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Orange County

Grand Jury Blasts Animal Shelter Again

Report alleges conflict of interest and other problems. But the former director says the latest conclusions are inaccurate.

June 02, 2004|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

Four years after criticizing Orange County's animal shelter, the county grand jury on Tuesday issued another highly critical report.

The findings allege -- among other complaints -- that adoptable pets were given to a veterinary hospital run by people with ties to shelter management.

The conclusions were contested by former Orange County Animal Shelter director Julie Ann Ryan Johnson.

"I'm kind of upset by this. This isn't a very factual report," Johnson said. "It's very sad, because the shelter has done so many good things over the years."

Johnson, a veterinarian and former manager at Waltham Pet Foods, took over the shelter after the last grand jury report. She resigned in December.

The report criticized Johnson's alleged ties to an unnamed veterinary hospital and said it was a conflict of interest that allowed the hospital to profit from shelter operations. According to the report, shelter animals were given to the hospital and ended up with a San Diego animal rescue group that placed them for adoption. By giving the animals away, the shelter could not collect fees paid by families adopting them, the jurors said.

Johnson said the grand jurors misunderstood a shelter program designed to save kittens younger than six weeks that would have otherwise been euthanized because of the expense of caring for them. Johnson said young kittens were sent to veterinary hospitals, where they were tended, spayed or neutered and then returned to the shelter for adoption.

"All this was done at no cost to the county," as a charitable gesture by veterinarians, said Johnson. She said she knows nothing about animals ending up with a San Diego rescue group.

Pat Markley, spokeswoman for the county Health Care Agency, which administers the animal shelter, said the agency is reviewing the report's findings and recommendations.

Markley said agency officials do not agree with all of the grand jury's findings but declined to be more specific.

Johnson was also singled out for criticism because she had no prior shelter management experience when she was hired in 2000 to run the $10-million operation. Although she was not named in the report, Johnson said it was clear that the report was referring to her.

"I had a lot of management experience before I became director. I had a bigger budget at Waltham's and more employees," she said. "One of the first things I did here was to send my staff out for training and accreditation. For them to say I lacked management experience isn't true."

Johnson was hired following another critical grand jury report in June 2000 that called for numerous improvements at the animal shelter.

Among the recommendations in the 2000 report were that the county review staffing levels, hire a chief veterinarian and conduct a nationwide search for a shelter director.

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