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New director, facility may be fresh start Guilford County Animal Shelter needs

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Animal advocates like Patricia Wilcox don't have a lot to be proud of when it comes to the Guilford County Animal Shelter.

"It's hard to do marketing and say 'Hey come out and visit us;' when -- who wants to go to that sad, depressing smelly shelter?" Wilcox said.

Saying the shelter has a troubled history is an understatement. Before the county took over, the previous operators were hit with various animal cruelty charges, and even under county management the shelter has seen several fines from the Department of Agriculture.

The county hired a new director in the summer of 2016, but he didn't last more than a year before stepping down.

Since then, commissioners have not been looking for a quick replacement, but the right person who has what it takes to take on the challenge. The believe they found that person in Jorge Ortega.

"He was certainly concerned about it, but obviously that didn't scare him off," Commissioner Justin Conrad said. "I think he's ready for the challenge. He's ready to come in and help us be a better shelter and that's what we need."

Ortega has experience working for shelters and humane societies in major cities including Charlotte, Houston and currently New York City.

During a county commissioner work session Wednesday, Michael Barnard, with Shelter Planners of America, laid out how shelter management would benefit from implementing policies that have worked nationwide.

"We really need to be thinking more in terms of a retailer than a government service," Barnard said.

Barnard also went through three recommended options for the county to consider in building a new facility that would be the shelter's new home.

The first two choices involve building a brand new shelter from the ground up at a new location, totaling between $14 million and $15 million. The county has already entered into an agreement to buy out land for the project and is expected to close on that deal Dec. 9.

A third option was presented for cost saving reasons, to expand the current facility off of Wendover Avenue. That option has a price tag of roughly $9.5 million.

"I think it's long overdue that animals be housed and have a facility that people in the public actually want to come visit," Wilcox said.

And the idea of a 21st-century facility to benefit the animals in our area is a dream for employees at the shelter.

"It's not just the facility, it's what the facility represents and the movement of this community and animal welfare in a positive direction and the education that will come with that," Animal Shelter Medical Director Megan McAndrew said.

Commissioners voted to get more input from the community and stakeholders before making a decision on which option they'll chose for a new shelter. This would also give Ortega two weeks on the job to give input on that decision. Commissioners could vote on those three options Jan. 18.

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