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Metro rehires veterinarian it dismissed at Oregon Zoo

by: COURTESY OREGON ZOO - Dr. Mitch Finnegan is returning to the Oregon Zoo, where he is shown treating an animal before being dismissed in May.Metro has rehired Dr. Mitch Finnegan to be a veterinarian at the Oregon Zoo.

Finngan is the former chief veterinarian who was fired in May in the wake of the controversy over the death of Kutia, a 20-year-old orangutan. Zoo director Kim Smith was also fired. Metro officials said Smith and Finnegan were dismissed for not passing potentially relevant information about possible reasons for Kutia's death up the chain of command.

Metro announced on Wednesday that Finnegan has been hired to fill a vacant veterinarian position with no management duties, effective July 22. According to Metro, the new management structure allows Finnegan to focus on veterinary care without the responsibilities of managing a staff, and reconfigures the vet team in a format similar to that of comparable zoos.

“We made a decision [to dismiss Finnegan] based on the information we had at the time,” said Teri Dresler, the zoo's interim director. “However, in the weeks following Dr. Finnegan’s departure, I spoke with numerous animal-care experts and veterinary professionals both within the zoo and across the country. It became clear to me that it would be a mistake not to have a veterinarian of Dr. Finnegan’s caliber on our staff.”

by: COURTESY OREGON ZOO - Dr. Tim Storms will lead the veterinary staff while Metro conducts a national search for director of the zoo hospital.Dr. Tim Storms, a current member of the zoo’s veterinary medical team, will was appointed to manage the veterinary program with the support of a new hospital manager, a position that is currently under recruitment.

“Based on what I have learned over the past eight weeks,” Dresler added, “bringing Dr. Finnegan back as a staff veterinarian and promoting Dr. Storms is the best way to ensure our animals receive the most focused and compassionate care.”

Finnegan thanked Metro for rehiring him.

“I support Metro’s decisions to improve management and communications within the zoo’s animal care team and with the leaders of our organization,” Finnegan said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with and fully supporting Dr. Storms as senior veterinarian and the new hospital manager. Improving protocols and accountability for animal care is essential. I can do this best by focusing my work on animal care. I’m grateful to Metro for seeing me as part of the zoo’s future.”

Kutai died in January following two surgeries in the midst of a month-long illness. An investigation revealed several lapses in protocol that could have contributed to the death, including a technician texting during one of the surgeries, medical supply shortages and poorly working medical equipment. The lapses were not reported to Metro officials, the report said, even though they might have caused the death.

Finnegan was very popular among zoo staff. Dozens of zoo employees protested his firing during a subsequent Metro Council meeting.

A national search for a new senior veterinarian cbegan after Finnegan's departure. Storms’s management expertise and experience working in private practice and clinical and zoo settings ranked him as the top candidate. Prior to joining the Oregon Zoo in 2012, he worked at the Dallas Zoo, where he was lead veterinarian.

“I was drawn to the Oregon Zoo because of its strong commitment to animal welfare, its established record in on-the-ground conservation, as well as the exceptional new Veterinary Medical Center,” Storms said. “We’ve gone through a significant transition in recent months, but we have a great team in place and now can focus on what we do best: provide great care for the animals.”

“Dr. Storms’s previous experience managing a zoo veterinary program makes him an excellent choice for senior vet,” said Chris Pfefferkorn, zoo deputy director. “And with Dr. Finnegan back on staff as well, we will have a very strong veterinary team.”

The zoo operated by Metro, the elected regional government. It opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.

General zoo admission is $11.50 (ages 12-64), $10 for seniors (65 and up), $8.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.