With a 95 percent live release rate, the center ranks on the top of public animals facilities in California

Photos courtesy San Martin Animal Services Center From left: Lisa Jenkins, manager, Jessica Ibanez, animal control officer, and Stephanie Riley, acting field operations manager, with Bella Donna.

By Marty Cheek

Furred and feathered friends of South Valley in need of a good home or medical attention now have a new facility where they can get help.

Dignitaries cut a red ribbon of the new 37,000-square-foot San Martin Animal Services Center Feb. 19, opening the doors to stray dogs and cats, abandoned livestock and other creatures in need of a chance at a better life.

Set on eight acres south of the village of San Martin on Monterey Road, the $35-million facility replaces the 1930s-era home and modular buildings turned in 1978 into a rescue center for lost, homeless, or hurt animals from livestock to litters of orphaned kittens. Set a mile to the east near the San Martin Airport, the old facility served up to 4,000 animals annually. The new facility is open seven days a week and can care for up to 8,000 animals a year.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman and San Martin Animal Services Center staff cut the celebratory ribbon to officially open the new facility. Photo courtesy San Martin Animal Services Center

“For so many years, we worked in a building that belied the great work that we do,” said Lisa Jenkins, the center’s manager. “You would never look at the outdated, converted old house that we were in beside the highway (U.S. 101) and know that despite taking every orphan, broken, sick, and abandoned animal that came to us, that we still maintained one of the greatest save rates in the entire nation.”

With a 95 percent live release rate, the center ranks on the top of public animals facilities in California. It is the only shelter in the Pacific Coast region to win the prestigious Rachael Ray No-Kill Excellence Grant award in 2020.

The new center is designed with the idea of being the hub of the community and inviting people in to see the animals and the work that staff and volunteers do. The center features a large, flexible community meeting space with a capacity of up to 300 guests. They can walk into the lobby and view the canine animals in an open area park shaded by a live oak tree. This will provide a place for educating children to better appreciate animals and pet care classes for families.

“This means there will be many more opportunities for the public to interface with us,” Jenkins said. “There are a lot of people who said they wouldn’t come into an animal shelter, but if you’re at a meeting or a community event, guess what? You’re already here . . . The park is surrounded by glass, so people can stop and watch the dogs play and hopefully fall in love and take a pet home.”

The facility has three dog dorms set up in a circular fashion to create a flow for the public to walk through and see the hounds. The dogs are allowed the freedom to hide from the public view if they choose.

Creating a more natural and relaxed experience for cats, the center provides three rooms and an outside “catio” patio for feline pets to safely sun themselves. A spacious 2,500-square-foot barn holds 10 stalls to provide a comfortable shelter for livestock such as horses, goats, chickens and pigs to rehabilitate. Nearby is a large, fenced-in pasture area to house farm animals that are less socialized. The center is the only one in the region designed to handle livestock.

The nonprofit group All Animal Rescue Friends has worked with staff at the original shelter for years  to make sure pets and farm animals are well taken care of, said Jennifer Lepow, an AARF co-founder.

“AARF is a very active rescue group here in South County and we work very closely with everyone in County Animal Services on many levels,” she said. “We know the challenges that they have all faced in operating in the old and small facility with limited equipment and limited space. And even though they accomplished great things there, think of what having this new state-of-the-art animal care facility will do for the animals in our entire community.”

The new facility is designed to minimize stress on the dogs and cats, making them happier and healthy and thus more adoptable, she said.

The facility’s state-of-the-art medical center provides swift life-saving care with a fully-equipped surgical center. It can also do more feral cat spraying and neutering, keeping the kitten population down, she said.

The idea for a new shelter was conceived about a decade ago when a South Valley resident died and the county staff were told by her attorney she wanted to give her estate to build a new animal services center. That didn’t happen, but it resulted in a germ of an idea. The staff gave tours of the outdated facility to county dignitaries, including Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who represents South Valley. Everyone agreed that the building needed to be replaced with a more modern facility.

The architecture firm Dreyfuss + Blackford started planning the project a decade ago and it took 18 months to construct. The designers came up with an architectural concept that has a sawtooth roof that echoes the Santa Cruz Mountains in the west and brings in energy efficiency concepts such as natural lighting and a heating and air-condition system that reduces waste. It is certified as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Standard building.

“You know, looking around at this beautiful facility, it’s clear to me this campus is designed to welcome, to engage, and to inspire the public so every member of the community has a chance and is motivated to participate in advancing animal welfare,” said Miguel Marquez, chief operating officer with Santa Clara County. “That’s community service at its best.”

Features at the new facility include:

  • Emergency and preventative animal health care for pet owners who can’t afford it so that they aren’t faced with having to give up their cherished pets.

  • Adoption policies that don’t over rely on home ownership and fenced yard, thus depriving good people from adopting a pet.

  • Transportation services to bring found pets home.

  • Housing of animals for owners who are hospitalized or otherwise unavailable to care for their pets.

  • Temporary animal foster care services that allow families to be later reunited with their pets

Supervisor Wasserman has adopted rescue animals for years and encourages others looking for animal companionship to do the same. As he welcomed an audience on Facebook Live to the grand opening, he called the new facility “a world-class animal services center” that provides animals with the best care with the most modern equipment.

“I’ve been waiting 10 years to say that. It was 10 years ago this month that I got my first tour of our prior animal service center,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, Santa Clara County can do better’ . . . This is one of the proudest days of my life.”

Marty Cheek