"The attitude they have," said attorney Robert Newman, a new member of the advisory board, "is that if you don't agree with us, then you must be against us."
At a recent meeting of the advisory board, chairman Richard Grant routinely asked for approval of the minutes of the previous meeting. Newman spoke up to point out numerous things he felt were missing from the minutes or mischaracterized in them. As Newman went through his list, Grant sat silent, his hand on his chin, scowling. Another incident is equally illuminating. Last year, the advisory board discussed the intrahepatic method of cat euthanasia and invited Evans to state his case. During the meeting, Dales, then the board's president, asked head vet Evans a number of tough questions. After the meeting, Dales was being interviewed by a reporter. Evans walked by and muttered, "Idiot"-loudly enough that both Dales and the reporter could hear.
McDorman is the man temporarily at the top of the shelter bureaucracy, and he would like badly to stay there. During a long interview, he was pleasant and upbeat but unwilling to admit that much of anything could be wrong. His constant refrain was "I've only been in the job a few days. Give me a chance." That response conveniently ignores the fact that he has been with the department since 1982 and was second in command for seven years.
"We're the good guys," McDorman said. "We have a good, positive program."
McDorman insisted that the shelter receives "positive feedback from the cities it serves," that the response time on calls is "wonderful," that "99 percent" of animals with identification are returned to their owners, and that complaints from citizens are few. The new shelter, he said, will be "state-of-the-art."
If there are problems, McDorman suggested, they begin with Orange County's conservative, anti-government right-wingers who, he said, believe people should have a "right to adopt a non-spayed or -neutered animal." Another part of the problem has been finding the money, McDorman said, even though Orange County's budget is higher than average and many other shelters have enlisted local vets to provide low-cost services. Of the controversial, intrahepatic method of killing cats, McDorman would only say, "That is a veterinary procedure, and I'm hesitant to tell them how to do it."
Some animal-rights activists are hopeful. If a new shelter is eventually built, its presence might spur new ways of thinking about animal control in Orange County. The same activists see hope in the search for a new permanent director for animal control.
Meanwhile, things continue pretty much as they've always been.
Animal control is a wrenching job. Many workers, especially those involved in euthanasia, suffer nightmares and other side effects and need counseling. As Evans noted: "We're the ones who have to clean up society's mess. We love animals and don't like to do it, but it has to be done."
Pissed off? Concerned? Interested? Bob Emmers will host an OC Weekly panel discussion on animal control in Orange County at the Lab, 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. Tues., 7 p.m. Free. For more information, contact Shelle Murach at (714) 708-8400.