Revenge of the Cats

Outbreak of feline distemper at county shelter puts an end to the reign of Richard Evans

After years of gross incompetence, mismanagement and sheer contempt for life, the nightmare that is the Orange County Animal Shelter may finally be ending.

On Jan. 4, county health officials placed Dr. Richard Evans, the shelter's hated chief veterinarian, on administrative leave for the duration of a probe into why so many of the shelter's cats are sick and dying. Twenty-four hours later, Evans simply quit, ending eight years of misery for the shelter's animals and the people trying to adopt them.

Evans was unquestionably the scariest aspect of the county's scary shelter—especially concerning cats. It was reportedly Evans' policy to euthanize cats by plunging a hypodermic full of poison into the cat's liver, a painful procedure that often took 15 minutes to kill the animal. That's why it's altogether fitting that a murderous outbreak of feline distemper that has so far killed 27 cats brought about his downfall. Call it the revenge of the cats.

"It's a horrible, contagious disease," said Robert Newman, a member of the shelter's advisory board and a longtime critic of Evans' attitude and methods. "I've been hearing of cases for the past three months. But even more egregious was the officials' refusal to acknowledge the problem. They let people take infected animals home and infect and kill pets they already had."

Newman and others have long criticized Evans for medieval conditions at the shelter—conditions that almost certainly led to the distemper outbreak. Distemper is deadly and spreads swiftly; it's also easily preventable, using the most basic medicines and methods usable. But Evans kept as many as 30 cats to a cage—a shocking disregard for life considering that more humane shelters prefer one cat per cage. In addition, the cages were outside and only partially shielded from the elements. Given that, the distemper outbreak was hardly a surprise.

Even less surprising was Evans' response: do nothing.

"Evans had the unmitigated gall to look shocked when this happened," said Newman. "But Evans has always maintained a hands-off, 'this is my shelter' attitude. When I complained to him before, he told me, 'You won't be telling me how to run my shelter.' Well, excuse me, but the shelter belongs to the county."

Evans compounded his troubles by lying to his health-care agency bosses, telling them the disease was part of a regionwide outbreak. In fact, it was localized to the shelter.

Had Evans stayed, he would have assumed responsibility for the shelter's complete spaying and neutering program for dogs and cats. That job now falls to Dr. Todd Kopit, a member of the shelter's advisory board until his appointment as interim chief veterinarian. Kopit also performs cat-spaying work for the county.

For Newman at least, Evans' exit is welcome news. "Everything fell into place," he said. "Previously there had always been problems, but officials were always able to skate by. The mix was right at this time."

Evans was unavailable for comment.

Evans' abrupt departure was hailed by animal-rights activists who had hoped for even better news: that Evans' boss at the shelter, interim director Mark McDorman, would follow his No. 2 out the door. McDorman is a holdover from the shelter's darkest days, when he served beneath then-director Judy Maitlen for seven years. When Maitlen retired nine months ago, McDorman took her job while officials at the County Hall of Administration launched a search for a permanent director—a position for which McDorman was said to have the inside track. But as activists rallied against him, a catalogue of the shelter's failures emerged. Today, McDorman is looking less the likely winner—and more and more the loser in a nasty cat fight.

 
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