County Hires Consultant to Help Improve Beleaguered Animal Shelter

Following years of criticism from grand juries and protests by animal advocates, Orange County officials have hired an animal shelter consultant to advise them on how to improve the aging county shelter.

The county Board of Supervisors voted last week to pay JVR Shelter Strategies, a firm run by veterinarian Dr. Jyothi Robertson, $150,000 to review current shelter programs and make recommendations on best practices. The recommendations would be for both the current 75 year-old shelter in Orange and a new county shelter in Tustin that’s expected to open up by the end of next year.

“Our hope is to implement recommendations provided by the vendor to become the model animal shelter the [Board of Supervisors] seeks and the community expects,” Dr. Jennifer Hawkins, director of OC Animal Care, said in a statement.

“I think we all…recognize the fact that we need to kind of tweak some things in our policy. And bringing Dr. Robertson on board – I think it’s going to be just a great benefit to OC Animal Care,” said supervisors’ Chairman Lisa Bartlett just before a unanimous vote for the contract.

“It will continue to be a very collaborative process with the county, with the stakeholders involved. And we’ll come up with a very good result in the end, with I think a very solid animal care policy.”

The move comes after withering criticism from multiple grand juries about the shelter, the latest being two scathing back-to-back reports in 2015.

Last year’s grand jury found that the World War II-era shelter is in a state of “utter disrepair,” with the health of animals and people alike put at risk.

Grand jurors also declared that poor management has contributed to problems like rat infestations at the county shelter and dead animals – including a deer – being left near homes for days after being reported to animal control.

The situation is so bad, jurors wrote, that the county should consider replacing the leadership of the animal services agency and the county’s community resources department, which oversees it.

The shelter has also drawn the ire of animal rescue and adoption advocates, who say Orange County falls far behind shelters elsewhere in engaging the community to help care for shelter animals, which they say leads to unnecessary killings of dogs and cats who are deemed un-adoptable.

More than 100 people protested outside the county shelter over the weekend, according to activists.

Protesters outside the Orange County animal shelter on Saturday

Photo courtesy Saskia Boisot

Protesters outside the Orange County animal shelter on Saturday.

Some advocates said the consultants’ hiring is sign of progress, while others said they remain disappointed that more immediate steps haven’t been taken to bring in more volunteers and better promote adoptable animals.

“I’m just glad that they are at least moving towards what appears to be an effort to change their business as usual,” said Howard Finkelstein, an attorney who sued the county on behalf of animal rescuer Sharon Logan and got officials to agree to provide monthly datasets on every animal that’s killed. “To me it’s favorable news.”

He said he plans to reach out to Robertson in an effort to coordinate the court-supervised euthanasia monitoring system from his case and ensuring compliance with the court order.

Meanwhile, an animal rescue advocate, Dr. Saskia Boisot, said she and others are disappointed that the county turned down offers of free consulting visits from leading animal shelter directors – from San Diego and Austin, Texas – and instead awarded this contract without a bidding process.

“We provided [the county] with a connection to people who are willing to help from the outside who come from two of the best sheltering systems in the country. And they agreed to do this for free. And [county officials] went ahead and went with this company for $150,000,” she said.

“We’re just very disappointed at the path that they’ve taken,” Boisot added.

Asked about this, a county spokeswoman said none of the other potential consultants could offer the full review of services the county was seeking, ranging from veterinary practices and disease prevention to shelter capacity and staffing.

“JVR Shelter Strategies is a one stop shop, which means that we won’t have to solicit for respondents to different contracts,” said OC Animal Care spokeswoman Katie Ingram, adding that Robertson’s firm, which has done work for the Orange County department before, was recommended by UC Davis’ shelter medicine program.

Ingram went on to say that county officials plan “to visit the San Diego Humane Society and San Diego Animal Control in the coming week to learn about their creative partnerships and programs.”

“Additionally, we have spoken to the Deputy Director at Austin Animal Control on several occasions to discuss their programs,” she continued. “We continue to seek creative ideas and solutions from these and other sheltering agencies.”

The county also says the public can offer feedback and suggestions to the consultant through an email address – – that “will remain confidential” among the consulting team.

And Finkelstein, the attorney, says the public can offer feedback and comments for advocates through a website he set up,

Boisot emphasized the importance of bringing in the public – through shelter volunteers, foster programs, media appearances, and private donations – to help reduce the county’s euthanasia rates.

“This is never going to change until they engage the community,” she said, adding that San Diego’s public shelter system brings in over $13 million in donations per year.

That community input is critical, county Supervisor Todd Spitzer emphasized as the consultant work was about to be approved last week. He pressed staff on the need for public outreach.

“I think we should ask people who have adopted animals, ‘What has been your experience, what are we doing’ – I think it would be great to get that feedback,” Spitzer said, along with input from advocates and city managers of cities that contract with the county for shelter services.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at

  • LFOldTimer

    Oh good. Another consultant who tells the county rulers what they want to hear for $150,000. There’s been volumes written on OCAC and their shelter. Everybody knows what the problem is: Incompetent management. And we all know that incompetent managers in government can’t get fired. So it really wouldn’t matter if the county built an animal shelter that looked like the Montage Resort in Laguna. If you’re stuck with a bunch of clowns in charge you’ve still got yourself a clown show. You don’t need a $150,000 consultant to figure that out.

    • UnitedWeStand

      I just read another Voice of OC article stating Anaheim is spending $8 mil on a private tennis court. Anaheim is one of the contract cities which contract with the county for animal services. Just like too many of these contract cities which just throw a check at the county to pay for “services” and responsible for killing thousands of animals and have done nothing to prevent it. Taxpayers and innocent animals “pay the price.”

      • LFOldTimer

        Two primary reasons why city government sell their resident out to substandard services:
        1. It’s less work for city employees so they can spend more time on the golf course and enjoy free Saturdays and Sundays even with their $200,000 plus compensations.
        2. The city council members gain political favors from those who work for county government by promoting county programs that don’t serve the best interests of their city residents.

  • OCservant_Leader

    The consultant’s scope of work is the strategy any experienced Public Sector Manager would DO. No waiting. Comparing and contrasting other successful models is called Management. No disrespect to the consultant chosen outside of the public procurement process, but they don’t teach public sector management in veterinary school. Sorry.

    I agree that none of the BOS’s EAs or family members could develop a plan but why not hire qualified professionals? What are the managers currently being paid to DO this – doing?

    Does the public get a refund from their salaries? Or are they busy planning fundraising statue parties on the publics dime?

    Running an animal shelter isn’t brain surgery. My god these Politicans couldn’t find their way to efficient management using both hands and a map!

  • Marissa Smythe

    $150,000 to do what other animal sheltering consulting firms do for $10,000-$20,000?!!!
    Two other jurisdictions in southern California had the exact same thing done for $15,000, so why did Orange County pay 10 times the going rate? 10X !!!
    Shame on Orange County Board of Supervisors for approving the funds. The board is clueless and had this gone out for RFP process, they would have had other firms bid – on the exact same service – for far, far less.
    Dr. Jyothi V. Robertson and Kate Hurley are lining their pockets with gold and laughing all the way to the bank. Dr. Robertson is an embarassment to her profession and the entire animals sheltering industry.

  • UnitedWeStand

    What is puzzling is that 18 cities contract with the county for animal services. Why ? The county shelter is over 74 years old and I read the archives of the OC Register and this has been a problem since the 90s.
    . Why aren’t their city councils doing something about this? It’s not rocket science to build a new animal shelter and bring on compassionate and skilled employees. Geesh! Are they afraid or just worried about cutting their ties with the county? I think the county should demolish the current county animal shelter and build a smaller one in its place which would be easier to manage and several small new ones in other parts of the county to serve those residents.

    • kburgoyne

      It would probably be more efficient for the cities to apply more political pressure on the county. It does seem like having a bunch of shelters all over the county might be inefficient, although I’ll admit to not having any idea how many animals we’re talking about.

      What you’re describing is the residents of the cities are the “customers” of their cities, and the cities are the “customers” of the county shelter (in addition to the county’s own unincorporated needs). Perhaps the residents are applying their pressure at not all the right pressure points. As the customers of the cities, perhaps the residents should also be applying pressure on their cities to demand, as the customers of the county, better service.

      Indeed this has amusing political potential. Politicians love sticking their noses into places that won’t result in THEIR actually having to do anything, and abhor sticking their noses into places where THEY might actually have to do something. The city politicians should love to put on a kicking and screaming “performance” for their constituents over the county animal shelter doing better because they’ll be able to put on a great performance and not actually have to do anything themselves. It’s a role perfectly suited to most politicians.

      • UnitedWeStand

        I believe we are talking about approximately 30,000 animals a year. Far too much for one shelter. Yet the city and county politicians continue to approve massive housing developments bringing in more people with pets. The most innocent and helpless of creation is at their mercy.

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    No kill!

  • No Kill ShelterCA

    Our two animal advocacy organizations – No Kill Shelter Alliance and Save More Kill Less OCAC Protest Group – have documented our serious concerns regarding the sole procurement contract awarded to JVR Shelter Strategies. This document has been sent to the OC Board of Supervisors and CEO, and all contracting cities Mayors and Council Members.


    To: Orange County Deputy Purchasing Agent – Cathy To
    Copy: Orange County Board of Supervisors and CEO
    From: No Kill Shelter Alliance, Save More Kill Less Protest Group

    Date: March 1, 2016

    Topic: Feb 24, 2016 Contract for services by JVR Shelter Strategies that was signed by Orange County management and supervisors: ASR Control #: 15-001566, Agreement CT-012-016010713, Sole Source BidSync Number: 012-C007965-LM

    We respectively request that your office review the Feb 24, 2016 Contract for services by JVR Shelter Strategies (for Orange County Animal Services – OCAC) that was signed at the Orange County Supervisor Meeting on Feb 24, 2016. We became aware of this contract on Feb 25, 2016.

    We believe this contract violates the Orange County Contract Policy Manual as the contract was awarded as sole source procurement. Additionally, we have deep concerns that this contract will not achieve the desired goal – to make Orange County Animal Care (OCAC) a more humane place for homeless pets. The organization awarded the contract does not have the depth and breadth of experience to properly fully assess the current OCAC situation.

    Our objections to this contract are fourfold:

    — Improper definition of the Issues (actually, there is no definition of the issues since an RFP was not prepared)

    — Sole procurement contract inappropriately awarded (for up to $150K)

    — Disregard that two previous assessments by this same vendor were ineffective

    — No community involvement in contract definition or decision



    • David Zenger

      Don’t feel singled out. The County’s sole source policy is violated all the time.

  • Bob and Barb

    Why do they need a consultant? They have several Grand Jury reports which have many excellent recommendations, almost none of which have they ever implemented. The entire management team needs to be replaced.

  • kburgoyne

    No offense to the consultant, but one might have thought whoever the county hired to be in charge of the animal shelter should have known most of what the consultant knows. I’d think knowing that stuff would be some of the major criteria for the job. Is this a case of the county not paying competitive compensation for the job, or failure of the county to oversee?

    • David Zenger

      “but one might have thought whoever the county hired to be in charge of
      the animal shelter should have known most of what the consultant knows”

      One would have thought so.

    • Annie Nanimoss

      Per Transparent California, Dr. Hawkins’ total pay, including benefits is $193,670.68, so I think not. She is employed under her maiden name Jennifer L. Weisgerber, but publicly she goes by Dr. Hawkins for any of you who would like to check it out. She was specifically hired at that extraordinarily high rate of pay by Steve Franks because of her “expertise” and “extensive Knowledge” of Shelter Medicine. Seems like Steve Franks screwed up again. Maybe that’s why Steve has brought back his good old buddy and Interim Assistant Director of OC Animal Care, Bill Castro, out of retirement AGAIN when they already have a newly hired Assistant Director Katie Ingram. It appears neither Katie or “The Hawk” knows what they’re doing so let’s pay three to do the job.

      • LFOldTimer

        Do you realize what a veterinarian has to go through academically to put a DVM after his or her name? Any idea of the amount of student debt the average veterinarian has after completing their schooling? Schools of Veterinary Medicine are more competitive than most human medical schools. You’ve got to be flawless academically to get accepted. So IMO $193,000 for Hawkins who’s in charge of a large urban animal control operation is a bargain. Good Lord. The average high-school educated beat cop in OC makes way more than her. I have a real problem with the competence of OCAC management. If we have to pay more to get a more competent Director then by all means, do it! But the executive managers at OCAC like Franks have to go. That’s where your problem lies. They’re paid way too much for the problems that they cause.

        • kburgoyne

          Well actually, to be fair, I “generally” accept the argument about a DVM’s training and what they should get paid in exchange, etc. HOWEVER, it would appear the need to bring in a consultant rather admits the CURRENT DVM can’t do the job.

          I’m not out to attack the current DVM. I don’t know that much about the person. All I know is, if they’re going to bring in an outside consultant because the consultant has the needed expertise one would expect the person in charge to have, then they’re admitting the person in charge isn’t the right person. And more to the point, why didn’t they come to that conclusion a very long time ago?

          The existing DVM might be an absolutely incredible person working with and taking care of animals, and perhaps just not cut out to do the bigger job of putting up with government politics and bureaucracy to accomplish the necessary things at the shelter.

          • LFOldTimer

            Just because someone has a DVM medical license to treat animals doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she makes a good executive manager. That takes a whole other skill set. God almighty – they’re only paying Hawkins $193,000 for her medical license AND to run a large animal control operation. Go research salaries for medical directors of large medical groups. At least $300,000 to $400,000. Many times much more. You get what you pay for. It’s so stupid that we pay high-school educated patrol cops more than Dr. Hawkins! ha. The absurdity is over the top. I’m not saying to pay Hawkins more. She’s probably not cut out for the job. But bump up the compensation by $100k-$150 and recruit more applications. You’d be amazed at what they’d find!

          • Annie Nanimoss

            Again. Apples and oranges.

          • LFOldTimer

            Convenient response. Not “apples and oranges”. Reality.

          • Annie Nanimoss

            Let’s agree to disagree and focus on the positive. We are both positive that Steve Franks needs to go!

        • Annie Nanimoss

          Having that almighty degree in hand does not guarantee that person is the right person for the job. Just look at the history books. Josef Mengele was a doctor too. The assumption that simply having “doctor” in front of your name (or a degree at the end of it) somehow elevates you to a standard above others more qualified for a position seems to be an ongoing mistake made by “executive management” (i.e.: Steve Franks). There is much more required of a person to successfully run a large urban animal control operation than whether you can pass a Veterinary medical exam. Like supervisory/managerial experience. Dr. Hawkins had none. Experience running a program or department. Dr. Hawkins had none. Just look into her past work history and you have to ask how she qualified over the other extremely qualified candidates who were interviewed for the position. Steve Franks once again showed his propensity for hiring with a focus on his harem and not what was in the best interest of the animals or the public.

          • LFOldTimer

            Maybe the reason OC can’t find a good OCAC Director is because they don’t pay an appropriate salary. A decent DVM can likely make at least $193,000 in private practice without all the headaches that would go along with being the Director of a large urban animal control operation. No idea why Hawkins with her DVM medical license would take that no-win job at that salary. You’d have to ask her. But your comparison of DVM’s with Josef Mengele was quite a stretch and IMO inappropriate. Most DVM’s are stand-up people. However, I do agree that Steve Franks is flakey and should be one of the first to be shown the door. The overall executive management of OCAC has been terrible. As I said before, unless that changes dont expect the agency to change. We’ll simply get more of the same packaged in a different box.

          • Annie Nanimoss

            Talk about a stretch… I didn’t compare DVMs to Mengele. Read it again. I used Mengele as an example of someone with the title of doctor who is not a fine example of ethics, compassion and professionalism.

            I’m curious where you are getting your numbers for Vet pay and why you are using private practice as a measurement for a Shelter Vet working in a County facility. Apples and oranges my friend. But just to be fair, the annual mean wage for Vets in California is $118,210. Compare that with the average pay of a County Animal Shelter Director (Dr. Hawkins’ job title) of $62,760 and you have a huge discrepancy in Dr. Hawkins receiving $193,670 right out of the gate with no prior managerial experience. Especially since she is being paid almost 200k and can’t seem to do the job. So much so that she has to hire outside consultants at 6 figures, in addition to her own mind you, to tell her how to run a Shelter. Isn’t that what she is being paid that exorbitant salary to do?

            I agree that the root of this reoccurring problem is with executive management. Steve Franks is the common denominator through all of the problems at OC Animal Care. Everyone keeps getting rotated out but him. The BOS needs to cut off the head of that snake and see what happens.

          • No Kill ShelterCA

            This is quite interesting. Can you point us to the data where you got the average pay for the veterinarians and county animal shelter directors? Thanks.

          • Annie Nanimoss

            The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Copy and paste the link below:
            Scroll down the page to the map entitled “Annual mean wage of veterinarians, by state, May 2014. Under the map you will see that California is in the top 5 highest paid states for this occupation. Even the highest paid state, Delaware, doesn’t rise to the level Dr. Hawkins is getting paid to not do her job.

          • Annie Nanimoss

            I’m confident that in this economy, the wages haven’t improved in the last 2 years.

          • LFOldTimer

            99% of statistics only tell about 25% of the story.
            Sorry. Use common sense. Your stats include part time vets and probably older semi-retired vets who do lots of charitable work. Full time experienced vets in private practice make the same or more than Hawkins.
            Who in their right mind is going to struggle through 10 years of grueling academia and come out of school with upwards of $350,000 in student debt for a job that pays about the same as a cop that only requires a high school degree? Think.
            My point is that if they want a licensed DVM who has the the managerial skills capable of running a large urban animal control operation – you gotta pay the piper. If they don’t need a licensed DVM then they could probably spend less.
            Have you noticed what the County pays in compensation to it’s department directors and managers? Go to the county website and see for yourself:
            HCA Director: $331,129; Deputy Probation Director: $285,953; Public Defender Exec Manager: $296,353; John Wayne Airport Admin Manager: $254,218; Director Public Works: $278,790.
            Go to the Sheriff/Coroner section. Patrol cops make more than Dr. Hawkins. ha.
            Again, read my comment. I am not saying to pay Hawkins more. I am saying raise the salary and hire an OCAC Director who is capable of managing an agency that impounds 30,000 or more animal a year. If they can pay a beat cop $250,000 they can certainly afford to pay the OCAC Director that amount.
            I hope I clarified my previous statements.

          • Annie Nanimoss

            Again. Apples and oranges. You really don’t understand the County structure, do you? The job duties and/or job skill requirements of the OC Animal Care and Control Director doesn’t even come close to those you are citing. Not that over payment of one person would give justification to the over payment of another…and the high price of education is an issue across the board affecting more than just veterinarians, I assure you.

            And what’s your particular issue with law enforcement officers? That’s not the first time you mentioned police officers in a negative and condescending light as though not having a degree somehow negates the fact that they put their life on the line to preserve the peace every day and deserve to be compensated for it. Again, you can’t compare apples to oranges.

          • LFOldTimer

            You’re in denial, Annie. When you decide to open up your mind to reality let me know. Then we can chat.

          • Annie Nanimoss

            Oh? What might I be in denial about exactly?

          • No Kill ShelterCA

            Fasten your seatbelts because turbulence is ahead.

            The presentation “Changing Dynamics Between Animal Shelters and the Veterinary Community” from the SAWA* Conference in Nov 2015 shows that the average earnings of vets in clinical practice goes down over time. It’s a low margin business being a vet, in part because vets, like doctors, aren’t particularly adept at running a business. See bottom slide on page 21. Also check out middle slide with title “Veterinarian Traits” on slide 24 – deficiencies include “not process oriented”, “limited leadership development opportunities”, “limited business skills”.


            *SAWA = Society for Animal Welfare Administrators

          • Annie Nanimoss

            Bingo! That’s why you don’t see a lot of vets as directors over Animal Care and Control departments. Dr Hawkins was a poor choice inacted out of fear over a grand jury report that called for change in leadership. They were referring to Steve Franks but he deflected by installing a new veterinarian as director hoping to quell the angry voices. Once again he missed the mark. Veterinarians do not make good directors as their skills are not administrative.

          • No Kill ShelterCA

            Some can make the transition and are considered the best of the best, e.g. Dr. Gary Weitzman, President and CEO of San Diego Humane Society & SPCA. But he has years of experience in animal sheltering and is an active member of SAWA and animal sheltering community.

            Here is Dr. Weitzman’s bio:

            Compare to Dr. Hawkins – I can’t find one actually – here’s the search I did

            BTW, Charity Navigator gives San Diego Humane Society and SPCA a 4 start rating – the highest possible.

          • Annie Nanimoss

            Very telling…

          • LFOldTimer

            Obviously you don’t care to respond to the legitimate points that I made in my previous comment and opt to go off on a completely different topic.
            Bottom Line: You get what you pay for. You’re not going to find a highly educated person with great management skills to take a nerve wracking job that he or she has little control over for $193,000 when other county managers are making $75,000 to $100,000 more. Life’s too short. Hopefuly this messsage will sink in. It’s my last.

          • No Kill ShelterCA

            It makes sense to compare salaries to those of other counties’ animal care and control directors. However, no one would mind overpaying if in fact the job was being done well and the director was focused on, and succeeding in, saving lives.

            This director does not even bother to review the daily euthanasia list – she lets low-level employees decide who lives and who dies. What is she doing that is more important? We know this is true because in a meeting with her and others, including CEO Frank Kim, we asked if she would take on that responsibility. Her answer – she would “consider it”. That meeting was on Jan 28, 2016 and no feedback has been received. Again, as animal advocates, we must ask, what is she doing that is more important?

            There are THREE senior executive at the shelter now — the Director and TWO Deputy Directors. Yet they still need to bring in a consultant with supposedly the same expertise as the director to tell them how to do their jobs?

            Imagine if OC took the $193K salary of the current director and went on a talent search for someone who had all of the qualifications, the management skills, the drive, the reputation, and the passion for saving lives. They could even toss in a $150K sign-on bonus because this consultant wouldn’t be needed! We could get the best of the best as the leadership of OCAC.

          • LFOldTimer

            I’m on your side. I agree with most of what you said. I don’t think Hawkins is cut out for the OCAC Director job. She strikes me as a lackey for Franks and the Supervisors. If the intent is just to hire a lackey who follows orders from above then $193,000 is sufficient. My point is that you’re not going to find a quality Director who’s willing to take on all the headaches that go with OCAC for that total compensation. Go to the county website and look at what all the other department Directors make. Go to the Sheriff/Coroner section and look at what the cops make. $193,000 for an OCAC Director is absurd.

          • No Kill ShelterCA

            What doesn’t make sense is why they would want a lackey, or would purposely underpay. They could easily have hired a stellar well-known experienced animal shelter director. So why didn’t they?

          • LFOldTimer

            I thought I answered that question:
            “If the intent is just to hire a lackey who follows orders from above then $193,000 is sufficient. My point is that you’re not going to find a quality Director who’s willing to take on all the headaches that go with OCAC for that total compensation.”

      • OCservant_Leader

        Why do the BOS continue to Re-hire the very managers who caused the problems? I know this double dipper must be a loyal soldier but this is throwing more good money after bad. This is a great example of more bad management.

        The rehiring of the retirees (who weren’t qualified to begin with) so they can get their “40 quarters” is a HUGE drain on the County budget and a subject no one wants to talk about.

        If these people are so amazing why can’t they get a job on the open market? Why do the taxpayers have to continue to pay these people?

        Why does the Republican BOS support this kind of welfare?

  • David Zenger

    So, the County needs a “consultant” to help it run its shelter. What does that say about the about the previous management over the years, and all the happy talk from the Supervisors?

    Is there any accountability at all?

    • LFOldTimer

      You’ve answered your own question, David.
      Just more repeated acts of insanity while expecting a different outcome.
      It seems as though the homeless refuse to take refuge in the old bus depot. Another BoS miscalculation. Convert it into an animal shelter. Maybe the dogs and cats can make use of it.

    • Annie Nanimoss

      It tells me that the previous management over the past decades had a better handle on running things than the current leadership. They didn’t need a consultant to run the department and weren’t subject to a “highly skilled” abject failure of a veterinarian Director.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Amen, David, I agree. This does not require “consultants”. It is pretty common sense. Anyone who ever grew up with lots of animals could handle it. But, then, no political crony of the Thugs o’ Five could get paid a hundred grand a year for what we could all tell them for free.