Three women charged with offenses related to the deaths of seven puppies in a hot van last summer have been accepted into a diversion program and will not face trial, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Brian Brian Buckelew.
Pets In Need Employees Patricia Santana Valencia, Shelter Operations Manager; Margaret Evans, former behavior manager; and Ingrid Hartmann, former human resources manager, transported more than 20 dogs and seven 12-week-old puppies in a transport vehicle from a Central Valley animal shelter to the Palo Alto shelter in 90-degree temperatures on August 2 2021. They discovered that all seven puppies had died between the time they were last checked at a rest stop in Los Banos in Merced County and their arrival at the Palo Alto facility at 3281 E. Bayshore Road. The trio faced misdemeanor charges of failing to provide proper care and attention to an animal and inhumane transportation of an animal.
In a heartfelt and sympathetic statement, Buckelew said he would grant the diversion, which stands at six months when Valencia and Evans must have no new violations of the law and must complete 50 hours of community service. For Hartmann, who was the director of human resources and was brought in for an orientation tour, the judge granted six months with no further violations of the law, but no community service.
Buckelew said he “reviewed” the matter and thanked everyone involved for their professionalism. He reviewed the multiple letters of support from the three defendants, noting that he had received 17 letters on behalf of Evans detailing the highest degree of compassion, care and honor she had brought to the job, letters that Buckelew said he found them “moving”.
Valence, he noted, has also received several letters of support from vets and many professionals who have worked with her over the past 20 years. The letters described her “exemplary” work and pointed out that she had saved the lives of 8,152 cats and dogs over the years and had had no such prior negative events, Buckelew said.
Calling the duties of those who volunteer or seek professionally to protect the welfare of pets and animals “work of the highest calling”, the death of the seven puppies was “a tragedy that everyone wishes not to take place”.
Instead, he likened the incident to an accident where someone falls asleep at the wheel and causes an accident. It may have been “avoidable, but not negligent,” he said.
Given women’s long history in animal rescue, he said they would not have allowed dogs to be intentionally harmed.
“If there was even a clue” that what they were doing would result in the deaths of the puppies, he wouldn’t grant the diversion, he said.
The Diversion Act “recognizes that human beings are imperfect,” he said. “Sometimes an accident is an accident,” he said.
Buckelew was also swayed by reports that although the temperature in the van was undeniably high, the puppies may already have been sick as some reportedly vomited before transport. The video showed them happily playing in a pen in the backyard of a Chowchilla volunteer’s house before being transported by the volunteer to meet Pets In Need employees and their van.
The case has also been the subject of a lot of negative media attention, which he hopes “will not send shivers down the spine of this public service”.
In an Aug. 1 email to the judge, attorney Charles J. Smith said an article in the Palo Alto Daily Post in late July “again contained inaccurate information.” News reports claimed that the back of the van had no air conditioning while the women rode in the air-conditioned cabin up front, which he claims is untrue.
The Pets In Need Mercedes-Benz Transport Van was equipped with a factory-installed air conditioning system in good working order, which was a “single-zone AC” system. There were two optional air conditioning units available for the rear cargo area, but the carrier had not installed this option.
The carrier does not have a partition between the cabin and the loading area that would cut off airflow, but acknowledged “without a doubt, the single-zone system was loaded with all the dogs and the three females by one extremely hot day,” he wrote.
A standard not followed in manuals of good veterinary practice for animal transport was the requirement for a thermometer in the transport area of all vehicles, he said. Pets In Need has since remedied the issue, he said. The organization also followed the recommendation that animals receive water every four hours; the trip took less than two hours and the puppies were checked in Los Banos, he noted.
“Ms. Evans and Ms. Santanavalencia, the two experienced transport workers fully accept responsibility for this tragedy and guessed and ‘Monday morning quarterback’ the decisions they made that day. They have to live with the fact that they could have, and should have done better. The tragedy was preventable. But the tragedy was not intentional based on conduct that these two women knew or should have known to endanger the lives of the puppies. It cannot be ignored , and it must be emphasized, that they were to save these puppies so that they would not be euthanized in pet shelters in the valley, but rather to find loving homes as loving pets. to be the cause of the death of beautiful animals to which they have devoted their lives for many years,” he wrote.
Valencia, who was present at the hearing, wept after the judge’s decision. She declined any further comment outside the courtroom. The women will return to court on November 3 regarding the diversion program.