Orange County Animal Care Director Ryan Drabek is departing to accept a job as deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Services, amid criticism of the small agency from a former employee and rescue group for alleged mismanagement and retaliation.

Two lawsuits have been brought against OC Animal Care in the past year, one in July by a rescue group alleging a pattern of abuse and neglect at the county shelter, and a second filed late October by a former employee for whistleblower retaliation after he voiced safety concerns.

Drabek said he is moving on after more than 13 years at Animal Care, where he began as an animal control officer and was appointed interim director in 2009 and the full-time director in 2010.

“It’s a good opportunity to keep working the industry that I really love and have a lot of passion for,” Drabek said of his departure.

Chief veterinarian Jennifer Hawkins will serve as the interim director until a permanent replacement is found.

In his new role in Los Angeles County, Drabek will help oversee an agency that serves 55 cities and operates 3 shelters. He declined to comment on the lawsuits, citing a county policy regarding such matters.

In July, a Seal Beach-based nonprofit rescue group filed a $2.5 million suit alleging that the county shelter failed to provide injured animals with proper veterinary attention, and its staff “routinely kill healthy and adoptable animals without first holding the animals for the minimum period of time mandated by law,” according to the suit filed by Sharon Logan.

The suit also alleges employees took “retaliatory actions” against Logan, including “indefinitely suspending her rights as a rescuer and refusing to release animals to her” and her organization, which also has a facility to house animals.

Months later, former animal control officer Dan Maniaci, who worked for the agency from Dec. 2006 until he was terminated in Oct. 2014, also filed a complaint alleging the county fired him after he filed a state complaint over a lack of safety equipment and training for animal control officers.

According to his court complaint, after Maniaci voiced his safety concerns he began experiencing “unwarranted disciplinary action and substandard performance reviews.”

Maniaci also filed a complaint with a state division of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, in May 2012. The agency was fined $6,750 for a serious safety violation as a result of that complaint, according to records posted on the Cal/OSHA website.

After Cal/OSHA filed a retaliation complaint on behalf of Maniaci, he was suspended based on fabricated workplace violations and continued to experience retaliatory behavior, resulting in his termination in Oct., the suit claims.

Maniaci said he has been contacted by Grand Jury investigators, the third such probe addressing management issues at the agency in the last 15 years.

In 1999-2000, a Grand Jury investigation concluded the agency lacked permanent management, direction and leadership; inadequate staffing, low morale and lack of compliance with procedures, leading to a lower level of care for animals.

In a 2003-2004 report, the Grand Jury found deficiencies in animal care, conflicts of interest among managers and a lack of compliance with county purchasing and contract policies.

The agency has also faced budget problems.

In June, the Board of Supervisors voted to increase shelter fees to cover a $625,000 shortfall caused by rising operating costs. In all, the new fee structure is expected to generate more than $10 million in annual revenues for countywide animal control efforts.

The remainder of the agency’s $17 million budget will be largely funded through city and county contributions.

Supervisors also requested a performance audit of the agency.

Drabek acknowledges that tight budgets year after year have indeed created challenges, but insists the shelter still operates smoothly.

“Resources are always something we are challenged with. Our staffing levels have been low and it has created a challenge with getting things done expediently,” Drabek said. 

He responded to broader complaints about the shelter’s management.

“There are always going to be challenges working at an animal care agency. It’s a passionate and emotional industry. You’re working with living beings and we’re charged with getting them adopted and protecting them,” Drabek said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that Mr. Drabek will be deputy director of Los Angeles Animal Services, an agency serving the city of Los Angeles. Mr. Drabek will be moving on to become the deputy director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services. We regret the error.

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