 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, Santa Clara County Animal Shelter, Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, and Town Cats.
EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY
So what does all this mean for the people of Milpitas? Good question. And a question Mayor Tran and the City Council sought to answer not too long ago when they considered the possibility of the City of Milpitas providing animal services itself. After all, the annual contract with SJACC is not cheap. According to Bill Tott, building manager for Milpitas Building and Housing Safety, “The contract is $520,000 per year. That’s a lot of money for animal control, but what they do is so much more than that. I can’t imagine trying to replicate what they have in San Jose.
Indeed, the scope of services offered by SJACC is breathtaking. Their field services division responded to over 20,000 calls for service in fiscal year 2021-22. Of those calls, about 2,000 were about Milpitas. Field services respond to the following types of calls: aggressive animals; injured, sick and stray pets; collection of dead animals; noise complaints; vicious animal regulation; pet store inspections; injured or sick wild animals; and animal crime investigations.
Currently, when residents of Milpitas call the City about an animal problem, they are usually referred to SJACC. Tott says, “When we get a call, we forward them to SJACC. In the event of a code violation, such as a dangerous dog biting someone, or a noise complaint, SJACC will investigate and send us a report. The code enforcement will then issue a fine or citation based on the report.
Service calls are grouped into three categories: Priority 1 (emergency), Priority 2 (urgent) and Priority 3 (non-emergency). According to Terrado, the majority of field service calls in Milpitas are non-emergency calls. Under their contract, response times for SJACC were set at one hour or less for Priority 1, six hours or less for Priority 2, and twelve hours or less for Priority 3. For example, there were 62 calls for service in January 2022. and 11 violations. Only two of the response deadlines were missed.
SJACC shelter operations include adoptions, licensing, animal enrichment, animal feeding, owner surrender, rabies testing, microchipping, cage/kennel cleaning and animal euthanasia . Medical personnel perform advanced procedures such as X-rays, blood tests, dental procedures/extractions, major surgeries, orthopedic procedures, and forensic analysis for criminal investigations. Normally they offer free or low cost sterilization surgeries, but this has been suspended due to a lack of staff (this also applies to HSSV).
Tott acknowledges the confusion residents sometimes have when visiting HSSV expecting to find their lost dog: “I can understand the frustration if I was a Milpitan and my dog was impounded and I go to the HSSV and they’re like, ‘No, no, it’s not here, it’s in San Jose. I mean, you’re here in our city and I can’t get service from you?! “
Fortunately, to help you, we have compiled our own handy list of services provided by HSSV and SJACC. So the next time you’re wondering who to call, check it out. HSSV and SJACC are also encouraging the public to consider adopting to help empty shelters. Or why not become a host family? Mallalieu says it’s a great way for kids to practice having their own pet, and all medical, training and food expenses are paid for.
For more information, please contact:
Silicon Valley Humane Society
901 Ames Ave, Milpitas
San Jose Animal Care Center
2750 Monterey Road, San Jose
Milpitas Neighborhood Services