Former employees accuse OC Animal Care of unethical practices

Saturday, May 16, 2015
Former employees accuse OC Animal Care of unethical practices
Several former employees have leveled allegations against Orange County Animal Care, claiming management encouraged unethical practices.

ORANGE, Calif. (KABC) -- Each year, thousands of dogs, cats and other animals go through the Orange County animal shelter.

The shelter, run by Orange County Animal Care, is also headquarters for animal control officers who serve 18 contract cities and unincorporated areas.

A recent performance audit report states that their major goals are to protect the public health and ensure the safety and well-being of animals, but over the last few months, a number of former employees have told Eyewitness News a very different story.

"A difficult environment. You're put on to bring in money," said Ryan Henry, a former field officer for Orange County Animal Care. "It was a focus all the time."

Henry worked his way up to lieutenant in three years at Orange County Animal Care before resigning. He says his superiors, who still hold top positions today, push employees to bring in revenue, sometimes through what he claims are unethical means.

"It blows my mind even more so, that the same people are running the place, because that's the source of all these issues that that agency has," Henry said.

Henry is not alone. Through ABC7's investigation, we spoke to several former employees who made similar allegations of wrongdoing.

A veterinarian who worked for 10 years at the shelter before recently resigning didn't want to identify himself, but provided letters he wrote to the Orange County Board of Supervisors and a grand jury.

He wrote about a time when he says his signature was forged on a rabies form to "give the vaccinations without the order from a veterinarian."

"It was put on certificates against my authorization and one of the certificates wasn't even legal," the doctor said.

He also cites in the letter, a specific animal cruelty case. After examining the dog in question, he found no clear signs of abuse.

In the letter, the doctor says his supervisor did not like his report and wanted him to make changes. He refused.

"I told her my report reflected the evidence," said the doctor. "She told me she didn't care, she would have another veterinarian write a report."

He says a different veterinarian did write a new report. Court records show the dog owner in question, was sentenced to three years' probation, 30 days in jail and had to pay fines and restitution to the shelter.

Dr. Jennifer Hawkins, the director of Orange County Animal Care, said in a statement that the issues raised are not new and have been addressed with "corrective action" when necessary.

"Our commitment to humane animal care is reflected in the reduced euthanasia rates experienced at OC Animal Care over the past five years. This is not a coincidence, but rather a commitment to improving the lives of animals in our care," she wrote in a statement.

But, several former employees Eyewitness News spoke to say these actions continue because the staff fears retaliation from management.

Henry fears these internal issues are ultimately affecting the people and animals Orange County Animal Control serves.

"Put the effort in upfront with your pets, so you're not chasing the dog truck around and dealing with the impact of your animal being at the shelter," Henry said.

The county is currently facing a lawsuit from another former employee at Orange County Animal Care for wrongful termination.

Several of the former employees tell Eyewitness News, they've recently been contacted by a grand jury investigator.