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The Region

Riverside County Animal Agency Chief Quits

Resignation comes six months after a grand jury alleged mistreatment of shelter's inhabitants.

June 03, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Riverside County's director of animal services resigned Tuesday, six months after the county grand jury accused the management at the county-operated animal shelter of mistreating animals.

In a one-paragraph resignation letter to the Board of Supervisors, agency Director Janis G. McLaughlin said she was stepping down because of budgetary constraints and a lack of support from her superiors.

"I am unable to provide the quality care to the animals and the level of service that I feel is necessary to do this job adequately,'' she stated. "Therefore, I have chosen to pursue other career opportunities."

Attempts to reach McLaughlin, whose resignation is effective June 11, were unsuccessful Wednesday. McLaughlin joined the county as animal services director in 1999 and earned $95,079 annually.

Animal activists had called for McLaughlin's resignation after a grand jury report last year alleged that animals were needlessly dying and suffering because of bad management. County officials disputed many of the findings, but the Board of Supervisors called in the Humane Society of the United States to evaluate the shelter. The organization is expected to finish its audit next month.

Some county officials said they were stunned by the resignation.

"She didn't give us any indication that she was unhappy and going to leave," said Roger Uminski, administrative director of the Community Health Agency, which oversees animal control. "Looking back at her ... history, she has done a tremendous job for us."

He credited McLaughlin with decreasing the shelter's euthanasia rate and improving field services.

However, he disagreed with McLaughlin's characterization that Community Health Agency management did not support her, noting that personnel provided extra assistance -- such as help in preparing her budget -- because they knew the department was stretched thin.

"She had 100% support from CHA management," he said.

Uminski, who will serve as the acting animal control director until McLaughlin's replacement is named, also said every county department is dealing with harsh budget realities because of the state's fiscal crisis.

Supervisor John Tavaglione said McLaughlin faced a great deal of pressure in recent months from animal rights advocates, who protested outside of board meetings and demanded her firing since the release of the grand jury report.

But he said McLaughlin was the best animal services director the county had had over the past decade, though she was not perfect. Her organizational skills needed improvement, he said.

"I was disappointed to get her resignation," Tavaglione said. "I enjoy a fighter. I enjoy someone who is going to take the bull by the horns and, under adversity, turn it around and make it work. Unfortunately, she chose not to take that path."

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