Animal shelter director resigns

Stanislaus County Animal Services Director Mike McFarland has resigned after just 18 months on the job, and a new complaint about the animal shelter has been filed with the civil grand jury.

McFarland's resignation is apparently unrelated to the grand jury complaint. County officials said they were unaware of the grand jury situation.

Stanislaus County Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson said McFarland is retiring on Oct. 5.

"Mike has elected to retire, and we are respecting his wishes. We wish him the very best," Robinson said. He declined further comment, saying it was a personnel matter.

McFarland did not return calls Thursday or Friday.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill O'Brien said all he knew about McFarland's retirement was the letter of resignation.

The grand jury complaint was filed by Modesto's Traci Jennings, who runs Mutt-Minders, a pet care service.

Jennings said she filed the complaint against McFarland because of the way he has run the shelter.

"Animals are dying in droves. Healthy animals are going to the shelter and getting sick," she said. "There's no excuse for it. No one is willing to take responsibility for doing the right thing."

Jennings said she had been a shelter volunteer for a long time, but resigned in June because of what she called "mismanagement and unethical behavior."

"It was so difficult to stomach, I couldn't be a part of it anymore," Jennings said.

Jennings complained of euthanizing animals before a rescue group evaluation. State law requires animal shelters to hold animals if a rescue group expresses interest, Jennings said.

Diane Habener of Tuffie's Animal Rescue in Pleasanton said she had asked the shelter last week to hold four cattle dogs for evaluation the next day. She said the shelter agreed, but when she arrived, the dogs had been euthanized.

"I was frustrated," Habener said. "We planned on taking at least one of the four; we had foster care available."

Litters of puppies that come in are supposed to be immediately put up for adoption, Jennings said, but the shelter holds them with other dogs, and they get sick.

"There's a lot of euthanasia of kittens and puppies that could have been put up for adoption," she said.

Jennings said a "closed door" shelter policy has made it more difficult for rescue groups to evaluate the animals. Improvements have been made in the shelter's lobby, but inside it is "the same old hellhole," Jennings said. "The kennels are filled with urine and feces, and some of the animals are ill."

Cleaning procedures to kill viruses are poorly handled and ineffective, according to Jennings.

The shelter has no tracking system for animal tranquilizers and they are frequently kept in an unlocked cabinet, Jennings said.

Advice not followed, vet says

Grace Ma, a veterinarian with Veterinary Medical Associates in Modesto, said she had worked at the shelter one day a week, but quit because of management problems.

Ma said her advice was not being followed, and her name was attached to the shelter.

"I was getting a bad reputation, my name was on everything," Ma said.

The biggest problem remains the building itself, Ma said. The inadequate and undersized facil-ity makes it virtually impossible to control the spread of disease, she said.

The shelter needs a full-time veterinarian, but it isn't likely to get one until there is a new facility, Ma said.

County supervisors said they felt McFarland was doing a good job considering the shelter's limitations.

"As far as I know, things are going well," said Supervisor Jeff Grover. "I hadn't heard a single complaint from the people who had been complaining. I felt he was doing a decent job of making do with what he had."

Supervisor Jim DeMartini said a group of animal activists has filed grand jury complaints against the shelter repeatedly in past years.

"Some of the people complaining are never happy with anything, and they never will be," he said.

DeMartini also defended McFarland.

"I'm sorry he's leaving," he said. "I thought he was working in the right direction."

The county is working on architectural drawings for a remodeled and expanded shelter, DeMartini said. The cities that use the shelter will have to pay their share of the project if it is to get off the ground, he added.

The cost of the remodel is estimated at $10 million to $12 million. Most of that cost would be borne by the city of Modesto and the county, DeMartini said.

Based on the number of animals sent to the shelter, Stanislaus County would pay 30 percent of the cost and the city of Modesto 40 percent, DeMartini said. The rest would come from smaller cities that use the shelter.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

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