Orange County grand jurors released another damning report Wednesday on county animal services, declaring that poor leadership has contributed to problems like rat infestations at the county shelter and dead animals being left near homes for days after being reported to animal control.

The situation is so bad, the panel wrote, that the county should consider replacing the leadership of the county’s community resources department, which oversees animal services.  The report doesn’t mention them by name, but the department’s director is Steve Franks.

“This alleged void in leadership has resulted in either the inability of management to define the problems at hand or, if defined, an unwillingness to correct them,” the report found.

“It has been alleged by many that the lack in leadership has led to a few mid-management personnel assuming control of the Animal Shelter daily operations with little or no oversight from upper management.”

(Click here to read the grand jury report.)

Reached by phone, Franks declined to comment, deferring to county spokeswoman Jean Pasco.  She later released a statement saying the report is “based in part on unsubstantiated allegations.”

“It is our belief that the report in its totality does not accurately reflect the current OC Animal Care program or the commitment of all County staff and our volunteers to the humane treatment of animals,” said county CEO Frank Kim in a statement.

The county has reduced dog euthanasia rates by more than half, and has dedicated funding to fill nine vacant animal services jobs and another $150,000 “for shelter repairs, including replacement of the cat isolation trailer,” the statement added.

The shelter’s director also said that she will keep working to improve conditions, without getting into specifics.

“I have and will continue to promote conditions at OC Animal Care that benefit the animals in our care, acknowledge the work of our dedicated staff and serve the community,” said Dr. Jennifer Hawkins, director of OC Animal Care.

The health risks include a shortage of animal control officers to pick up dead animals, rodent problems, and a lack of ventilation in trailers that store cats, the grand jury found.

This is the second scathing grand jury report on conditions at the 74 year-old animal shelter in less than a month.  A report issued on May 21 found that the health of animals and people alike are being put at risk while top county officials fail to take leadership on building a new facility.

That report also placed responsibility for the state of affairs at the feet of top county government officials.

Among the latest report’s findings:

  • A shortage of animal control officers has led to dead animals being exposed in public for several days at a time.  In one case, a dead deer was left in front of a home for five days before an officer could respond to the call.  “Although there is a need for 10-12 [animal control officers] in the field on a normal day, there have been times when there was only one [officers] available to respond to service calls throughout the entire County.”
  • A lack of training of animal control officers and “the absence of appropriate tools and equipment to deal with animals that need to be tranquilized or euthanized.”  As an example, two officers opted to slice an impaled deer’s throat, as opposed to allowing a veterinarian to administer a euthanasia drug.
  • Most shelter employees who were interviewed “complained of morale problems…Virtually every mid-level and lower-level employee identified the same individuals in management as those who were responsible for low morale.”
  • “Hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of water” might be wasted each day because the shelter doesn’t have nozzles at the end of the hoses used to wash down kennels, and water was left running “constantly even when the attendants were not present.”
  • County medical employees and veterinarians have warned against the county’s “feral free cat” program, calling it a potential public health hazard, ineffective, and a waste of tax dollars.  Yet the program has continued.
  • Kennels are hosed down while dogs are inside, leaving the dogs soaked, despite standard practice at other shelters of moving dogs into clean kennels before washing.  The grand jury “could find no justification to support the practice of soaking the dogs,” which has a higher chance of dogs catching a disease.
  • “Serious allegations of criminal behavior and other serious matters were brought to the [grand jury’s attention,” which were referred to the District Attorney’s office for investigation.

The report also made a series of recommendations to address the findings, including hiring qualified staff more quickly, improving the ventilation system for cat trailers and using the “move-one-down” method for cleaning kennels.

It’s unclear whether the county will implement the recommendations, which are not required by law.

Grand jurors also noted that similar complaints about the shelter – particularly regarding low employee morale, unfair hiring and promotions and mistreatment of animals – have been discussed in grand jury reports for at least 15 years.

You can contact Nick Gerda at, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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