Tuesday, Jan. 2, Guilford County commissioners and administrators were all smiles as they welcomed new Guilford County Animal Services Director Jorge Ortega.

The county has had a world of problems with the shelter over the last two-and-a-half years and it has now handed Ortega the job of transforming the shelter into a high-performing, well-run facility.

The county held a brief press conference outside of the Guilford County Animal Shelter at 4525 W. Wendover Ave. in order to let members of the press meet the new director and ask a few questions.

The very personable and articulate Ortega was candid in his answers. One question he got several times in different forms was, given the shelter’s history, why would you want to take this job?

His reply was straightforward: “To be honest with you, ever since I told the commissioners that I would take this job, that’s a question that I keep asking myself.”

He did later offer a reason for wanting the job at which many have failed in recent years.

“I don’t turn away from challenges easily,” he said. “In fact, the more challenges, the more I’m willing to come to work and I’m looking forward to coming to work.”

He said he was confident he could help bring positive change to the shelter and he added, “This is great opportunity for our community to start making a difference.”

Ortega said this is a very good time to be taking the job since the county is in the preliminary stages of constructing a new animal shelter to replace the current outdated one.

Ortega had just arrived in Greensboro the night before the press conference; his first day with the county was Tuesday, Jan. 2 – and his kids started school on Wednesday, Jan. 3. So, he said, it’s a hectic way to start off the year.

“I’m excited, and a little bit overwhelmed,” Ortega said.

The new director said he was going to review standard operating procedures, help with the new shelter planning and open up lines of communication with community partners.

Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who chairs the Guilford County Animal Services Advisory Board, introduced Ortega to the media.

“I can assure you that no one is more excited to be standing here today than myself,” Conrad said. “There are so many wonderful things that I can say about this man.”

Conrad said Ortega’s background, his “genuine love and compassion for animals” and his demonstrated ability to work well with an entire community were all big positives that helped lead to his selection.

“We had a very, very impressive list of applicants for this position and I think you can agree, though, that Mr. Ortega did rise to the top,” Conrad said.

Ortega comes very highly regarded in the animal welfare community and his hiring is expected to bring a new optimism and confidence to the shelter, which is currently the only publicly run shelter in the state operating under the shadow of a failed inspection.

Ortega has worked for the SPCA in Houston, been the vice president of operations for the Humane Society of Charlotte, and, prior to that, he was a regional manager for Pethealth Inc. – a company that makes software used to manage animal welfare organizations.

He 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.

The choice of county officials to hold the press conference outdoors in sub-freezing temperature was an interesting one, but it was not done to assure its brevity or to punish the press – instead, county officials realized that in the lobby of the animal shelter not much of anything could be heard over the barking dogs.