OAKLAND -- The director of Oakland Animal Services has been placed on administrative leave just two months after his hiring in the latest blow to an understaffed shelter accustomed to turmoil.
Gary Hendel, 62, said he was ordered by a police lieutenant to show up at the shelter and turn in his keys Saturday pending an investigation into a personnel matter. Lt. Christopher Mufarreh is taking over the shelter temporarily, police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said in a prepared statement Monday.
While police wouldn't disclose the nature of the investigation, sources close to the shelter said it stemmed from an internal complaint and that there had been several complaints from staffers about Hendel's management style.
Reached by phone Monday, Hendel said he was stunned to be placed on leave.
"I told my boss the only thing I've done since I've been here is work 12 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. I haven't alienated anybody. I haven't had an argument with anybody. I spent the whole weekend absolutely upset trying to figure out what I possibly could have done."
It was hoped that Hendel, who has run shelters in San Antonio and Maui, could provide stability to a shelter that has cycled through numerous directors and has a chronic staffing shortfall.
Currently, the shelter is without a full-time veterinarian and volunteer coordinator. Only seven of the 11 animal control officer jobs are filled. For a short time late last year, the staffing shortage had become so acute that the shelter was allowing people to take animals home without first neutering them.
"We are struggling to improve operations there, and this is certainly a setback," said Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who has asked the city to look into moving the shelter outside the police department.
The city received only about a dozen applications when it posted the director's job last year following the departure of Megan Webb. Hendel was the top choice of several shelter volunteers.
Sarah Rogers, a volunteer who hadn't met Hendel, said in an email that "everyone is shocked, dismayed, and slightly devastated to think that the shelter is yet again without a director."
Hendel, who was demoted for unspecified reasons from his director's job in San Antonio, said he had suggested extending the shelter's hours and assigning animal control officers to more street duty away from the shelter.
He hopes that he'll still get the chance to implement those changes. "At this point in time, I'm just waiting for (investigators) to call me up and ask me questions," Hendel said. "I hope that happens sooner than later. I'd like to get back to work. There is still a lot of work to be done."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.