LARGO — The director of veterinary medicine for Pinellas County's Animal Services department has resigned to go into private practice.
"After considerable thought and soul-searching, I have decided to resign from my position as director of veterinary services at Pinellas County Animal Services," Caroline Olausen Thomas wrote in an undated, four paragraph resignation. "I assure you it was not an easy decision to make. I have been blessed with an opportunity to start my own business in the private sector, which will allow me to help the animals of Pinellas County in a new way."
She signed it with her maiden name, Olausen, which she began using again after a divorce this summer.
Olausen's resignation is effective Oct. 4. She has worked for Animal Services for about two years and is paid about $98,000 a year.
The department's relief veterinarians will handle the work load while a national search for a replacement is conducted, Animal Services chief Maureen Freaney said.
Olausen said in her resignation letter that she will be available for relief services in the future. Olausen also offered to provide expert witness testimony for pending animal cruelty cases at a daily rate of $480.
Olausen said Saturday that she decided it was time to move on in her career and have new experiences.
"It's been nothing but a positive experience for me," she said of her time with Animal Services. "But I'm excited to have the opportunity in the private sector."
Olausen is the latest high-level official to leave Pinellas County Animal Services, an agency that has been plagued by troubles in the recent past.
Phillip Morgan resigned as head of the agency in December after less than three months on the job after he was accused of making vulgar comments to co-workers.
A May 2011 investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that more than a quarter of the department's 47 employees had been disciplined during the preceding five years. The problems ranged from minor to deadly negligence and included an incident in which one animal control officer put four kittens into a trap on a hot day to try to lure their mother. One kitten died and two others had to be euthanized after they suffered heat exhaustion.
In August 2011, the agency's director resigned and was temporarily replaced by Will Davis, who had most recently run the county's risk management office.
The agency also has increasingly been targeted by animal activists for its handling of stray, unwanted and feral cats and dogs. Currently, the agency relies on adoptions and euthanasia to handle the thousands of animals that come through the shelter each year.
On Tuesday, the day after Olausen submitted her resignation, county commissioners held a four-hour workshop about issues facing the department. The workshop brought out an overflow crowd of animal lovers and activists.
Some of them demanded mandatory sterilization for all cats and dogs. Others wanted the commission to relax county rules that prevent trapping, neutering and releasing feral cats. Supporters say it's the most humane and efficient way to reduce the Rpopulation of so-called community cats.
Commissioners declined to start mandatory pet sterilization but agreed to a one-year trap-neuter-release pilot program run by a group called MEOW Now.
Freaney said Olausen's resignation was unrelated to the issues brought before the commission. Both of them agreed with the commission's decisions, Freaney said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.