The city animal shelter in Irvine has been ordered to stop euthanizing animals, and the top administrator at the facility has resigned following accusations of mismanagement and poor animal treatment.
Michelle Quigley, senior administrator of the Irvine Animals Care Center, resigned two days after an emotional city council meeting last Tuesday during which volunteers complained about practices at a facility that has a reputation as one of the county's most progressive shelters.
"This place has become one of the worst places I've ever volunteered in my life," George Hwang said at the meeting.
Hwang, who has been a shelter volunteer for three years, said he knew of three recent incidents of dogs being euthanized even though administrators "didn't have any good reason" to have the animals killed.
The City Council last week also created a two-person subcommittee to help expedite a review of the shelter that was ordered in November when employees, volunteers and animal-rights activists first complained.
"We keep hoping that we'll make progress, but city leadership has allowed, supported and relegated the care of Irvine animals to shelter management that do not hold up the city's mission and vision," said former shelter employee Ava Crittenden, who left her job in November.
Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway said he too had become frustrated.
"The frustration is I see more and more specific instances of problems over there," Lalloway said. "They're continuing, and I don't even know if they're growing or being taken care of."
Quigley was unavailable for comment, according to city spokesman Craig Reem.
The center is operated under the Irvine Community Services Commission with a budget of $2.53 million for the current fiscal year. Funding comes from city taxes and money raised through pet adoption plus private and corporate donations. The shelter relies heavily on volunteers.
The Irvine shelter built a sterling reputation over the last three decades for programs promoting pet adoption over euthanasia. Growing criticism by volunteers and former employees accuses current management of straying from that mission by unnecessarily destroying animals in their care.
Statistics provided by the city show the euthanasia rate for all animals taken in by the shelter are lower in the last three years than the five-year average of 8.7% since 2009. According to the facility's website, the shelter has an intake of more than 4,000 pets annually.
"Statistics don't always tell the whole story," Lalloway said. "I'm glad the numbers are down in recent years compared to the five-year average, but each case is unique, and we keep getting examples of questionable cases."
The council voted unanimously to form the ad-hoc committee and order the cessation of euthanasia for the next 60 days with exception of approved cases for health reasons that include acute pain and suffering.
"From the top down, the shelter needs to be reviewed, which is what we're doing," said Lalloway. He said the city has hired a certified animal shelter consultant to direct the review.