John Malley, a former Army dog trainer who eventually headed the county Animal Services department's struggle to transform from a primarily euthanasia-based operation to one that focused on adoptions, resigned his position this week.
Malley wouldn't say why he decided to step down, only that "it was the right thing to do at the right time." He said he is seeking other employment within county government but does not yet know what role he will play.
"There are any number of jobs," said Malley, who is on vacation this week. "I'm not resigning from the county."
Malley, 47, took the job in 2011 after longtime director Denise Hilton retired. Before that, he served six years as executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of West Pasco. In the Army he trained dogs for police units for five years. He spent three years as a manager for Career Central, the county work force board's job placement program.
He is paid $55,500 a year, said county personnel director Barbara DeSimone.
About a year into his tenure, animal rights advocates criticized the county's operation, saying it had an 85 percent kill rate, a number Malley said was actually about 55 percent. Clad in purple shirts, members of Florida Doggie Paws crowded into the County Commission chambers and demanded improvements to the business plan as well as the intake center, known and "Building C." Built in the 1980s, it had peeling floor paint and worn metal cages and lacked air conditioning. Open rafters provided ventilation.
Other animal activists sent angry emails, including some that called for Malley's firing.
Malley responded with a business plan that aimed at saving 90 percent of the animals brought to the shelter.
And, using money left over from building Pasco's new adoption center, the county is renovating the building.
Commissioners also recently banned animal tethering and required kennels and breeders to be inspected and licensed. To hire more staff, they increased licensing fees.
"That department's been under a lot of scrutiny from the public," said former county commissioner Michael Cox, who with his wife is a member of Friends of the Pasco County Animal Shelter. "It's not an easy job."
Unlike private rescue groups, he said, the county shelter can't pick and choose which animals it will accept.
"It takes a special person to do anything with Animal Services," he said.
Animal Services Supervisor Kevin Mallory has been named interim director.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who has championed Animal Services and volunteers there regularly, said she didn't know why Malley resigned but praised his efforts. She said reaching the goal has been difficult, with the shelter still over its capacity.
"John was trying to do more," she said. "Maybe it wasn't as fast as some wanted."