After months of looking, Guilford County has hired a new Animal Services director to oversee the Guilford County Animal Shelter and the other services provided by that department.

The new director, who has more than a quarter of a century of experience in a wide range of animal welfare services, is Jorge Ortega, who previously served as the senior director of operations for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Adoption Center in New York.

Ortega comes very highly regarded in the animal welfare community and his hiring is expected to renew confidence in the much-maligned Guilford County Animal Shelter, which is currently the only publicly run shelter in the state operating under the specter of a failed inspection.

County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who serves as chairman of the Guilford County Animal Services Advisory Board, said he was extremely pleased the county had been able to find and hire a new director of Ortega’s quality and experience.

“It was not a short process and this was a critical hire,” Conrad said.

He said a committee composed of himself, other commissioners and county staff had looked at a good number of candidates.

“We knew we couldn’t just hire a body,” Conrad said. “We needed to hire the right person for the job and he is very impressive, with experience in Houston, Charlotte, New York and other places.”

Conrad said it wasn’t a typical process that brought Ortega and the county in contact with one another. He said he had caught wind of Ortega and his impressive body of work, spoke with those he had worked with and got him to apply for the job.

Guilford County commissioners and others have been working hard to get the shelter functioning well and the county has made several changes in management in recent months. The county even took the highly unusual step of making Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing the interim director of the shelter.

Despite those temporary fixes, one overriding issue is that the shelter hasn’t had a true full-time director since former Animal Services Director Drew Brinkley resigned suddenly in late July after state inspectors found a host of problems at the shelter and fined the county.

Ortega is a member of the board of directors of Petred, a Charlotte non-profit that helps animals. Through that organization, he has worked to develop community outreach programs that help make veterinary services more accessible to the public and their pets.

He was vice president of operations for the Humane Society of Charlotte where he was responsible for implementing the Humane Society’s programs, policies and procedures. He also helped with the long-range planning for that organization.

Prior to that, Ortega was a regional manager for Pethealth Inc., a company that makes software used to manage animal welfare organizations. Pethealth makes microchips for pet implantation and offers other lost pet recovery tools to customers. The company also provides medical insurance for dogs and cats to pet owners.

Ortega, who speaks both Spanish and English, is a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico, where he earned a degree in animal health science, specializing in veterinary and animal health technology.

He has also worked for the SPCA in Houston.

Ortega serves on the boards of Partnership for Pets Charlotte and the North Carolina Animal Federation.

Guilford County has searched far and wide for a new director and the hope is that Ortega, with his extensive experience in animal welfare efforts, will help quell some of the constant criticism the shelter has been under and help fix some of the ongoing problems there. He’s also expected to play a role in the planning of the county’s new $9 million shelter expected to open in 2019.

The new director certainly has a lot to do once he starts his job with Guilford County, where he’ll also oversee Animal Control in addition to the shelter. Just this week, a group of animal welfare advocates started a petition in an attempt to force changes at the shelter. That petition reads, in part, “We the undersigned, petition the Guilford County Board of Commissioners for changes pertaining to the running of the Guilford County Animal Shelter… Just in 2017, so far, the Guilford County Animal Shelter has failed two state inspections by the NC Department of Agriculture. Infractions pertain to record-keeping, animal care, facility upkeep, disease control, etc. In addition, the NC DoA, has assessed thousands of dollars in civil penalties.”

The petition calls for the firing of certain individuals at the shelter. That protest effort may get put on hold now that a new shelter director is starting that job at the beginning of January. He may be the experienced type of director those animal advocates have been clamoring for.

In 2012, Ortega was profiled in People on the Move section of the Charlotte Business Journal, which stated, “He has worked in the animal welfare field since 1992 in numerous roles, including veterinary technician, animal rescue technician, cruelty investigator, kennel manager and operations director. His experience also includes working with the Humane Society of the United States and for San Juan Animal Care and Control in Puerto Rico.”

The article noted that he, his wife and two children “share their home with a dog and a tortoise, Mo and Leo.”

This year, while speaking to a group in Lancaster County, South Carolina, Ortega said that keys to a more successful county shelter are forming partnerships among animal advocates and educating the public on proper animal care. He also stressed the importance of spaying and neutering pets, something that has been a real point of emphasis in Guilford County in recent years.