Fido and Fluffy don’t have the ability to make reports to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
However, animal shelter users do and it’s clear that the commissioners like what they’re hearing about the new animal shelter and they think highly of the job Guilford County Animal Services Director Jorge Ortega is doing.
When Ortega gave a report to the board at a meeting earlier this month, the commissioners had a lot of praise for him and for the state of things at the county’s brand new shelter that opened in October of last year.
In addition to the praise for Ortega and the shiny new spacious animal shelter on Guilford College Road, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston even offered public praise for Republican Commissioner Justin Conrad – since Conrad was the one who found Ortega in another part of the country and convinced Guilford County government to pony up enough money to entice Ortega to take a job as the Guilford County Animal Services director.
In a report to the board at the commissioners’ early February meeting, Ortega said that in the last couple of years there has been a lot of “ups and downs,” as the staff dealt with COVID-19 and the onerous task of moving hundreds of animals and new operations into the new shelter.
We’ve bonded a lot as a team” Ortega told the board. “When we think we can’t do it, we’ve been able to get together and figure things out, and we’ve made that work.”
He added that there had been “a lot of growing pains” and a need to learn new ways of doing things.
In 2015, years before Ortega was hired, the former Guilford County Animal Shelter was the site of a giant animal neglect and abuse scandal. Since then, the staff has been overhauled, Ortega was brought on board, and the county paid around $15 million to build a new shelter.
“It’s a state-of-the-art building and it’s really just given us an opportunity to reduce the stress level of the animals in our care,” Ortega said, “but also for the humans who provide for that care.”
He added that the new facility is also much more inviting for visitors since it has a lot of open space – which is particularly appreciated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anyone who went to the old shelter and goes to the new one can see clearly how much better the animals’ living conditions are now.
“The animal housing and the animal enclosures in this facility are much, much, much, nicer than they were in the old building,” Ortega told the board during his report.
The pandemic also helped the transition to the new shelter in at least one way: It “drastically” brought down the number of animals being held at the shelter since people wanted something to take on walks because they no longer had to go to the office.
“That helped us do a lot of things – like helping train staff in the new shelter,” he said.
As the pandemic has subsided, animal population levels at the shelter have remained stable. At the end of last month, there were 246 animals held. The animal population has averaged at the mid-200 level since October.
In 2019, 6,734 animals came into the county’s shelter. In 2021, 4,845 came in.
In 2019, there were 5,342 adoptions at the shelter. In 2021, that number was 3,880.
Ortega said the most significant decline has been in euthanizations.
“We were euthanizing almost 1,300 animals in 2019 and by the end of 2021, only 826,” he said.